UNICEF, in collaboration with Nyaruka Ltd., released RapidPro in 2014 as an open-source platform to allow international development practitioners to develop country-specific mobile services for engagement and data collection. The platform lets users create SMS and IVR applications. UNICEF has used RapidPro to deploy many SMS-based data collection systems and has found a back-and-forth messenger-bot-like dialog to be useful in guiding data collectors. The RapidPro Surveyor application was created in 2015 to provide a chat-like interface on smartphones without network connectivity. RapidPro Surveyor’s messenger-like UI reduces user training requirements and improves data quality..
RapidPro Surveyor is not a messaging application in the traditional sense, in that it does not let people chat with others on the internet. Instead, it provides a messenger UI through which data collectors interact with simple bots to record information in a conversation rather than by filling out complex electronic forms. UNICEF believed a conversational UI would be more familiar to field staff, who were increasingly using smartphones and messaging apps, and that it would be easier to learn than data collection apps like Open Data Kit (ODK) Collect. UNICEF already had custom chatbots to test the viability of conversational messaging UI but needed an app that could work without an internet connection.
Users create surveys using RapidPro’s web-based survey composer. These surveys are in the form of a “flow” of questions that can include branching logic to ask different questions based on a user’s responses. The finished surveys are downloaded to the RapidPro Surveyor Android app. Using the Android app, users answer the survey questions, and the answers are stored on the phone or tablet to be uploaded back to the RapidPro webapp when the device is again connected to the internet.
Beyond the reduced training requirements, UNICEF also observed that RapidPro Surveyor similarly allows for validation and normalization of data "on the way in," as users work through a survey. This in-the-moment validation lets users correct mistakes and improves data quality. Despite these benefits, RapidPro Surveyor remains experimental and UNICEF does not have plans to promote its adoption.