Opinion & Analysis

How start-up made inroads in data collection

Data collection can be done remotely and more effectively and efficiently making lack of funding for research a poor excuse for lack of information. PHOTO | FILE
Data collection can be done remotely and more effectively and efficiently making lack of funding for research a poor excuse for lack of information. PHOTO | FILE 

Our continued curiosity in mobile platforms has intensified research, improved efficiency and brought disruptive solutions in virtually every sector.

Researchers continue to leverage mobile technology as a means of cutting costs and learning more than was ever possible in the past.

A local start-up, mSurvey, is leading the charge by reducing field costs and in turn making research more accessible.

This data collection company provides businesses, researchers, organisations, and individuals with a platform to solicit feedback from individuals in a simple, efficient way.

Today, I will focus on their solutions for health. The company was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith, originally from Montserrat in the Caribbean, and a Kenyan, Louis Majanja.

They made their foray into health research through a Harvard University project in Kenya by sending follow-up surveys to study participants in order to assess adherence to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - a medication that reduces HIV transmission.

Armed with the Harvard project experience, the start-up went on to build a team dedicated to these kinds of projects.

Within a very short period after inception, mSurvey have facilitated global collaborations with big names in health research such as University of Washington, Emory University, Columbia University, and Duke University all yielding new innovations in healthcare.

They play a key role in enabling institutions and enterprises in developing countries to access affordable research, especially around some of the debilitating areas like healthcare where we need basic facts to provide new solutions.

This is perhaps why Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates once said, “I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts.”

mSurvey is scaling fast across the African continent and the world to assist health researchers and practitioners by collecting feedback from study participants, patients, and the public as well as by empowering conversations between health personnel and patients.

This small start-up has had a gigantic social impact through technology. First, they have managed to generate and store knowledge through cloud-based storage for increased data security.

Unlike in the past when researchers relied solely upon field enumerators, digital links enable researchers to access respondents in remote locations and also to follow up with them longitudinally.

Anonymization of data and removal of paper-based records increases confidentiality and allows researchers to analyse data in real-time.

Second, the digital platform has greater implication for research, policy and practice since research shows respondents are often more honest when answering sensitive questions through short messaging services (SMS) than in face-to-face encounters, thus reducing bias and improving on data quality.

Automating data collection processes saves researchers time, money, and effort, resources that are often spent on in-person efforts and data cleaning.

Through SMS, it takes just minutes to reach thousands of people with a survey, meaning the sample sizes can be larger and in some cases cover the entire population even in very remote places.

Overall, collecting data this way saves time, which increases the pace at which knowledge/research is disseminated. Practices can subsequently be improved, and more effective policies implemented.

Third, the company in some ways is a public platform to engage more voices and make data more relevant and accessible to ordinary citizens.
Its core goal of soliciting feedback from individuals who are otherwise difficult to reach makes it unique in that it makes everyone count.

The potential to scale is great and the dream of engaging all people in conversations and providing them with an opportunity to give feedback, gives people a voice on important events and initiatives that affect them.

We are only beginning to explore digital platforms as a means of assuring knowledge is representative of the whole, and not just a few.

Inclusive development dictates that everyone’s voice is heard. This fact was captured by Klopp in his 2012 article on transportation policy in Nairobi where he noted, “Realizing the current possibilities for change will depend on the extent to which the poorer majority along with allies and reformers within the middle class can mobilize and insert their concerns and needs into the ongoing democratization process.”

More research is needed in order to inform innovative solutions - there are many areas of health where we need basic information but lack a way of accessing this knowledge.

Unlike in the past, data collection can be done remotely and more effectively and efficiently making lack of funding for research a poor excuse for lack of information. The flipside of the many problems we have in healthcare is an opportunity.

We must seize the opportunity and improve the lives of humanity.