Amanda Berman joined GeoPoll’s team in July of 2020 with a wealth of knowledge on mHealth, global health research, and program management. We decided to interview her about her experience in conducting public health research through mobile modes because we wanted to share some of her expert insights on development and humanitarian research programs with our readers. This transcript presents highlights from the interview.
Can you give our readers a bit of an explanation about you and your background?
Yes, of course. So, my background is in research and global health — that is what I studied in school. Since grad school, I have been focused on the monitoring aspect in the monitoring and evaluation world — specifically for projects in Southern and Eastern Africa. Overall though, I am passionate about leveraging mobile technologies for rigorous data collection in low- and middle-income countries, and about reaching people, and reaching them quickly, that we may otherwise not reach in door-to-door surveys.
As someone that has been involved in mHealth for years now, how would you define mHealth as a term?
The way I think about mHealth is really about leveraging mobile technologies to improve health and increase health-seeking behaviors. mHealth is really just where mobile technology and global health intersect. mHealth efforts may include data collection for monitoring or research purpose, but also, for example, the development of mobile applications for healthcare providers that guide patient care. I’ve worked extensively with both mobile data collection, but also mobile tools that help frontline workers deliver care. mHealth is a big world and many initiatives or programs that take advantage of mobile technology would also fall into the mHealth category in my eyes.
So, considering your definition of mHealth, how do you see mHealth’s role in supporting the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Good question. So, the coronavirus pandemic is a great example of why mobile research methods are a powerful tool for development and crisis management. As the pandemic has continued over the past six months there have been countless issues in which mobile research could have been, and was, used to aid in the response. Back in March and April, for example, misinformation on the virus was prominent; when it was neither feasible nor safe to send enumerators door to door, mobile research was used to investigate questions like, what are people hearing about COVID-19? What do people believe is the best way to keep themselves safe during the pandemic? Do people need more education before they will quarantine? Are people quarantining enough now? Etc.
It is essential for program managers handling crisis response to have actionable data that can answer these types of questions for them to course-correct their approaches and implement the most effective initiatives possible. Managers need data to inform decision making.
I absolutely agree. GeoPoll actually collected data in sub-Saharan Africa during that time and we were able to answer similar questions to those you listed. A lot of development professionals used the data we gathered to inform their initiatives actually! We released it for free on our website and the Humanitarian Data Exchange.
Yes, GeoPoll does a great job collecting rigorous data via remote and mobile modes. That is actually how I found out about GeoPoll in the first place. When I was working at Johns Hopkins, my team hired GeoPoll to conduct a mHealth survey for us. I think it was in 2014? It was during an Ebola outbreak in Liberia, but our work with GeoPoll went really smoothly.
I enjoyed working with GeoPoll staff and the data came back cleaned, coded, and ready for analysis in just a few days—which was amazing. Having that data back within a few days was essential for us to be able to guide our colleagues on-the-ground in Liberia on what needed to be adjusted about our approach for providing aid during the crisis.
Wow, I didn’t realize you were once a client of ours! If you don’t mind me asking, what influenced your team’s decision to hire us rather than another research provider?
Well, GeoPoll was the only mobile research provider with rigorous methodology I could find that provided a way a timely way to achieve responses from a sample that was proportionate to the national statistics for age, sex, and location. This meant that GeoPoll could produce a sample that would reflect the mobile-owning population, which is incredibly important for getting an accurate view on what is happening on the ground.
As a researcher, the rigor of methodology is paramount, always, but the speed in which the data could be returned was also important because the Ebola outbreak was a rapidly evolving situation and time was of the essence.
Yes, methodology is very important, but the speed of data output is as well in this line of work. So, would you say your experience as a GeoPoll client influenced your decision to join our team a few months ago?
Yes, it did. I have been interested in GeoPoll since I worked with the team years ago. Mainly because the experience made me believe in GeoPoll’s research process and I knew from personal experience how valuable the research GeoPoll collects is to initiatives throughout the world. When the role I am in now opened, I thought it could be a really great fit – mixing my background in global health, monitoring, and mHealth with GeoPoll’s commitment to quality survey research.