Objectives To assess our experiences of using hand-held computers (personal digital assistants, PDAs) for direct data capture in a large community-based geo-referenced survey in rural Burkina Faso, highlighting benefits and lessons learnt from their use.
Methods A population-based geo-referenced survey of over 500 000 people was undertaken using PDAs with in-built GPS receivers and the resulting database analysed in terms of successful completion, error rates and interview durations.
Results Surveys were successfully completed for 84 861 households (98.3%) by 127 interviewers. The data input error rate was assessed at 0.24%, with more than half of the errors being made by less than 10% of the interviewers. Faster interviewers were not less accurate. Time-stamped and geo-referenced data allowed reconstruction of particular interviewer-day activities.
Conclusions Although the survey setting was challenging, the feasibility of using direct data capture on a large scale was well established. We learnt that, with more experience, we could have made better use of real-time entry and quality control checking procedures. The work involved in designing and setting up a complex survey on PDAs prior to data collection should not be underestimated.