Chrissy h Roberts - TAB Application - 2020-09-01

Chrissy h Roberts (@chrissyhroberts)

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

What contributions (e.g., issue triage, tech support, documentation, bug fixes) have you made to the ODK community?
Long term focus on implementation of ODK systems in clinical research, epidemiology, emergency global health response and clinical trials.

Contributions to ecosystem development through commissioned work with Enketo (security updates) & Nafundi (audit trail etc.)

How do you believe your contributions have benefited ODK?
My work has raised the profile of ODK in the academic research community and particularly in the sphere of emergency medicine, clinical trials during outbreaks and global health. My team's work leveraged opportunities to test innovations in ODK ecosystem in real world high challenge settings and to refine and improve functionality of ODK in complex contexts such as conflict zones and areas affected by high consequence infectious disease outbreaks.

The ongoing collaboration between my team, Nafundi and Enketo has led to developments which we have detailed in a paper that we recently submitted to the academic journal BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making (Preprint This paper describes some significant updates and improvements to ODK including audit trail, fingerprint scanning, scalability and automation.

What do you believe the top priorities for ODK are?
I suppose that the current goals are to progress with the Central roadmap.
I'd personally identify a potential priority in this as being the need to expand functionality of Central to include functions that allow longitudinal data collection, sync between Central and Collect and audited editing of data on device and/or server.

How will you help the ODK community accomplish those priorities?
My position as lead of a mixed methods clinical research team provides me with opportunities to test new developments to the ecosystem in real world settings. The various needs of the many clinical trials, research studies, anthropological and ethnographic studies that my team is involved in, will continue to provide links to a sizeable end-user pool which has highly specialised and diverse data collection and management needs.

I have professional links and ongoing collaborations with many major health NGOs including the WHO and MSF and my position as a senior academic at one of the world's highest ranking universities provides many opportunities to advocate and raise the profile of ODK among key actors in global health.

How many hours a week can you commit to participating on the TSC?

What other mobile data collection projects, social good projects, or open source projects are you involved with?
I lead the LSHTM Global Health Analytics Group, which is focussed on leveraging emerging technologies for public health benefit. All of our work is for public and social good. We are currently funded to develop electronic data collection and management systems for vaccine trials during health emergencies through a research grant from the UK Department for Health and Social Care and National Institute of Health Research

Please share any links to public resources (e.g., resume, blog, Github) that help support your application.


Hi @chrissyhroberts :wave:
Are there challenges specific to complex contexts such as conflict zones (better data security?) and infectious disease outbreaks (hardware that can be sanitized?) that the ODK community should be looking to solve?


Hi @danbjoseph,

In our experience the security of the data (both from ODK encryption and built-in Android) is great already and hardware is cheap enough that we can usually afford the inevitable loss of a few devices to adverse events. Having only sporadic Internet connection is obviously a big problem, but the off-grid capability of ODK can keep the boat afloat until satellite links, sim cards and eventually broadbands can come in to play.

There's been a bunch of stuff happening during COVID-19 that I think really highlight a big gap in what ODK's ecosystem can do.

Quite early on in the pandemic I was approached by a stakeholder which was a consortium of agencies including charities, government, health service and academics. They wanted a system for tracking displaced people through an emergency support scheme. People would be registered with the system in location 1, given a medical exam in site 2, found somewhere to stay by a wandering field operative (which would be edited if they moved again) and so on. What they really wanted was a participant information management system that was accessible from many different handsets, but essentially didn't do a lot more than create and then allow multiple users to edit a single form that had very limited data complexity (who, what, where, etc).

Going back a year to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, we had discussions with another stakeholder about their needs for patient management in an emergency medical facility. Their needs were essentially the same as the ones described above, i.e. tracking participants through the hospital from triage, through wards (including isolation) and to discharge. As in the above example, most of the data needs were actually pretty minimal. In clinical trials we have similar needs for longitudinal data followups and the multi-form approach where you stitch it all together in R later makes the whole thing bottleneck on the analysts and is very much "near-real-time" at best. In lots of these situations, we ended up looking towards REDCap to fill the needs as that system has online editing capability (and imho a fundamentally unintuitive front end on the mobile app).

