If you’ve made the decision to trade paper-based data collection for a digital tool, be aware that, although digital data collection is simpler, it requires proper planning to ensure the data collected is of a high quality.

Start with the question: how am I going to digitise my data collection?

Five key considerations for designing a digital form

1) What are the desired outcomes of your data collection?

It’s important to start with your end-goal in mind. Be specific and clear about the necessary outcomes, because vague goals achieve vague results.

Vague goals achieve vague results.

Consider the following:

  • What are the key issues you want to solve and questions you want to answer?
  • What do you need to achieve with the data collected?
  • What are the variables (i.e. indicators) you need to observe and monitor in order to measure your impact?

Start with the objective of the data collection in mind and identify what’s needed to meet it. This will ensure your form is designed to gather data that’s actually useful.

2) Who’s your audience?

Your form should be designed with your audience in mind. When you have a well-defined target audience, you’re more likely to ask questions they’ll understand. This is important because you want the answers you collect to be as accurate as possible. Make sure you consider  your target market’s limitations, such as literacy level, terminology used, and experience with technology.

When you have a well-defined target audience, you’re most likely to ask questions they’ll understand.

Depending on your audience, the language you use, questions you pose, and the response types you ask for might vary. In order to avoid confusion and, as a result, inaccurate responses, ensure your choice of language and wording is familiar to your audience. 

Keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid using complicated language and technical jargon.
  • If it’s necessary to use a term your audience might not be familiar with, define it using simple wording.
  • Consider using translated versions of your forms to improve audience understanding.
  • Test your form on someone who fits your target profile to confirm audience fit. Review and adjust where necessary.

3) Who are your data collectors?

Just as it’s important to consider your respondents when designing your digital form, it’s equally important to keep your data collectors in mind.

The fields in your form and the information you capture in each field must be clearly understood by your data collection team so that they can accurately convey the questions to respondents. It’s best to use clear, simple language that’s easy to understand. Ensure any confusion the data collectors experience is resolved before going live with the digital data collection process.

Giving data collectors time to practice using the Mobenzi app to familiarise themselves with its functionality, as well as the handset they’ll be using, will increase their comfort with the technology. Data collectors also need to familiarise themselves with the form in its new digital format, along with any actions they may need to perform while capturing data, such as barcode scanning.

Mobenzi conducting training on form design for the Eden Project in 2014

4) Form layout

Spend time planning how you’ll phrase and order each of your questions and statements Here are some suggestions:

  • Group questions about similar topics.
  • Avoid using long and unclear questions. If a question doesn’t get to the point soon enough, respondents often make assumptions so they can provide an answer and move on.
  • Steer away from ambiguous questions that could be interpreted differently to how you intended. Be specific.
  • Only pose one question per field, and avoid vague terminology:
    • “Do you eat fruit and vegetables often?”

In the above question, the respondent has no way of knowing whether the question relates to both fruit and vegetables, or whether it’s about either one. Similarly, the term ‘often’ is not quantified.

  • Don’t include examples in your questions, as this might bias respondents’ answers.
  • Keep questions neutral and avoid those that might encourage respondents to answer in a particular way:
  • Instead of asking, “Do you think XYZ is good?”, rather ask, “What do you think about XYZ?”In order to keep your form as concise and to the point as possible, make use of different field types, skip logic, and validation.

5) Test your form

This is an extremely important step to complete well in advance of your scheduled go-live date.

Test the form yourself and ask your team members to do the same so you can share feedback and discuss solutions to any flaws you’ve identified. This will allow you to improve the form before it’s used in the field, and will help to ensure that the data collected contributes to achieving your desired outcomes.