As you may know, here at REACH we combine scientific research approaches with the desires and understandings of our community partners to improve community health. Usually, the communities we work with are specific and/or geographically dispersed. For example, last year we completed a study of young people experiencing homelessness across eleven U.S. cities. For most of our projects, our participants cannot be reached by using traditional sampling and surveying techniques. Put another way, we can’t just mail a survey to someone who doesn’t have an address.
Instead, we almost always employ teams of local interviewers who both sample and interview our participants. One of the absolute BEST tech tools we have found for data collection on our projects is Voxco Survey Software. Using this computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) software has made data collection easy and secure, no matter the project.
Here’s how it works:
- I program Voxco survey instruments for a project on my computer (fun fact: Voxco is super adaptable across languages, I’ve programmed our surveys in both English and Spanish).
- I install Voxco survey software on our field laptops. Right now, it is on 3 MacBook Airs that I took to Puerto Rico for our field team there to use for data collection (we went with MacBooks for this project for their impressive 11 hour battery life).
- Interviewers conduct each participant interview using Voxco software (and for the PR project, they record results of HIV and Hepatitis C tests using Voxco software, as well).
- Interviewers synchronize their software, and the complete interviews are completely removed from the local laptop and send securely to the university’s server.
There are a few really huge benefits for us to be using this Voxco software. First, the interviews can be completed with no internet access whatsoever. This is perfect for our Puerto Rico project, as the team will be driving between four different rural towns in the mountains and sometimes completing interviews in the van or in a park if necessary. But, when the team has access to internet again, they are able to synchronize the software and send all of the completed interviews to the server.
The synchronization ability is the second huge benefit to the software. Let’s say that someone got sticky fingers and stole a laptop (not going to happen, knock on wood!) or a laptop was broken. If a laptop was stolen (or broken), our project data would not be lost with it! The data would still be safe and secure on the UNL server. Additionally, the thief would have absolutely no confidential information about any participants. They couldn’t see the survey answers or test results, because the answers are completely removed from the machine after synchronization (data is only ever identified with an ID number, no names, but this is still an added security benefit).
Third, Voxco software makes it very easy to monitor multiple remote field teams. With the synchronization feature, I can see every interview that was completed each day. For the homeless youth project, I was managing the project from Lincoln, NE but over 600 interviews were being collected in 11 other cities! I could easily see the number of interviewers done on a specific day, by a specific interviewer, in a specific place and could keep everyone on our relatively tight timeline.
As you can see, Voxco software is one of our favorite tech tools for community based participatory research. While Voxco is a large multi-national company and most of their clients are companies in the web and telephone survey business, in my opinion, they deserve a shout out for their little known but powerful CAPI capabilities for unique shops like REACH.
Share with us your best tech tools for field research on Twitter @UNLReach!