Contact tracing (for Ebola, multi-drug resistant TB, SARS-CoV2 etc.) and longitudinal surveillance of exposed contacts is also such a huge thing (as we all know right now) but actually hard to do with a system that doesn't allow for sync and edit of data by multiple end-users. For this we ended up using DHIS2, which is a great platform but really hard to deploy.

Really I think that all the places where we've had really big challenges, the problems have all been about how multiple teams working together can easily access, edit, add to and audit some fairly basic data sets. The off-grid/online issues that editing bring are less of a problem (I think), because you can probably solve this with a bit of ingenuity and a copy of Central served across a LAN to local handsets (or at worst with a lot of pay as you go credit and a sim card on a WIFI hub acting as a conduit to the internet). This kind of design might be really helpful in places like displace persons settlements, those emergency med-centres and other semi-permanent emergency response settings.

So, for me, it is all about being able to get data editing functions... ...but I would also like a version of ODK Collect that works on a smart watch using google assistant to fill the form.

What I like about your response @chrissyhroberts is the clarity of exploring this from the perspective of simplicity rather than additional functionality (and I understand the two are intrinsically linked!). There are benefits of those features to so many other situations - your simple "who what where", if it could be addressed would open so many opportunities for us dealing with far less important or time critical issues.

I would agree that one of the major challenges is making things easy to deploy - in a rapidly changing and challenging situation reliance on deep technical knowledge to get up and running (or adapt on the hoof) is as much of a bottle-neck as your analysts example. But I guess a balance is needed between 'works out of the box' and flexibility.

And then you go and blow it all with smart watches :slight_smile:

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Great point about the ease of deployment @seewhy and I agree that balancing out of the box ease of use with high level of flexibility is really key. Interestingly though, our experience is not necessarily that people have problems installing and running central (though some noobs do find it daunting). This tends to be because local IT teams are awesome and helpful. A lot of the problems come from the need for data sharing agreements, contracts and trans-national data law, which can make things really tough to do in an emergency. Unfortunately that's some pretty over our heads stuff that we can't really do much about for one another and just have to suffer with alone!

The whole 'out of the box' thing extends in my thinking beyond the installation of central and set up of devices. What there's a lot of opportunity for in case studies like those above is generalisable out of the box solutions for specific tasks. For instance, my team recently wrote a set of ODK forms and protocols for an ebola vaccine trial that we are now remixing for COVID-19 work. The forms and protocols are shareable to others doing similar trials and we're trying to put together a general use package that includes analysis and reporting pipelines along with data collection stuff (read all about it here)
We'd also love to do something similar with the emergency medical service patient information system described above as this has essentially unlimited re-use value in similar participant/patient management contexts. I kind of start to hope that something our community could look towards doing better is the sharing and co-development of some of these OOB solutions, along with documentation and protocols for use in the field.

The Excel spreadsheetiness of ODK's form design wins the hearts of many in terms of using something familiar to code up the survey/database, but when faced with a more complex data management problem, having some 'templates' could be an interesting starter solution for many newcomers.

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It seems there is a shared willing about the creation of a more "formal" place to share differnet working forms with the community. It would be really motivating and helpful for - not only new - users.

Hi @chrissyhroberts

Thanks for the detailed application.

In your opinion what is does it take for the ODK tools to be an alternative for this system that you are building? Or is it a highly custom system?

Thanks for the work you do packaging ODK for others to use and for applying to further guide ODK.

What do you see as TAB members’ roles in making something like this happen? (For example, should the TAB mark it as a priority roadmap item for the core team? Assemble a volunteer working group? ...?)