As part of UNICEF’s response effort to the emergency in Syria, I worked with UNICEF in Beirut, Lebanon to support monitoring and evaluation effort. My main task was to help UNICEF make monitoring of our emergency efforts easier and more effective.
My work in Beirut followed closely on the heels of my mission to Senegal (link: http://unicefstories.org/2013/07/17/tips-on-data-visualization/) in June 2013 where I was provided with a set of data and asked to focus on making this information much more actionable.
In Beirut, I was asked to focus more on the data collection part of visualization process.
Within the data visualization process, the initial stage is important because when the data is collected in a comprehensive format, it makes the data mining and data analysis easier.
There are four key questions to keep in mind when you are starting a project using data:
1. What do you want to achieve with the data? (Main Purpose)
2. Who will be in charge of what data to be collected? (Focal Point)
3. Who will be collecting the data? (Executor)
4. Who are the main audience of the data visualization at the end? (Audience)
Data Collection (before)
Below is the common process of data collection in many organizations:
Step 1: people go out to the different location where they need to collect the data
Step 2: record the data in a survey or form
Step 3: enter the data in a digital form for analysis
The data entry from the physical form can be time consuming, as the papers required to record data piles up, and it can be more susceptible to error.
Digital Data Collection
In Lebanon, I suggested FormHub (link: http://formhub.org/) as a quick prototyping method for digital data collection. FormHub is an open source digital data collection tool developed by the Earth Institute in Columbia University. It is an open source software that is easy to set up, and can be learned quickly by anyone who understands Excel.
How FormHub Work
1. Setting up the form
You can set up the form using Excel. This format makes it easy for the organization to test out the digital form and make edits quickly to the forms. At this stage asking what and who questions mentioned earlier in this article is important in creating data that is useful because the more concise the questions used for data collection, the more usable and useful the data will be.
2. Collecting data
The person who collects the data can load the forms to their phone, tablet or computer when they have internet access. When they are out in the field, they can fill out the form offline. Afterwards, the saved forms will be uploaded to the server when online access is available.
3. Visualizing data
The collected data can be downloaded in excel file, .csv file and .json file for visualization. FormHub provide the default visualization, which is a map that is filterable. However, the data files can be used to create other dashboards, charts, graphs and map.
UNICEF in Beirut is using FormHub to collect data related with monitoring different partner’s activities around Lebanon. Digital data collecting can be used in different parts of UNICEF to increase the accuracy of their data, save time in data collection process and possibly collect real-time data. The ability to quickly get the data will especially be helpful for emergency response such as evaluating situation in different locations.