When transitioning from paper-based to digital data collection, your team needs to be well-prepared for the change – everyone, including your field team. Here are five useful tips to keep in mind when preparing your team to use digital data collection tools.

1) Talk about it

Before training your field team on how to use a new system, discuss the change with them. It may seem obvious, but before your fieldworkers are trained to use their new handsets and mobile app, it’s crucial to explain the implications of the change from paper-based to digital data collection.

Common concerns among fieldworkers include:

  • How will this change affect my work load?
  • How will our team structure adapt?
  • What happens to the data we collect?

They’re also sometimes fearful of using a handset and being responsible for it. Discuss and address each of these concerns with them. Communicating your new strategy can increase buy-in and encourage successful uptake of the new system. If your team’s concerns are left unaddressed, it can negatively impact their performance and their perception of the change.

Communicating your new strategy can increase buy-in and encourage successful uptake of the new system.

2) Write the rules

It’s advisable to put a policy or standard operating procedure in place, outlining best practices for (digital) data collection, handset care, and expectations for work. For example, fieldworkers should know whether the handsets should be taken home with them every day, or stored in the office. They should also be aware of what to do should the handset be stolen, lost, or damaged.

It’s advisable to put a policy or standard operating procedure in place, outlining best practices for (digital) data collection, handset care, and expectations for work.

Before data collection starts, it’s a good idea to communicate how working in offline mode will be managed. For example, if a fieldworker is working in a remote area, they should know how frequently they’re expected to connect to the server. This varies based on reporting needs, but we advise that fieldworkers connect to the server at least once a week to avoid too many pending uploads and missed updates. When there are important updates that need to be downloaded, it will influence the timing of when teams are expected to connect to the server.

3) Spot the difference

Although simpler to use once you get the hang of it, a digital form is usually quite different from the original paper one. It’s important to note the difference in workflow, discuss these changes with your field team, and make sure they understand and are comfortable with the changes.

Although simpler to use once you get the hang of it, a digital form is usually quite different from the original paper one.

Specific challenges to look out for include:

  • Confusion about the skip logic and validation used in the form.
  • Understanding calculations used in the form.
  • How to do things like taking photos, capturing signatures, scanning barcodes or fingerprints.

When training your fieldworkers, it’s valuable to spend time on practicing these actions to help them feel comfortable performing each task, and to help them do it as accurately as possible.

4) Practice

During training there must be enough time for fieldworkers to practice using the app and capture data through forms. They need to familiarise themselves with each module of the mobile application and its functions. It may be useful to draw up practice examples or case studies beforehand to help make sure that as many scenarios as possible have been practiced, and that every fieldworker feels confident handling them.

5) Build a support structure

It’s inevitable that challenges with things like new handsets and technology will be experienced from time to time. To prepare for these challenges, identify a knowledgeable person – a “technical advisor” of sorts – your fieldworkers can contact to assist them.

Queries this person could help resolve include:

  • Fieldworkers running out of mobile data/airtime.
  • Fieldworkers not knowing what to do when they have pending uploads.
  • Fieldworkers encountering error messages on their handsets or within the app that they do not understand.

It’s crucial that a means of two-way communication is established between the field team and the person overseeing data collection. Fieldworkers should be encouraged to report any issues speedily and, similarly, any changes impacting them should be communicated as soon as possible. This also applies when any changes are made to the form, as fieldworkers will need to have connectivity to be able to download the changes.

Fieldworkers should be encouraged to report issues speedily and, similarly, any changes impacting them should be communicated as soon as possible.

Even though using digital data collection tools has many benefits, change can be a bit intimidating at first. Investing time in preparing your team for this change will help ease them through the transition period and ensure you experience the benefits sooner.