Tag Archives: Data Collection

Rapid Android for Collecting Market Information?

I came across an interview, prepared by Ms. Katrine Veclas from MobileActive, with Mr. Jonathan Jackson of Dimagi. The interview introduces the Rapid Android technology which offers an innovative way of configuring the back-end of SMS deployments.

Mr. Jonathan Jackson, summarises the currently available deployment options as including deployments via international SMS gateways and localised deployments. Under the first option the deployment path consists of: 1) clients sending SMS to an international phone number 2) messages are transferred to an international SMS gateway 3) message go through the Internet to a Web server 4) client machines are able to access the Web server through the Internet to view the data.

marketAlertsThis deployment option is great for large scale applications. In the area of dissemination and collection of mobile market information, I am aware of ITC’s Trade at Hand using similar deployment paths for the delivery of Market Alerts from trade support institutions to networks of exporters, and for the collection and analysis of local market information under the mCollect project.

ccpmp1The second deployment option mentioned by Mr. Jonathan Jackson includes 1) local server connected to a phone, being able to talk to local clients and 2) client machines hitting the local server directly, or through the Internet. Small deployments are viable under this option. But deployments are subject to the hazards of thier small scale. Even small problems with the systems can become critical because they require specialised engineering skills. Such deployments are at risk of losing users’ interest when qualified support is not available on the ground. A market oriented project which might fall under this category is the Cambodia Crop Production and Marketing Project (CCPMP).

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The Rapid Android technology presented my Mr. Jonathan Jackson allows for the use of Android phones not only as SMS clients, but also as back-end servers. This dual use greatly simplifies the equipment needs and the skill needs for the deployment of SMS solutions. It also allows for immediate analysis of incoming data in real time.

For the sector of mobile market information systems, Rapid Android presents enhanced SMS broadcasting and data collection opportunities. With the future developments of Rapid Android outlined by Mr. Jonathan Jackson under wasy, Rapid Android presents the opportunity to develop more resilient and extensive market infromation collection networks. Even though the benefits of broadcasting up-to-date market informatiton to farmers in remote areas have been widely recognised. I think more efforts are needed to improve the market information generation process and to ensure the quality of the information. So far the accuracy of the collected information is largely due to the skills and experience of market ennumerators based out in the field. The transformation, analysis and response to this information is tends to be removed at central head offices and headquarters. With the availability of technologies similar to Rapid Android, the opportunity of relocating the analysis closer to the source of the data opens up.

Market Data Collection and Location Information via Mobile

From my own observations, namely the list of ICT4D projects, I think it is a fair comment that most of the initiatives are aimed at information delivery, rather than information collection. Many market information systems profess delivering benefits and improving livelihoods by providing access to up-to-date price information. But rarely publicity documents mention how exactly the information is collected, how its accuracy is assured, or how it is put to use. Occassionally, market information systems are backed-up by extensive and robust networks of ennumerators who are experienced in data collection. The cases of TradeNet/ Esoko in Ghana and Trade at Hand’s mCollect project, come to mind. In such cases I can be convinced of the value of the delivered market information content. In other cases I tend to be a bit more sceptical.

Here I have two videos touching on the topic of data collection. In the first video, Mr. Patrick Meier from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), who writes iRevolution discusses crisis mapping and early warning systems. His work brings together data collection and geo-spatial information. His ideas can be staightforwardly applied to the mapping of stocks and frows of food products. Mr. Meier overviews lessons learned, best practices and current thinking in the emerging field of crisis mapping.

Mr. Meier stresses four main areas of crisis mapping. The first one is crisis map sourcing. The technologies he overviews can easily be applied to market data collection, or in his terms price map sourcing, which would involve the collection of geo-refernced and time-stamped price information. The crowd sourcing methods mentioned in Mr. Meier’s presentation include surveys, focus groups, satellite imagery, participatory GIS, annotated digital maps such as the ones which can be produced via Ushahidi, as well as mobile technologies such as text messaging via FrontlineSMS. Mr. Meier also discusses the accuracy of the crowd-sourced data, he mentions the design principles of data validation and triangulation. Two interesting initiatives which could be adopted in the field of market information monitoring are the Humanitarian Sensor Web, identifying relevant infrastructure; and the Mesh4X automated synchronisation of disperate datasets which makes information sharing seamless.

The second are of interest is crisis data visualisation, including social mapping (i.e. distances on the map represent social perceptions), 3D GIS, pdf-mapping and dynamic maps. The third area is crisis mapping analysis where maps are used as indications of large-scale behavioural patterns over time and space. The fourth area of interest is crowd-feeding, in my understanding the reverse of crowd-sourcing or in other words information delivery services. Mr. Meier mentions response crowd-feeding whereby information is sourced from some in order to be delivered to others who need it the more.
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In the second video Mr. Ian Puttergill, Business Development Manager, Unlimited Potential Group, Microsoft, Soth Africa shares his views on how data can be collected using mobile phones. Firstly, he emphasises the accuracy of the information sources and argues that mobile phone communication is applicable when the accuracy threshold is lower. Mr. Puttergill stresses that a filter is needed for data collection implementations so that irrelevant information can be discarded. He also mentions a loop re-entering information when the format is not correct. Additionally, Mr. Puttergill discusses business models for mobile information services, focusing on socially relevant information as key for finding suitable commercial models, non-profit models, or advertising models.

The videos, the thoughts of Mr. Puttergill and the information provided by Mr. Meier give a lot of food for thought regarding the design of market information services which include rigorous information sourcing methods, allow for mapping of the agricultural product stocks, and are based on sustainable business models. Please get in touch with me if you are interested in discussing the topic further, or comment below.