Technology can help civil society and people doing research in numerous ways. This I learnt during my interface with technology experts at Google’s office in Hyderabad as I was a participant at the #Tech4Good Hyderabad Chapter 2018. It is possible now for technology enthusiasts as well as researchers, who are involved in data collection and surveys, to take help of ODK build, ODK collect and Google fusion tables / Google My Maps.

The steps and procedures involved in all the above-mentioned three stages are a bit technical, which a non-technical person like me, may find it difficult initially. However, due to the cooperative and helpful attitude of technical experts from Google as well as #Tech4Good team and initiative, the entire task became easier.

During the one-day workshop that was held on 31st August, 2018 at the Google office in Hyderabad, the participants learnt how to build their own questionnaire electronically using the ODK build tool https://build.opendatakit.org/. These questionnaires are different from the usual paper-based questionnaires, which are often used in surveys, in the sense that apart from recording multiple-choices / options, they could even capture multimedia-based responses like music, pictures etc. They could also record the GPS location of the place from where the data is collected. Following the ODK build, is the next step of setting a Google spreadsheet and linking the latter to the former so that whatever data is collected gets reflected in the spreadsheet of the research coordinator / head of the project.

The next step that I learnt during the #Tech4Good Hyderabad chapter is to transfer the ODK questionnaire into the android devices of the surveyors / interviewers so that they could collect data from the field survey and feed it directly into their devices such as android smartphones and tablets.For this step and the next one (which I am about to discuss), Google Drive plays a key role.

The last and the most important step is to represent / visualize the data that gets collected in the spreadsheet into Google fusion tables / Google My Maps http://mymaps.google.com. The last step is crucial since it helps one to tell the story that is portrayed through the data, which is collected.

With practice comes perfection. So, the perfect way to retain in memory whatever one has learnt during such training workshops is to bring that knowledge to practice. One can also do mock exercises by taking help of friends and colleagues, once the participants go back to their respective homes/ organisations after the workshop is over.

I hope that more such technical sessions and workshops pertaining to data collection and visualisation will be helpful not only for the civil society, but also to researchers, journalists and students doing PhDs.
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***Shambhu Ghatak works with the Inclusive Media for Change Project (www.im4change.org) at Common Cause, New Delhi. He can be contacted at: shambhucommon@gmail.com