Guest author

Mobile is a Means, Not an End: How Root Capital uses mobile for impact data and client services

10. Jul 2014


Photo: An enumerator interviews a supplier to a Kenyan Root Capital client.

This blog was written by Asya Troychansky

Root Capital is a nonprofit agricultural lender that seeks to improve farmer livelihoods by providing credit and financial training to small and growing businesses (SGBs) in Africa and Latin America. Fundamental to our social mission is impact assessment, which we see as a means to further understand and amplify Root Capital’s impact on rural SGBs and, in turn, the SGBs’ impact on farmer households.

To shed light on these impacts, we utilize two primary approaches: 1) social and environmental enterprise-level metrics collected through our loan officers’ due diligence, and 2) deep-dive case studies in which we conduct farm-level surveys with a subset of clients. It is with these deep-dive studies that we have begun to use mobile software in order to streamline data collection and improve data quality.

The presentation Root Capital - Mobile as Means, which we recently presented at the 2014 ANDE Metrics Conference, shows how we have used mobile technology as a means towards the ends of:

  • Client learning: generating actionable data for business managers;
  • Impact learning: helping Root Capital to understand and demonstrate impacts; and
  • Client service offerings: facilitating software use to strengthen SGB business processes.

With the caveat that we are not technology experts, we offer tips based upon the 21 mobile-enabled studies we have conducted to date. The presentation shares lessons on when and how to use mobile, how to add value for clients, and how to select enumerators and survey locations.

We conclude with a three-pronged toolkit for designing an effective and efficient mobile survey:

  1. Identify your goals and the mobile opportunity. Use mobile as a means to accomplish your goals.
  2. If using mobile for data collection, choose software that allows you to collect data offline, easily customize, and deliver on various devices.
  3. Choose a data collection strategy that optimizes on data quality, cost efficiency, internal validity, and responsiveness.

We welcome and appreciate feedback and learning from others’ experience.