CAPI in Somalia

Transitioning to Computer Assisted Survey: Experience from Zerihun Associates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Transitioning to Computer Assisted Survey: Experience from Zerihun Associates  

Mesay Girma and Abebual Demilew

In recent decade there are an increasing number of household surveys being carried out in developing countries, generating a lot of important data but their quality is far from acceptable. This is where using CAPI or Computer-Assisted Personal Interviews comes in to play. Computer-assisted survey helps to significantly bring down the errors through features like a comprehensive consistency and validation checks, and other smart functions.

One error reducing aspect that must be mentioned here is the automated routing system. It helps to avoid skipping of the important questions, and helps skip questions that are not required. One more problem that CAPI solves is that of missing variables. The questions as well as responses can be selected easily. Limits for the numerals can be set for ensuring that the responses recorded are relevant as well as accurate.

In addition to all that you can use images to express imprecise units. In many surveys in developing countries, quantities are expressed in imprecise units; such as ‘sini‘, ‘tassa’, ‘esir’, kunna’, small heap of cassava’, ‘medium bunch of bananas’. This leads to ambiguous item-unit combinations which are then subject to individual interpretation of what constitutes small, medium, large. Consumption data therefore has been widely known to contain errors, with errors and irregularities often only noticed several months later when researchers start analysing the data. To reduce such ambiguity, you could display pictures of vague units, such as ‘kunna’, ‘heap’ or ‘bunch’ in size context to other everyday items; so that they can be more precisely mapped onto metric units and more accurate consumption recordings can be taken.  For panel surveys, CAPI software can help us import data from previous round surveys to pre-populate fields or to validate newly collected responses against data previously collected.

With CAPI, data is entered immediately in the device, which minimizes costs associated with data entry and the chances of errors due to data entry. For preventing unwanted modification of data, CAPI comes with GPS software as well as time recording for assisting the supervisors.

While CAPI does lead to a higher up-front cost, its overall per-questionnaire cost is much lower than the traditional paper-based surveys. It saves significant time in each interview by its skip logic and consistency checks as well as making the survey’s questionnaire branching invisible to the enumerator.  However, for the latter, it is vital that the new enumerator gets proficient with the new technology. Based on Zerihun Associates’ extensive experience you do not need college graduates to run mobile phone or computer assisted surveys, any high school graduate can be trained to deliver high quality data. All that the interviewer has to do while making use of CAPI is enter the data that the computer will accept. Unscrupulous interviewers may just modify the value to whatever suppresses the error message, rather than trying to get the correct answer. CAPI helps achieving greater control over the question sequence. It thus decreases the possibility of interviewers from taking shortcuts by skipping over some questions.

A few concerns regarding CAPI are there as well. The first one is safety, which depends on the data that is being synced or transferred in a short time. However, this requires internet, which may not be as readily available while working in rural areas of the developing countries. The tablets used are powered by batteries, which run for a maximum time of 8 hours, after which charging will be required. To tackle the problem of lack of internet, Bluetooth is used as an alternative method of data transfer. In a survey recently conducted in remote parts of the Oromia region in Ethiopia, 3600HH data was transferred by the use of Bluetooth without any difficulties. Data transferred to supervisor’s computer via Bluetooth are later transferred to the head office via internet when the supervisor reaches towns with internet services. For issues related to the battery life, extra portable batteries are carried. Portable solar panels are also being used in many areas to further make CAPI tabs more efficient.

To efficiently and successfully make switch your paper-based survey to computer-assisted survey a well-trained research team is vital. Zerihun Associates ( is where we try to provide the best of it. With compatibility of a range of survey software, including CSPro, ODK, Surveybe and Survey Solutions among a few others, we use our extensive experience to ensure that the training provided helps the staff achieve maximum efficiency and error-free data collection. Zerihun Associates provides a comprehensive collection of information regarding CAPI as well as all other trainings. For more please visit our training information page

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