From Voter Registration to Health Monitoring - Handheld Computers for Development - dot-ORG

In developing country contexts, handheld computer applications are starting to show their benefits across development sectors. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and other types of handheld computers offer considerable advantages over desktops or even laptops. Handheld computers represent an intermediate tool with all the portability and mobility of the mobile phone and the added functionality of a small computer without the costs, size, weight and complexity of a full size computer. Health and microfinance have been particularly keen to test handheld applications, but there are opportunities being explored in natural resources management as well.

In the health sector, SATELLIFE has developed strong expertise, with experiences in a number of Asian and African countries and recently documented these experiences in a publication titled Handhelds for Health: SATELLIFE’s Experiences in Africa and Asia".

In the microfinance sector, a number of organizations, particularly in Latin America, but also in India, have started using PDAs (see “Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), CGAP IT Innovation Series). Specialized applications have been developed to track wildlife, such as CyberTracker, to monitor natural resources, and to facilitate the collection of data for scientific research, social surveys, population census, and market research. PDAs can be used for a wide range of data gathering tasks that involve field workers recording information away from the office. Applications have also been developed for use in emergency relief situations, to handle surveys and refugee registration. Depending on the data collection needs, GPS capability can be added to these handheld computers, allowing for automated calculation and recording of the user’s precise location.

dot-ORG Projects Using Handhelds

dot-ORG has implemented three pilot projects that involve three very different applications of PDAs; 1) to enhance health monitoring in Nepal, 2) to support democracy and voter registration in Rwanda, and 3) to strengthen the sustainability and improve the environmental impact of the marine aquarium trade in the Philippines.

1. Nepal Health Monitoring Pilot Project
Project Status: completed

Implementing Partners: dot-ORG, SATELLIFE, HealthNet, NTCA & NFHP

Screen shot of the mother survey using PDAs, showing local nepalese script. Project Description:The Nepal Health Monitoring Pilot Project involved two activities. In the first activity, SATELLIFE worked with the Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG) to develop electronic forms for a biannual Vitamin A survey and to conduct part of the survey using handheld computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) units. In the second activity, SATELLIFE worked with the Nepal Family Health Program (NFHP) to use handheld computers to facilitate data collection by health workers conducting monthly monitoring, supervision and technical support provision to rural health clinics.

Results and Lessons:
  • Handheld computers can be particularly useful in the systematic collection of data from many individuals, (as in a survey), but cannot be expected to solve all challenges facing health practitioners.
  • A key challenge was the ability to present data and forms on the handheld in the local language and script. Updates of Microsoft Windows and the use of different software may alleviate some of the problems associated with the local script.
  • Some of the local partners are considering using the PDAs more extensively as a reference device for field workers. This will require the addition of a reader program and further localization of the units.

2. Rwanda National Election Commission Voter Registration & Verification Project

Project Status: completed
Implementing Partners: dot-ORG, SATELLIFE, National Election Commission of Rwanda; CODE, Inc., Geekcorps.

Project Description: This pilot activity implemented by SATELLIFE in cooperation with the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda, involved replacing paper cards used to collect new voter registration data and update existing voter data by electronic forms on PDAs. The pilot included an intensive training component to ensure that the registration officers were capable of using PDAs. Before PDAs could be used, however, extensive work had to be done to build the voter registration database. In addition, NEC technical personnel were trained to create and update electronic forms, track form field to the back-end database and train PDA end-users.

Results and Lessons:
  • Extensive back-end work was required to develop the database provide the necessary training to the NEC before the PDAs could be used.
  • During the field testing, 225 records were collected in the field using 7 PDAs over four hours. The data was then sent to the NEC office and merged with the database on the same day.
  • Significant time savings were realized in the transfer of data from the PDA to the database. Where data had to be entered manually into the computer previously, a simple synchronization of the PDAs with the database saved much time.
  • The efficiency of the data collection process is estimated to have increased by 60%.
Based on the success of the initial pilot, USAID funded the acquisition of additional PDAs to be used throughout the country and a roll-out of the pilot to two provinces is already planned.

For more details, see the full final report for this sub-activity of the Rwanda project.

3. Using Information Technology for Identity Preservation and Traceability to Transform the Marine Aquarium Trade – Philippines

Project Status: initial phase
Implementing Partner: Marine Aquarium Council

Project Description:
Within this project, the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), a US-based non-profit organization, will create and implement an integrated, web-based information technology system to enhance identity preservation and traceability capacity within the Philippines’ marine aquarium trade.

The Marine Aquarium Council has been involved in the development of certification standards to ensure a more sustainable trade in aquarium fish. Effective use of information technology can play a major role in accelerating the transformation of the marine aquarium trade by improving identity preservation and traceability of the batches of fish and other marine organisms. Traceability involves 1) ensuring that organisms can be tracked from the certified collection area of their origin; 2) documenting movement in and out of a certified facility to the next; 3) recording and reporting mortality at each step of the chain of custody.

The PDA component of the IT system will enable collectors to capture and transmit data easily to the exporters. The PDA interface will be entirely picture-based and contain all data required for certification.

Advantages and Challenges of Handheld Computers

Handheld computers can be used in many different sectors to increase the efficiency of specific processes, such as:
  • Accessing large volumes of data in digital formats (such as entire libraries and reference databases);
  • Recording and storing data in digital formats (health surveys, environmental data, loan payment records);
  • Transferring data electronically (synchronizing data collected on a PDA with a larger database, or updating a PDA with new data and/or reference resources).
Like any technology, it does not solve all challenges and the development of a truly effective application requires careful planning, an analysis of the broader context, including training needs and process management changes that may be required.
Challenges include:
  • Securing power and recharging options for the units;
  • The screen size and readability, which can become a problem for certain applications and under certain conditions;
  • Accurately measuring time savings and other perceived benefits;
  • Backup requirements;
  • Local language, local script and the need for other local adaptations;
  • Security in the transfer and storage of data

This article draws from the final reports of the Rwanda and Nepal projects submitted by SATELLIFE (see links below).

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Director, dot-ORG, Academy for Educational Development
Tel: (202) 884-8856

Kevin Hayes
Project Manager, EGAT/I&E/ICT
United States Agency for International Development
Tel: 202 712 1356

Related Resource Partners
Related DOT-COM Activity
Nepal Health Monitoring Pilot Project

Philippines: Using Information Technology for Identity Preservation and Traceability

Rwanda - ICTs for Elections and Community Access
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
Related Links
Click on USAID's logo to visit USAID
Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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