Starting with CATI - what do you need?

This article supports the computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) starter kit guide.

If you're interested in deploying computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) but need help thinking through the basic requirements on SurveyCTO, this article is for you. Briefly, the SurveyCTO approach to CATI is not a traditional office-bound call centre solution. Existing mobile data collection and web form technology have been leveraged and customized to provide a flexible, and scalable CATI solution.

1. Contact details

You will of course need phone numbers to call! Depending on your project, these may be available or you may have already found them. Here are some common ways to find phone numbers:

  • Projects underway will have lists of participants, along with their contact details.
  • Some populations of interest can be found through research (e.g. the managers of clinics, or small firms).
  • For specific populations of interest (e.g. school children), contact details might be found through gatekeeper organizations (e.g. schools).
  • In market research it is common practice to collect, buy and sell lists of contacts (or "leads").
  • If haphazard, random contact with respondents is acceptable, you could randomly generate phone numbers inside a form (known as Random Digit Dialing (RDD)), or outside SurveyCTO and pre-load those numbers into your form.

2. Data capture hardware

Data capture using SurveyCTO can be done using smartphones, tablets, or computers. It is even possible to have remote team members use their own hardware (as opposed to equipment provided by you). There are a few options:

  • Use a single smartphone or tablet that supports a SIM card to both make calls and capture data.
  • If your data input device has no phone capabilities (e.g. a WiFi-only tablet), use a separate phone to manually dial and call phone numbers.
  • Use a laptop or desktop computer for data capture, and a phone for calls. Requires manual dialing with a separate phone.
  • Use a laptop or desktop computer for both making calls (e.g. Skype) and capturing data.

Beyond data capture devices, we suggest that phone interviewers use earphones with in-line microphones. Otherwise, using a speakerphone will be necessary for calls when using the same device for calls and data capture. Earphones will also offer more respondent privacy compared to speakerphones.

Depending on your hardware configuration, one or another method for initiating calls might make the best sense for your project. See our overview of options for initiating calls for details.

3. Internet services

As SurveyCTO is historically a mobile-first data collection platform, optimized for offline data collection, you'll have no problem capturing answers on a mobile device during a phone call without an internet connection. However, your team will need to connect to the internet to submit filled forms, and in the most ideal case, to publish form data to a call tracking system (which we encourage).

For more on call tracking, see the sample workflow guide to learn how enumerators can help track contact attempts inside the SurveyCTO system, and see our guide to monitoring CATI projects.

4. Third party services (optional)

Depending on how your phone survey works, it might benefit from one or more third party services:

  • Cross-network mobile credit vending services (like Chura in Kenya), for the distribution of mobile minutes/credit. This can be important for a.) topping up the credit of your phone interviewers, and b.) distributing incentives to respondents. Some of these will have user-friendly spreadsheet upload options for distributing mobile minutes (like Chura), and others will have developer-facing options for programmatic distribution (like Flickswitch in South Africa).

  • SIM card service management systems (like SIMcontrol in South Africa), for managing prepaid mobile phone service for your team of phone interviewers. Setup controls like limits (e.g. like how much internet service can be used), share a common balance, and conveniently manage all your SIM cards from one place.

  • Bulk SMS services (e.g. Bulk SMS or Twilio), for sending SMS messages to lists of respondents. These can be used for providing advanced notice of calls to improve response rates, for handling informed consent ahead of calls, and/or distributing or notifying respondents of incentives. 

    See our guide on requesting consent via bulk SMS. You can also record consent via SMS in a form.
  • Cloud telephony service field plug-in integrations (see Twilio for a multi-region solution, or Exotel for India) after alternative means for initiating phone calls. Such solutions offer benefits like platform-independent call-recording options (SurveyCTO's built-in recording capabilities are mostly limited to Android 4.4 through 7), call masking for security, bulk pricing, and centralized billing.

    See our guide on initiating calls with SurveyCTO.

The above third party services are merely suggestions of types of tools that can be value ads to your approach to CATI. None of these tools are requirements, nor are these endorsements. If you have any suggestions of tools you think might help others adapting to CATI, please share in the user forum.

Do you have thoughts on this guide? We'd love to hear them! Feel free to fill out this feedback form.

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