The form of data

Lost in transit
Image Source: Evaluation Toolkit for Magnet School Programs

The classroom
As part of a high school statistics project, our teacher gave us a form to collect data about customer automobile preferences. We had to analyse the data collected, and present it as a report.

While some were honest enough to actually go and get the forms filled, there were quite a few students who were getting dummy data filled by other classmates.

A few years later
I was walking near a market when a lady holding a bunch of papers asked me if I could spare a few minutes to answer questions about potato chips. She filled the fields of the survey form with my answers at great speed — a great time-saving skill, no doubt.

However, when one of my answers seemed unfavourable, she said ‘Oh no! I can’t record that.’ And then, she changed my answer!

* * *

Statistics form the core of almost every article we read. But behind numbers like 83.7% and 4.8 million, there is data collected by field staff.

While statistical reports talk of error margins, how reliable is the data on which they are based? It is hard to tell. Can we improve their quality? Definitely.

One of the projects we have had the opportunity to work on in the recent past, addresses this very issue.

Before we jump to the solution, here’s a look at the problem in a little detail.
Data typically goes through several stages before becoming a meaningful number — capture, display, interaction and analysis.

Data Chain
The typical data chain

Data capture, more often than not, involves paper forms. And paper forms have several inherent problems.

The first is the time lag between when the data is captured, and when it is available for analysis. The second problem is that of data integrity. Forms filled in manually are susceptible to errors during data capture, as well as during data transfer, as illustrated in the two real scenarios mentioned earlier. The third, and perhaps the most critical problem, is that of data authenticity. Paper forms can very easily be used to generate false information.

Raw aggregated data – typically tabulated – is not user friendly. It requires filtering in order to be useful for decision and policy making.

All this seems a lot like a game of Chinese Whispers. By the time the data can actually be analysed, it may lose its value.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could skip a few steps? As it happens, that is how technology can help. This was the subject on which our CEO, Mr. Sunil Malhotra recently spoke about at the 124A Bilateral Training Programme of International Centre for Information Systems and Audit (organised by Comptroller and Auditor General of India). While interacting with the delegates of FBSA, Republic of Iraq, during the session on Disease Surveillance and the Role of Technology, Mr. Malhotra emphasized the need to shorten the data collection timeline, as well as ensure integrity of data, through the use of mobile technology.

Here’s an excerpt from the companion presentation, explaining the common challenges involved in data collection, as well as how mobile technology can help solve them.

Stay tuned for the next post, detailing our own working solution!

The Ladies’ Oracle


To all those interested in the occult, worried about the future or belonging to the female gender, I have some exciting news. Ideafarms is proud to present its first android game ‘The Ladies’ Oracle’. The Ladies’ Oracle is a fun game that never fails to give accurate answers to any question asked. Originally a book by the same name, the game comes equipped with answers to over 95 questions that every girl of every age wants to know.

Men and women alike are often curious of the unknown and ask questions like;“When will I get married?”, “Will I have any children?”,“What does the future have in store for me?”. The infallible prophet “Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa”, had long ago worked out a fascinating mechanism to help you arrive at the answer to these questions which he had compiled in the original classic book by the same name – The Ladies Oracle. The book has been for years considered the perfect bible for every woman out in the world.

The Android game by Ideafarms has been designed to preserve the authenticity and enigma of the book while adding an element of fun and mystery to make it more engaging for the user.

Ask a question, choose a symbol, and get your answer. It’s that simple! Scroll through the list of questions and you’re bound to find one that suits your fancy. (Psst: The game also has a jump index bookmark thingy that makes it easy to browse questions.)

Once you’ve found a question you like, you are taken to a shape selection page, where 16 figures are moving randomly around a grid. Just tap a block to select a shape. Your destiny is in your own hands, because it is the shape selected that determines the outcome of your fate.

Spend some time trying out its features. The game never ceases to amaze you. For some answers, the Oracle will even suggest a charm or ritual. You can even choose to keep it to yourself, or share the answer with your friends through e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

Though there are some unlucky days, during which it is not advised to consult the Oracle, and it is not considered prudent to ask the same question twice in one day, you need not worry about it as the game is designed to help you out there.

Hard to put down, the game promises to be your constant companion, be it an important meeting, a lazy Sunday afternoon, or a fun filled slumber party.

So girls, go to the android market now and download this game. This one is for you.

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We too used Google+, and how!

Inspired by this post on Gizmodo which urges you to use Google+ for the main feature that it offers – sharing a post with only a select group of people – I got an idea to use it to get feedback for our latest Android App (more on that later) within a close group of trusted folks who I knew could offer valuable inputs.

For those who are yet to use it, what happens in Google+ is that you can add people to circles (and people can add you to circles too of course.) The USP is that you can choose to share your content (post, photos, rants, etc. etc.) with only a select few and so then only those people can see it or can comment on it. A little more digging around and of course with the help of the very good folks on Twitter, I discovered that you can also disable these few people from sharing it further with more people. So there, your secret is safe! Yay!

Safe with this knowledge, I shared the link for the Android App (which still needs some kinks worked out of it before it can be shared with people at large) with my Circle on Google+ called ‘Ideafarmers’.

Knowing I was sharing this with people who are working at Ideafarms or have worked here before, tech nuts and some even Android junkies ( 😉 ), definitely people with good ideas and who understand the value of the kind of user-experience Ideafarms tries to deliver, I was not disappointed. Within minutes we were bombarded with encouragement (which felt really nice) and very useful suggestions, most of which is already being put to good use towards improving the application. We all know how important early user-feedback is for any application. And if you are able to use a social network to gather it.. well it kind of validates the value of a social network beyond the ‘likes and +1s’. The benefit that Google+ adds here is that it allows a conversation to build around a topic – which was perhaps not as easily achieved over Twitter or Facebook earlier -which facilitates easier participation through which people can bring in their collective experience and expertise.

Infact we were so pleased with the result that now Ideafarms too has a Google+ account which we definitely plan to use for collaboration over our future projects / products and sharing information about all that interests you and us. You can search for Ideafarms and add us to your circles and if you think you would also like to participate and help us test and improve the early releases of our applications, do drop us a line and we can add you to our ‘Tech Fun’ group :-).

Also, if you have also used Google+ in any such interesting way, we would love to hear about it! Do share your experience and ideas.

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