by BP Panwar, and Sarah Kabaija – Information and Communication Technologies and Development – ICTD

Advancements in Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are creating new opportunities to impact children’s lives, and UNICEF is at the forefront of deploying innovative and technology-enabled solutions to reduce the inequalities children face. UNICEF, in collaboration with the Office of Innovation, is also focusing on partnerships between ICT experts, the private sector, and different stakeholders to successfully deliver these Technology for Development (T4D) solutions.

As the availability and usage of mobile phones around the world continues to increase, more organizations are exploring how mobiles can be used for large-scale data collection. One country that has been a leader in this is Uganda. Given their increasing functionalities and decreasing operating costs, UNICEF Uganda integrates mobile phone technology for citizen engagement and in capturing real-time data. These innovative approaches help to improve and enhance public policies, government programmes and service delivery in Uganda.

© UNICEF Uganda/2016/FGM-3 A field worker is interviewing a young responder to collect data for the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Survey in January 2016
© UNICEF Uganda/2016/FGM-3
A field worker is interviewing a young responder to collect data for the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Survey in January 2016

Starting in 2011, UNICEF Uganda developed U-Report, a social messaging tool that empowers young people to report on and respond to issues that matter to them. Like U-Report, other mobile-based tools such as mTrac and EduTrac are also providing significant benefits in capturing and using real-time data, including disease outbreaks, medicine stock-outs, student absenteeism, and cases of violence against children. This has resulted in greater citizen engagement throughout the country.

Using mobile phones to collect data often leads to more efficient processing times and informed decision-making. Additionally, it presents new opportunities to deploy surveys remotely while providing results in real-time.

Ms. Flavia Ouma, Senior IT Officer of Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) demonstrating the uSurvey application to a field worker during the field testing of the system for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Survey in January 2016. © UNICEF Uganda/2016/FGM-1
Ms. Flavia Ouma, Senior IT Officer of Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) demonstrating the uSurvey application to a field worker during the field testing of the system for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Survey in January 2016. © UNICEF Uganda/2016/FGM-1

As a result, UNICEF Uganda, in partnership with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), developed uSurvey to conduct official structured surveys and assessments. uSurvey is an open source tool that is currently being used to collect data on social indicators in various areas including Health, Nutrition, Education, and Water & Sanitation at the household level. uSurvey uses user responses to generate descriptive statistics and visual data on a broad range of economic and social issues. The unique difference between uSurvey and other mobile data collection tools is its built-in statistical functionality such as defining sample size, household listings and automated selection of random population samples.

UNICEF Uganda ICT team is testing uSurvey tool on mobile phones before handing over to UBOS for collecting data for ‘National Education Indicator’ survey. © UNICEF Uganda/2016/uSurvey
UNICEF Uganda ICT team is testing uSurvey tool on mobile phones before handing over to UBOS for collecting data for ‘National Education Indicator’ survey. © UNICEF Uganda/2016/uSurvey

Use of uSurvey in Uganda

  • Maiden use of the system in early 2016 enabled UNICEF and UBOS to obtain real-time data from 4,500 respondents, allowing for a presentation of preliminary results just three days after the fieldwork was completed with significant cost and time savings
  • Household listings obtained for nationwide Demographic and Health Survey (DHS)
  • Community-based health services in four districts for demand indicators to feed into analysis for Community and District Empowerment for Scale-up (CODES) project

Business advantages of uSurvey:

Standardized content and increased process transparency

  • Generic system that can be used for any survey or census with defined parameters during survey set-up (uSurvey has a bank of standard questions that can be added to)
  • Household listing module, representative random sample selection capabilities, and geographical coordinates corresponding to each home or data collection point
  • Inbuilt data summarization and results visualization features
  • Ability to monitor the time of capture of information for each sample and identify survey completion rates through the dashboard

Time and cost efficiencies

  • Saves money and time: eliminates paper questionnaires; no delayed release of results
  • Process simplification: survey questions relayed instantly from the server to mobile equipment; responses are transmitted back to the server immediately
  • Accuracy: enumerators are assigned to Enumeration Areas (EAs) by phone number and the system automatically assigns the data from each phone number to the designated EA
  • Rapid flexibility: ability to administer surveys at different times for different locations enabling one enumerator to collect data from several EAs

Quality gains

  • Quality Assurance: automated edit checks ensure that only valid responses against each question are captured
  • Easy collation: remote, real-time review and editing of captured data, no field-based editors required
  • Sustainability: green, paperless technology
  • Open Source: can be adapted to other countries with similar needs at reduced costs

We’re all ‘geeks’ now

3For uSurvey and similar T4D initiatives to be successful, ICT staff are supporting programme colleagues while developing new business, engagement and partnership skills that help them design, develop, run, scale, upgrade, and retire technologies.

As an example, Uganda ICT Manager BP Panwar engages with high-level government executives on a regular basis and works closely with statistics experts, programme colleagues, network services providers and vendors. A successful outcome of the uSurvey partnership is that UBOS has now taken full ownership of uSurvey. However, ICT expertise is still necessary for the entire life-cycle of ICT projects. Therefore, BP and Monitoring Specialist Sarah Kabaija still provides support and training, and will provide software upgrading support when the time comes. Moreover, skills like those BP and Sarah use are critical to scale uSurvey in other countries wishing to adopt uSurvey, including advising on hosting and security options. In sum, to be effective, ICT staff nowadays must understand how programmes work and should be able to operate within a collaborative culture.


When the U.N. member states adopted the SDGs in September 2015, they unequivocally said that modern technologies, especially mobile devices with Internet access, would be key enablers of SDG achievement. They also understood that the aid and development community would have to build strong partnerships with the ICT community. In turn, the ICT function has now realized that it too must develop sound strategic, managerial and collaborative competencies to meet the expectations.

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