Earlier this month, Tostan’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) department began using new technology to gather information from the field. The KoBo Toolbox, open source software which offers a range of tools designed to make the process of data collection more efficient and more reliable, has been adopted by the MERL department and is being used to evaluate the Tostan program for the first time.

The KoBo software allows users to design custom forms for surveys on a computer and transfer these forms to multiple Android smartphones or tablets. Using this technology, the interviewer clicks the respondent’s answers as the survey is carried out, eliminating the need for paper. The mobile application not only saves time during the actual administration of the survey by allowing the flow of questions to be based on responses to earlier questions, but also means the responses are recorded in one step. Each entry is time-stamped and locations are recorded using GPS, before the data is synced over the internet and collated in an online database.

According to Interim MERL Director Ben Cislaghi, based in Dakar, this means that “ten seconds after an interview is over we already have the data available for the analysis”.

As well as collecting quantitative data, the tool allows the MERL team to record photographs, audio and video files. Combining this quantitative and qualitative data will make it possible “to show concrete evidence of the results of the Tostan program”, according to Dr. Cislaghi.

Tostan first used the software to collect data earlier this month in the Upper River Region of The Gambia, where members of the MERL department worked with local staff to carry out a project evaluation of a Unicef-funded project, initially using the software in nine villages.

The supervisors, who are tasked with carrying out regular monitoring and evaluation of activities in the field and who were seeing the software and technology for the first time, were a little awestruck to begin with, says Vivien Manuel, MERL Assistant based in Tostan’s international headquarters in Dakar and currently taking part in the evaluation in The Gambia.  After having been introduced to the straightforward and practical software, however, they were “happy to replace the numerous documents that they are in the habit of using with one very simple to use machine”.  As for the participants taking part in this first KoBo-powered evaluation, they appreciated that this new technology makes the process of recording responses much more efficient, saving time for everyone concerned.

This evaluation in The Gambia signifies a change in the way the Tostan MERL department works to collect data in order to monitor and evaluate Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program, a process which is crucial to making continual improvements to the program and measuring impact. In the future, the MERL department envisions the KoBo software being used for all evaluations.