Uganda University Promotes Mobiles for Census

A Ugandan university partnering with a U.S. technology vendor wants the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to carry out the 2012 population census with mobile devices.

Makerere University's Faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT) and a large unnamed technology company from the U.S. are in the early stages of putting together a proposal, Michael Niyitegeka, the faculty's communications manager, confirmed in an interview with IDG Enterprise Service.

CIT believes that, based on what it has been able to do with a health data collection system it was deeply involved with, population data can be collected using handheld mobile devices, Niyitegeka said. That system is the EpiHandy device, used for surveys and data collection in health and development research.

The system eliminates bulky paper questionnaires and subsequent data entry as well as costly errors related to manual data entry and lack of validation of data at time of collection. A population census in Uganda would cost millions of U.S. dollars considering that the statistics bureau, UBOS, would purchase hundreds of desktop PCs for data entry, Niyitegeka said. Rather than spend on PCs, UBOS could purchase handheld computers or mobile phones. Census officials could enter data into the devices in the field as opposed to going out with paper-based questionnaires to capture the data, returning to the station and then entering the same information manually. An additional benefit is that the data would be available in real time.

"We have tested the EpiHandy device. We have been able to get a questionnaire sit on a mobile phone. We have used different formats, which makes it easy for people to enter data," Niyitegeka said.

In areas that don't have GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network coverage, the device collects data locally and then transfers it to a server automatically once it is back in range of a network.

If the proposal is approved, UBOS would need to buy only the handheld devices as well as building a robust central server able to handle the volume of information flowing in from the field.

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