At Mobenzi, our product strategy is guided by a set of seven key principles, which, based on our experience, need to be adequately catered for, to deliver the benefits envisaged by an organisation looking to digitise its fieldwork.

Principle 1. Provide a holistic experience for fieldworkers.

When transitioning to digital fieldwork, without an intentional focus on delivering value to fieldworkers right from the start, meaningful uptake of a new technology is unlikely. Mobile-first principles, offline capabilities and the use of familiar concepts must guide the design of the application that is to be provided to field teams. A simple data entry tool is core but the interface must also be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the practical issues that arise in the field. A holistic experience must support and coordinate the wide variety of activities, content and, in some cases, other apps, which facilitate the end-to-end data collection process.

Principle 2. Reduce reliance on technical experts.

Organisations are likely to struggle in the long run if they rely on technical experts to create their forms as well as manage other key day-to-day activities. It should be possible for members of the organisation to collaborate to produce and maintain high quality forms – without any programming skills or deep technical expertise. The complexity of managing multi-lingual forms and publishing changes to distributed teams must be handled seamlessly.

Principle 3. Leverage real-time management to build and sustain momentum.

For a digital transition to succeed, organisations need to build momentum to overcome the inertia of familiar, paper-based processes. By providing real-time visibility on field operations, and the ability to engage with field teams in real-time, organisations can monitor for teething problems and resolve them as soon as they occur. Once baseline performance levels have been established, ongoing performance monitoring and feedback, using centralised messaging channels, can be used to begin unlocking efficiency gains.

Principle 4. Guard against logistical entropy.

All projects experience a natural entropy: a gradual tendency toward chaos – unless an organising intervention is applied. This entropy is largely driven by the logistical challenges around handset management, keeping apps updated, and ensuring fieldworkers do not inadvertently tamper with settings or intentionally misuse their assigned handsets. One intervention comes in the form of centralised handset administration that prevents fieldworkers from accessing settings or unauthorised applications and delivers application updates automatically.

Principle 5. Bring data to life.

The ability to demonstrate and communicate impact to funders and other stakeholders through compelling visual reports is critical but they can be onerous to produce manually. The promise of automated, near real-time reports is one of the main benefits which draw organisations to digitise their fieldwork. Interactive charts, graphs and maps that can be configured to display appropriate levels of detail are just a few of the ways in which data can be brought to life in order to unlock the true value of fieldwork.

Principle 6. Establish a data chain of custody.

Ethical and legal concerns around data privacy and security can hamper the adoption of digital tools. However, used correctly, electronic records are far more secure than their paper counterparts. Not only can data be encrypted, but access and modification can be carefully controlled. Every event can be logged automatically to establish a complete data chain of custody – a concept modelled on how evidence is handled at a crime scene to ensure that no tampering or contamination has occurred. Responsible data custodianship extends to data storage, backup and recovery practices to eliminate data loss events and comply with data privacy legislation such as the GDPR.

Principle 7. Augment self-service learning with responsive human support.

Change management is one of the most important considerations when implementing a new technology. There will always be users who require training and contextual assistance along the way to flourish. Blending the use of virtual material with responsive support appropriately will have a significant impact on adoption levels. Reliance on ad hoc input from an external consultant or a voluntary community to resolve urgent issues poses a significant risk to organisations which work under deadline pressures.