Open-source Tools for NGO Data Collection

January 24, 2018 12:00 AM
  • Open-source Tools for NGO Data Collection logo

Data plays an important role in the operations of different NGOs. Collection of data helps in identifying various shortfalls and gives insights to NGOs operating in the Humanitarian, Agriculture, Governance, Health, and others sections. Data collection helps NGOs filter specific problems and pitch to the exact position for implementation of solutions. Data assists in learning and awareness through recorded information.

For this reason, frequent collection of data is considered a necessary and smart approach to meet decision making requirements. Most of the NGOs begin with field-level surveys to record various data. Conducting surveys manually could present itself a task, especially the storage and maintenance of paper forms. To overcome such time-consuming and inefficient methods, technology can help. The use of smartphones in the social good sector has eased the data collection through field-level surveys.

Replacing pen and paper with smartphones can improve the accuracy and authenticity of data. Tasks like data collection, storage, aggregation, analysis, and reporting are automated using handheld devices. It simplifies the work for people and helps NGOs to focus on decision making, optimizing resources, and improving services.

With this need for faster and efficient data collection - various open-source platforms are evolving into mobile-based tools. These open-source tools are free of cost and efficient and are actively developed by open community groups from different parts of the world. Everyone is allowed to use open-source technologies and many of open-source tools are mainly solutions for distinct non-government organizations.

The open-source mobile tools are diligently developed by communities like Open mobile consortium, OpenRosa consortium, and so forth. The particular communities have developed various mobile tools that can collect data, aggregate, analysis, report, and manage data. The commonly used mobile data collection tools are listed below.

Open Data Kit or ODK

Open Data Kit(ODK) is an 'out of the box' solution for various organizations to collect data through mobile devices. There are different tools out on the market, but this one stands out with its free and open-source kit developed as an all-in-one solution. The tools on ODK can collect complex datasets and give results in distinct forms.

ODK tools assist in building a survey form for collection of data, for this, XLSForm is recommended. Thereafter, the tools collect the data and send to the server. There it aggregates the collected data on the server to use for different requirements. It provides various such solutions for data collection.


With the emergence of smartphones, the Java-based mobile users have significantly dropped. However, in some developing countries, people with low income are still using low-cost Java-based devices. JavaRosa is a mobile tool developed by OpenRosa consortium for data collection. This tool is compatible with all Java-enabled devices. It is robust and secure in collecting data from different sources.


uSurvey is another data collection tool which is from Uganda. This is also an open-source tool that represents data statistically and estimates real-time data collection. The uSurvey can collect data offline from different locations where there is erratic connectivity to network. It helps in collecting a wide range of data from different locations and which can then be represented in various forms. This platform runs on ODK(open data kit) and USSD(Unstructured supplement of service data). Therefore, it is easily one of the best survey tools for the statistical and graphical view of survey data.


Textit is another survey tool that is based on SMS exchanges. It is both affordable and compatible with any mobile device. Users do not require any smartphone or tablet to make use of this feature. It only requires messaging service, so the flow of Q/A-based survey is performed. This tool uses a multi-messaging platform supported by voice bots. This way, data can be collected from anyplace. A Flow engine is situated at the back-end of the application that helps non-programmers to create their own engaging SMS application as per the requirement. Finally, it also aids in monitoring real-time analytics of the communication involved in the survey.


OpenXdata is an open-source platform used to collect data from various mobile devices. Everyone, from a small NGO to a large research group can download and use this tool. The platform helps create mForms to all compatible mobile devices for data collection. It supports offline in the places where there is an intermittent network connection. The collected data can be viewed in multimedia and GPS forms. With the help of OpenXdata, one can create a visually designed prototype for an in-depth understanding of data.

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