Interview - Catherine "Catie" Alves

Catherine “Catie” Alves (@calves06)


Location: Where do you live? Where do you work?
I live in Rhode Island, USA, but I’m currently enrolled at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, USA, working towards my PhD in ecology. Most of my fieldwork takes place in Mexico and Belize. I spend most of the year in RI, visit NC a few times, and this year I spent three months collecting data in Belize.

Tell us a fun fact or story about yourself!
I’ve been skydiving! In 2012, my partner and I saved up and went skydiving over the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, USA. We could see a lot of the islands and just about the whole state from the air. It was so cool and I’d do it again!

How did you first find out about ODK?
I first learned about ODK about a year ago from two graduate student colleagues at UNC who had used in the past. One had used it in India to interview farmers about their water usage, and the other used it in Kenya to interview people about their forest use near national parks. I’ve used other electronic survey techniques before, but was drawn to ODK after learning that you can collect data without internet, easily upload and manipulate your data, and easily train enumerators to use it.

What are you using ODK for?
I am currently using ODK to administer a socio-economic and perceptions survey to fisherfolk in Belize. I am evaluating how the livelihoods and perceptions of fishers in Belize have changed since a recent fisheries management policy was implemented. I want to understand what the fishers know about the management rules, what their behaviors and activities related to fishing are, and determine if there are any improvements to be made to the new policy.

What’s your favorite ODK feature?
I don’t know all of the possible features, but I really appreciate that in the output data file, each observation (or interview) is a new row, and each column (more or less) reflects a question. Each question can then be converted into a variable, and it makes data analysis pretty straightforward from there.

How did you get so involved in the community? What keeps you coming back & staying involved?
Since I don’t know a lot of people who use ODK, I sought out the ODK Forum community as a way to find answers to questions I had, and to learn from other users of ODK. I immediately felt welcome when I made my introduction, and that made me want to stay involved. It’s fun to see the variety of uses for ODK all over the globe.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in learning about ODK? (Either the software, the community, or both!)
I got really overwhelmed by all of the possibilities of ODK and the plethora of online resources (including and the ODK Forum) so at first I didn’t really know where to get started. There were so many new components I needed to keep track of (ODK Aggregate, Collect, Briefcase, etc.), and it was hard for me to fully understand the role of each from just the online resources. What helped me was sitting down with someone at my university who showed me a few sample surveys and XLS forms, walked me through how to use ODK Aggregate, and helped me encrypt my tablets, surveys and laptop for secure data collection. I feel like there was a rather steep learning curve for me to learn ODK, but now I want to teach others about it and use it for future projects.

Let’s talk about goals: Do you have any ODK-related goals for yourself, your organization, or the overall ODK community?
I would like to see if I can teach others to use ODK, including people at universities, but also those at the governmental and non-governmental organizations I partner with for my research. Because ODK is open source, I think it could be adopted by international agencies looking for a reliable, low-cost, and relatively easy way to collect data (once you get past the learning curve). I am most interested in helping my partners in Belize adopt ODK for their data collection and monitoring uses.

What advice would you give someone who’s just learned about ODK and is considering getting involved?
Take it slow! Read through the online resources but see if there’s someone you can meet up with to go over the different components. Also, write down your own notes about how YOU understand how to use ODK. You don’t need to know everything about ODK to use it; write down what you do need and go from there.

Twitter: calves06
Github: calves06