A problem that is encountered fairly regularly in not only international development but also across different fields of social science is a lack of accurate data. As an economics and international development major, I’ve discussed this in many of my courses. How can you come to accurate conclusions to questions or problems without accurate data?
For development issues particularly, it is a momentous challenge, because these conclusions can directly impact the quality of life of various groups. And it is so difficult to conduct surveys in developing countries given the various infrastuctural shortfalls. This is especially arduous in rural areas, but it isn’t exactly easy in the cities either. When I studied abroad in Ghana, I interned with a micro finance organization, and it was my responsibility to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. The first and most obvious difficulty was actually finding people. Will they be at home, at their place of business, somewhere else? Next came the language barrier. In addition, getting around took a lot of time. This experience showed me how challenging it actually is to collect data in developing countries, and I realized that the data used by countless organizations and for so many projects is probably off.
I learned about GeoPoll for my tech tools presentation, and I’m glad I did. It’s revolutionizing the way that data is collected by using mobile phone technology. Surveys are sent via SMS messages and receive responses within a week. Data is accurate and almost real-time. It saves those conducting the survey lots of time and lots of money and it improves data quality. This can bring about improved interventions and promotes bottom-up approaches to development. It gives a voice to hard-to-reach, often marginalized communities, allowing those conducting the survey to learn more about the conditions of their lives. And important example of this is DRC Speaks! in which 4 million Congolese were send 10 questions via SMS asking about their quality of life, the effects of war, how they would change things, etc. I think a tool such as this one has the potential to make a huge difference in development, human rights, environmental conditions, fair governance. Really, the options seem endless.