Collective Service Documentation

World Bank

Mobile Phone Panel Surveys in Developing Countries: A Practical Guide for Microdata Collection


Household survey data are useful for monitoring the living conditions of citizens in any country. In developing countries, a lot of these data are collected through traditional face-to-face household surveys. Because of the remote and dispersed nature of many populations in developing countries, but also because of the complex nature of many survey questionnaires, the collection of timely welfare data has often proven expensive and logistically challenging. At the same time, there is a need for more rapid, less expensive, less complicated, and more nimble data collection methods to address the data gaps between big household surveys.

During the past decade, there have been promising new opportunities, backed up by some empirical data, for the collection of statistics at much higher frequency. The recent proliferation of mobile phone networks and inexpensive telephone handsets has opened new possibilities. Based on a combination of baseline data from a traditional household survey and subsequent interviews of selected respondents using mobile phones, a growing number of initiatives are now using mobile phone technology to facilitate welfare monitoring and opinion polling almost in real time.

The purpose of this collection of seven chapters is to contribute to the development of the new field of mobile phone data collection in developing countries. This handbook documents how this innovative approach to data collection works, the specific advantages of mobile phone panel surveys (MPPSs), the practical aspects, and the challenges in survey design. The handbook mainly draws on the first-hand experiences of the authors with a number of mobile data collection initiatives, primarily across Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the text builds on the experience and lessons gathered through mobile data collection projects in other regions of the world.

The mobile phone surveys discussed in this handbook are particularly relevant for initiatives endeavoring to collect limited sets of representative data in an affordable manner. The approach described represents an indispensable tool for individuals, organizations, and others seeking feedback from populations, monitoring changes in living conditions over time, or analyzing the impact of interventions.

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