You may have tried SMS surveys using basic e.g. Nokia phones, you may have brought in smartphones and used apps to record data (as we did for FieldTask and ODK). I’ve just heard about USSD from my colleague Deepali who was working with an NGO in Uganda recently.
What is USSD?
This is something I ripped off this lovely site: http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/definition/USSD
“USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) is a Global System for Mobile(GSM) communication technology that is used to send text between a mobile phone and an application program in the network. Applications may include prepaid roaming or mobile chatting.
“USSD is similar to Short Messaging Service (SMS), but,unlike SMS, USSD transactions occur during the session only. With SMS, message scan be sent to a mobile phone and stored for several days if the phone is not activated or within range.”
Why is it useful to you as an NGO M&E person?
If you need to survey a rural community and you are/work with local staff with basic phones (i.e.non-smart) but no mobile reception, then USSD will enable you to record survey answers on the phones. When the staff can move to an area with reception then they can upload the data to your web-based platform* (don’t worry about that for now stay with me). And then the data is in a form that is already electronic – no need for form filling, data is exported to spreadsheet and analysed – you can do this whilst still near to the context.
If you can afford some smartphones then I do still like FieldTask
Web-based platform – so that’s the bit that you either custom build to suit your need – or … is there an open source platform that anyone can use like FrontlineSMS but for USSD? Anyone?
Caveat: I don’t have field experience of this – so this isn’t a recommendation – it’s just a new option in the area of data collection in remote areas which I’m interested in learning about.