Mobile Data Collection

Mobile research is a unique form of data collection that requires a detail oriented planning process. GeoPoll specializes in remote data collection through mobile channels in hard to reach areas of the world. Our experience in the space has built expertise in our staff. In this post, GeoPoll will share some quick tips in order to guide anyone who is new to performing mobile research.

Consider the mode

mobile data collection 2Possibly the most important tip of all is to remember that mobile is a tool for research, but within mobile there are multiple modes which can be used depending on the goals and variables surrounding a research project.

A good analogy for understanding the relationship between mobile and its modes starts with a power drill. Carpenters use power drills daily for many different tasks, but the drill bits they use for each task varies, this is because certain drill bits accomplish certain tasks better than others. Think of mobile as a drill and the mode as the drill bit. There are multiple options for how to conduct a research project via mobile and the mode best fit for the project should be carefully chosen.

Common Modes for Mobile Data Collection

CAPI (computer assisted personal interviewing)

Computer assisted in person interviewing is similar to pen and paper surveys. The difference lies in the technology used for record keeping. In this mode, the interviewer engages directly with respondents face-to-face, reads the questionnaire off of a device screen (like a tablet), and records the answers electronically throughout the process. Surveyors use CAPI software programs on mobile devices while conducting these face-to-face surveys, however internet connectivity is not usually necessary.


  • Able to reach all socio-economic classes
  • Allow for detailed, long surveys that other methods cannot facilitate

SMS (short message service)

Short message service, or text messaging, is a rapidly growing method of data collection, especially in emerging markets where a higher percentage of the population has access to a mobile phone than the Internet. Developments in technology throughout the past quarter century have made it possible to remotely dispatch surveys—from any location, to any location—through SMS.

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Two-way messages are received on a respondent’s mobile device one question at a time. All respondents are required to opt-in for participation after receiving the first message. The SMS survey mode does not require respondents to have internet connectivity. Survey invitation messages can be received even if the phone is powered off or out of service range when the message was sent.


  • SMS is a good choice for conducting mobile surveys that are short, or can be shortened
  • SMS can reach a wide portion of a population because SMS can reach mobile phones at many price points
  • Respondents are likely to engage because they can participate from anywhere when it is convenient for them


  • Limited to 160 characters per message
  • Surveys should not take participants more than 15 minutes to complete
  • Requires literacy for participants to be able to read and respond to messages

CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing)

CATI surveys are administered through call center interviewers. Also known as “live calling,” CATI is another mode of remote data collection. Compared to SMS surveys, live calling questionnaires can be longer and each question is not limited to 160 characters, which is beneficial because the resulting data can be more in-depth than in other methods like SMS.

Although live calling surveys have a higher associated cost than SMS surveys, the conversational nature of CATI surveying allows for a mix of quantitative and qualitative data to be collected. Additionally, there is no reading required by the respondent for CATI surveys so this is a great mode of research collection for populations with low literacy rates.


  • Can reach a wide range of people in different social classes


  • Requires training of the telephone interviewer

IVR (interactive voice response)

IVR surveys are another mode of remote survey data collection. This technique entails using pre-recorded voice bites that are initiated via phone calls. IVR survey participants key-in responses using their device’s dial pad.

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  • Useful for reaching illiterate populations
  • Can reach a wide range of people in different social classes


  • Takes longer from beginning to end than other modes

Should be kept short to avoid participants dropping off before completion of the questionnaire

Mobile Web

The mobile-web survey technique can be dispatched through a few different channels. The technique that GeoPoll uses most often combines SMS and web-based surveying. In order to collect data through this mode, an SMS text is blasted to potential respondents. The users who receive survey invitations are directed to a webpage where they opt-in to complete the survey.

There are two other ways to dispatch mobile web surveys—through email and through advertisements. SMS, email, and advertising are each tools used to accomplish the same goal, which is to drive potential participants to follow a link to an internet survey and then, hopefully, complete that survey.


  • The advantages of the mobile-web method surround increased capabilities
    • Users can receive pictures and videos
    • Surveys are not limited to 160 characters per question
  • Inexpensive to conduct


  • Reaches higher socioeconomic classes because it requires users to have Internet connectivity via mobile or a data plan

Mobile Application

Mobile applications require users to have an Internet or data connection, a smartphone, and the application already downloaded on that smartphone. The user is notified of available surveys and can complete the surveys through the mobile application. The resulting data is then collected by the research company for review.

Web connectivity and smartphone ownership is essential in this mode, which makes mobile applications best for collecting responses from wealthy, young, or urban people.


  • Typically, a great choice for established markets


  • Challenging in emerging markets due to limited smartphone ownership and web connectivity
  • Without proper controls in place, responses can skew towards young or urban respondents

Choosing the right mode

There are a few significant determining factors that impact the mode of data collection best fit for a particular project: literacy rate, demographic and socio-economic targeting, cultural context, budget, and timeline.

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Although it seems straight forward, literacy rate is one massively important factor that often gets overlooked in mobile research. Literacy rates of the area of interest should be taken into consideration when deciding the mode for a project. If literacy rates are low, spoken word surveys may be the best research method.

Cultural context is another factor that should be researched before choosing the best mode for a project. The culture of a country can be extremely granular depending on the market. Within one country in Africa, for example, there are many different communities which have their own definition of what is acceptable or normal. Survey participants in some cultures may not feel comfortable answering questions aloud about sensitive topics and would be more engaged through SMS.

Budget and timeline are also large determinants of which mode is best fit for a project. Modes like IVR and CAPI often take longer to complete than SMS, for example. Budget can also be a factor when considering sample sizes. A mode with a lower cost per participant would be a great choice if a project required surveying extremely large populations, for example.

Get In Touch

GeoPoll experts understand that conducting research via mobile is nuanced. GeoPoll conducts surveys via all of the methods mentioned above, and has a large panel of respondents around the world who organizations can conduct mobile-based research with. Our previous experience conducting multi-modal mobile research is wildly helpful for getting the desired results from a research project, while ensuring you get the most value for your spend. Contact us here to speak with an expert about your research needs and learn how GeoPoll can help.