The use of mobile devices as a data collection mode in research has been around for less than 10 years. The rapid growth and evolution of mobile devices from basic feature phones at the advent of mobile technology to the data enabled devices in use today such as smartphones, tablets, and internet of things (IoT) devices has integrated technology deeply into our lives at an unprecedented scale. This seamless integration has created immense opportunities for the market and social research industries.

The proliferation of mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa opens up new possibilities for data collection. Businesses and the international development community can now collect data via short message service (SMS), interactive voice response (IVR), surveys with a live interviewer (also known as computer-assisted telephone interviewing, or CATI), and through the use of a mobile application. Collecting data via mobile phones also allows for the collection of longitudinal data – meaning data from the same person over a set amount of time. Unlike conducting panel surveys face-to-face, which is still cost prohibitive for most projects, mobile research reduces this cost whilst still providing quality insights as and when they are needed for quick decision making.

The development of Africa as a mobile-first continent has led to great interest in collecting panel data using mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa. Although research agencies that previously fully relied on traditional data collection methods are now warming up to the idea of using mobile in research, there is still some uncertainty regarding their use in surveys either for qualitative or quantitative research.

As the leading mobile surveying platform, conducting over 7 million surveys per year through the mobile phone, we have encountered and answered numerous questions in various forums and meetings regarding mobile research. In this article, we pick some of the most frequently posed ones and provide answers based on our policies and industry best practices which we have adopted into our operations.

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What is mobile sampling?

Access to mobile phones is becoming more widespread across all parts of the globe, and research agencies like GeoPoll are leverage the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones to recruit survey respondents who form a sample.
A sample is a representative number or an entire population. Sampling is the science of using a subset of a population in order to make observations of a larger population.

What is a mobile research panel?

This is a group of respondents recruited via a mobile phone to take part in a number of market research sessions over a period of time in order to collect longitudinal data. This data helps to paint a dynamic picture of people’s economic livelihoods and social well-being – supporting program design, implementation, and evaluation. In contrast, single cross-sectional surveys or repeated cross-sections cannot prospectively show how circumstances in people’s lives change over a time period.

How are active panels of respondents recruited via mobile?

A respondent panel can be built through multiple methods including partnerships with Mobile Network Operators, random digit dialing, and both online and face-to-face recruitment. GeoPoll incrementally invites all mobile phone numbers in a country to complete the GeoPoll registration survey and be eligible for future surveys. GeoPoll then builds an active panel consisting of respondents who have taken a GeoPoll survey in the past and who GeoPoll is able to target by demographics including age, gender, and location.

Are panelists recruited via mobile nationally representative?

Access to mobile phones is becoming more widespread across all parts of the globe, however, the mobile population does not always perfectly match the national population. To account for this, at GeoPoll, we compare the demographic distribution of mobile survey respondents to the most recent census population estimates by age, gender, and the first administrative political geographic boundaries in order to ensure that the surveys are as representative as possible of sampled populations. In addition, GeoPoll regularly recruits respondents to widen our demographic reach and can support face-to-face interviews to reach non-mobile populations.

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What is the optimal number of questions in a mobile survey?

In our experience, mobile respondents are often likely to drop out of a survey. Not all mobile respondents complete a survey they have been served. To help reduce the drop-off rate it is important to have an optimal number of questions that ensure that respondents don’t get fatigued. A standard 10- 15 question mobile survey sent either via SMS, mobile web or via a mobile application is the optimal number to ensure a high response rate.

What is the normal response rate for mobile surveys?

As seen in the US for mobile surveys, the response rates for new respondents can be often around 10% or less. The response rates will vary by survey mode, by country, and by project so this can be discussed further with your research agency project team since they are fully responsible for ensuring the highest possible completion rate. Additional research by Lau et. al. 2018 indicate that higher or lower response rates do not necessarily dictate a more ‘valid’ survey when looking at mobile surveys in emerging markets.
For GeoPoll panelists who have completed at least one survey with GeoPoll before, the response rates can be as high at 80%, for example with a daily panel.

Do mobile surveys require smartphones?

Not all of them, there are mobile surveys that can be sent to respondents on their feature phones via SMS or via call. Based on our experience in emerging markets, one is more likely to have a more nationally representative sample when mobile surveys are sent via SMS. This is due to the high penetration rate of feature phones compared to a smartphone or other internet-enabled mobile devices. GeoPoll surveys can be taken on any handset, including basic feature phones, and do not require access to the internet.

How can data security be assured and data privacy be protected when utilizing mobile devices?

Data privacy has become of great concern in recent months following the Cambridge Analytica scandal among other recent events.  As market researchers continue to leverage the new capabilities that modern communication technology brings, concerns arise on how we can safeguard the privacy of our respondents as an industry.

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This access to personal data by market research agencies is why it’s so critical that market research industry associations like ESOMAR continue to distinguish market research practices from platform practices. The market research industry, including companies like GeoPoll, abide by a set of ethics in the management of personal information. Not marketing or trying to sell services to survey respondents is critical for ongoing trust and honesty in market research.