Update: be sure to check out the excellent points in the comments section below.
I recently visited my alma mater, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), where I learned more about the free and open source KoBo ToolBox project that my colleagues Phuong Pham, Patrick Vinck and John Etherton have been working on. What really attracts me about KoBo, which means transfer in Acholi, is that the entire initiative is driven by highly experienced and respec-ted practitioners. Often, software developers are the ones who build these types of platforms in the hopes that they add value to the work of practitioners. In the case of KoBo, a team of seasoned practitioners are fully in the drivers seat. The result is a highly dedicated, customized and relevant solution.
Phuong and Patrick first piloted handheld digital data collection in 2007 in Northern Uganda. This early experience informed the development of KoBo which continues to be driven by actual field-based needs and challenges such as limited technical know-how. In short, KoBo provides an integrated suite of applications for handheld data collection that are specifically designed for a non-technical audience, ie., the vast majority of human rights and humanitarian practitioners out there. This suite of applications enable users to collect and analyze field data in virtually real-time.
KoBoForm allows you to build multimedia surveys for data collection purposes, integrating special datatypes like bar-codes, images and audio. Time stamps and geo-location via GPS let you know exactly where and when the data was collected (important for monitoring and evaluation, for example). KoBoForm’s optional data constraints and skip logic further ensure data accuracy. KoBoCollect is an Android-based app based on ODK. Surveys built with KoBoForm are easily uploaded to any number of Android phones sporting the KoBoCollect app, which can also be used offline and automatically synched when back in range. KoBoSync pushes survey data from the Android(s) to your computer for data analysis while KoBoMap lets you display your results in an interactive map with a user-friendly interface. Importantly, KoBoMap is optimized for low-bandwidth connections.
The KoBo platform has been used in to conduct large scale population studies in places like the Central African Republic, Northern Uganda and Liberia. In total, Phuong and Patrick have interviewed more than 25,000 individuals in these countries using KoBo, so the tool has certainly been tried and tested. The resulting data, by the way, is available via this data-visualization portal. The team is currently building new features for KoBo to apply the tool in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). They are also collaborating with UNDP to develop a judicial monitoring project in the DRC using KoBoToolbox, which will help them “think through some of the requirements for longitudinal data collection and tracking of cases.”
In sum, the expert team behind KoBo is building these software solutions first and foremost for their own field work. As Patrick notes here, “the use of these tools was instrumental to the success of many of our projects.” This makes all the difference vis-a-vis the resulting technology.