Monday, 27 February 2017

RAID goes MAD in Melbourne with Mobile Acquired Data training

Technology has created some challenges for modern times, but it can also simplify and improve the way we live and work. One example is the use of digital apps to collect data obtained through international agriculture research projects. Moving away from traditional paper-based work means a significant reduction in the time taken and errors incurred in data transcription, and thus a much faster time frame for analysis of results and feedback. 
ACIAR previously commissioned a study into digital apps and mobile acquired data (MAD) and the use of such technology within commissioned research projects. You can read more about this work in our previous blogs
The use of mobile acquired data is rapidly gaining interest from researchers in the international agriculture community.  People are keen to compile their information in the field, rather than taking notes, and collating the results back in the office.
The RAID network responded to this growing interest -RAID is a network of researchers in agriculture for international development. This year RAID focused their annual capacity building workshop on mobile acquired data, digital apps, and the program CommCare - used to acquire data in the field, and currently being trialed in a number of ACIAR projects.

Jack Hetherington delivered the introduction session on Day 1 of training. 
Photo credit: M.McCormack, Melbourne 2017

Between the 15th-17th February 2017, 20 researchers from institutions around Australia travelled to Melbourne University to build surveys in CommCare and assess the benefits of such programs to their specific research.

There were a few hiccups and hurdles in the initial stages of survey building and the path to understanding the capacity of the program behind the app was a bit of a rollercoaster.

But after two days of intensive hands-on and theoretical sessions, most participants left with a positive outlook and plans to use or explore the digital apps in more depth.

The app building learning curve (or emotional journey), graph courtesy of Jessica Hall, AgImpact. 
Photo credit: M.McCormack, Melbourne 2017

The sessions were presented by Jack Hetherington of ACIAR, Dave McGill of Melbourne Uni/RAID network, and Jessica Hall and Stuart Higgins of AgImpact, Sydney. AgImpact has been working closely with ACIAR project teams to test, develop and deploy the CommCare app in the field and they have many lessons to share about the challenges of digital data collection. But despite the hurdles of compatability and connectivity, Jessica and team are confident that the benefits of these apps outweigh any risks to data capture and sharing when compared to traditional paper methods.  

Workshop participants had time to test and play with the CommCare program and app. Like many tools, hands-on experience is the best way to learn and we made our way through the survey building site at

A key lesson for the future users at the Melbourne workshop is in channelling the power of apps and programs to get the best data to satisfy project objectives. The capabilities are so enormous and the potential for data seemingly endless, so it is easy to get caught up in collecting all the information you ever wanted to know and building a survey to end all surveys. Presenters warned: don’t lose sight of your aims, objectives and research questions.  

For more on the workshop, content and any future training activities visit the RAID website. 

CommCare is an open access tool, check their site for more information on the app and capabilities. 

AgImpact has developed a range of resources for using CommCare and other digital related work.

This ACIAR blog was contributed by Miriam McCormack

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