Improving shoestring surveys for off-grid humanitarian power projects : kilowatts for humanity and KoboCollect

Dauenhauer, Peter and Shields, Matt and McLean Sloughter, J. and Stewart, AJ and Lacrampe, Christopher and Magness, Elsa and Ochavillo, Jeffrey and Limfueco, Jason and Mendoza, Alyssa; (2019) Improving shoestring surveys for off-grid humanitarian power projects : kilowatts for humanity and KoboCollect. In: 2018 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC). IEEE, USA, pp. 1-6. ISBN 9781538655665 (

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Field surveys are commonplace and essential for off-grid power projects in developing countries where availability of data may be scarce. Critical decisions such as site selection, technology choice, business models employed, and approach to community engagement are all greatly assisted by data that can be gathered through field surveys. Paper-based field surveys, the de facto standard approach, are prone to error, slow to deploy and adjust, and have other practical challenges despite the obvious advantage of having fewer technological dependencies. Over recent years, improvement in freely available surveying software, smartphones and tablets, as well as good cellular coverage throughout the world offers humanitarian organizations an opportunity to implement digital field surveys with relative ease. This article presents the experience implementing KoboCollect by Kilowatts for Humanity (KWH), a non-profit that implements sustainable energy kiosks in developing countries. KoboCollect is an open-source data collection software platform designed to support humanitarian and research organizations. In this paper, limitations of paper-based field surveys from previous KWH projects, as well as from the extant literature, are considered with respect to their ultimate impact on the implementation of the development project. A new approach is presented in which survey questions are refined based on past experience and are directly related to pre-defined project indicators. Key benefits and challenges are identified from the adoption of the new approach and methodological questions around sampling and decision-making following data collection are discussed. The new method is discussed in the context of a KWH survey project being conducted in the summer of 2018 in three locations in the Philippines. A major goal of this work is to open a discussion about the successes and failures of the shoestring, paper-based survey methodology and point to current best practices.