Mr. Africa is the Administrator
of the National Statistics Office (NSO) and Ms.
Perez is the Chief of the Income and Employment
Statistics Division, NSO. This paper is
presented in the 7th National Convention on Statistics
(NCS), EDSA Plaza Hotel, Mandaluyong City, Philippines
on December 2-4, 1998.
The Philippine National Statistics Office
(NSO) has been collecting data through censuses
or surveys in the past several decades. Over
the years, the improvements that were made in
its data collection were basically focused on
the design of questionnaires and manuals and
the solutions to the encountered problems in
the enumeration. The questionnaire has so far
been the best instrument to capture the data
provided by the sample respondents. However,
the cost of printing these questionnaires plus
its distribution and storage are among the common
operational problems besetting the Office.
In today's world of computers and communications,
the NSO continues to increase the use of information
technology (IT) in gathering relevant information
from the sample households. With the higher
financial and environmental cost of paper the
NSO increasingly experiments with IT data capture
devices. However, because of budgetary constraints,
the NSO has been apprehensive to use the laptop
computers employed by some developed countries
like USA and New Zealand in data collection.
The NSO, thus, chose to pursue its IT-use expansion
plan by choosing a less powerful but appropriate
instrument and seeking assistance from international
In the earlier part of 1997, the NSO already
conceived the idea of using a specially designed
or customized IT device for the conduct of one
of its surveys. Foreseeing the usefulness of
such device in the NSO surveys, a proposal was
made to the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP) to include the procurement of what is
called palmtop or handheld computers in its
funded project for NSO, the pilot Annual Poverty
Indicators Survey (APIS).
In November 1997, the United Nations Development
Program agreed to finance the acquisition of
150 units of handheld/palmtop computers (HPCs)
for the APIS. One hundred fifty (150) units
of PSION Series 5 HPCs were procured based on
the recommendation of the project consultant.
While only a compact computer, the PSION Series
5 has functions such as word processing, spreadsheet,
database, and organizer-type of capabilities
and some features such as Windows-like platform
and 8MB RAM as those found in the laptop. It
also has a unique feature that could not be
found in laptops, that is, the use of power
from two size-AA alkaline batteries. However,
the said computer runs on a different operating
system, that is, EPOC.
After the pilot survey, another 100 units of
HPCs were given by UNDP using the savings derived
from the project. However, this time, the NSO
recommended to purchase an HPC running under
the Windows CE operating system, the Hewlett
Packard 360LX palmtop computer.
The 360LX has some similarities with the PSION
like the use of the two size-AA alkaline batteries,
lithium back-up battery and 8 MB RAM. It is,
however, loaded with Microsoft Pocket WinWord,
Pocket Excel, Pocket PowerPoint and some other
The pilot APIS paved the way for the conduct
of an expanded nationwide survey through the
support of the World Bank and the European Union
in financing the whole activity. Using this
opportunity, the NSO included in its proposal
to procure additional HPCs so that the data
can be released at the earliest time. The proposal
was approved, hence, 550 units of HP 360LX palmtop
computers were provided the NSO.
The use of PSION Series 5 HPCs was first
tried during the pilot APIS in five selected
provinces namely, Capiz, Iloilo, Samar, Davao
del Sur and Lanao del Norte. The enumerators
were trained on how to use these handheld computers
and they tried them during the field practice
as part of their training. One half of the enumerators
used the questionnaire while interviewing the
households and the other half used the computers
directly. However, capturing the data provided
by the respondents using the HPCs during the
enumeration phase of the pilot survey did not
succeed because of some problems encountered
in the computer program like some skipping patterns
in the questionnaire were not followed in the
program; the portion on family planning was
erased once the encoded data was browsed or
edited; and some other factors affecting the
data encoding system like missing code for occupation
and industry, non-response or missing data for
literacy if the particular person was not interviewed
or not available for interview, etc. Some tried
to use the HPC during the actual interview of
the sample household but later on decided to
use the questionnaire and later transferred
the data into the computer. This procedure gave
them the assurance that the data will not be
The pilot APIS was followed by the nationwide
survey where the test of using the HPCs was
experienced for the first time in 68 provinces.
The 650 units of HP 360LX palmtop computers
were proportionally distributed to the provinces
except in National Capital Region and Zamboanga
City where hired enumerators conducted the interview
of the sample households and in Batanes where
there were communication and transportation
problems due to weather conditions.
The HPCs were used as encoding devices for
entering the data from the APIS questionnaires.
The delay in the approval and procurement of
the HP computers forced the NSO to use again
the questionnaire as data capture instrument.
The experiences of the five provinces from
the pilot APIS gave them confidence and advantage
over the 68 provinces during the conduct of
the nationwide APIS. They could handle the computer
carefully and operate them easily. Though the
computers are different from the ones that they
used in the pilot survey, they could run the
program and follow the instructions of the manual
correctly. For the rest of the provinces this
has been a new and exciting experience.
CHALLENGES AND THE HARDSHIPS
There was resistance with some enumerators
during their first encounter with the HPCs.
Some thought that they might have difficulty
in starting the computer and operating it. However,
they became interested as they became familiar
with its features and functions, especially
when the computer program was transferred from
one HPC to another through the infrared port
and as they uploaded the data from the HPCs
to the desktop PC using the synch cable.
However, they encountered problems not only
in the computer programs but also in the hardware.
The problems on the hardware were due to negligence
in the use of the main batteries and backup
lithium battery. These problems were the following:
Most of them ran out
of alkaline batteries during the transfer
of the program using the infrared port. Others
used the ordinary type of batteries that lasted
only for 30 minutes or less.
Others removed the
main batteries (alkaline) and used the AC
adapter without knowing that they were using
up the backup lithium battery.
Others removed the
main alkaline batteries and the backup lithium
battery with the thought of resetting the
HPC without losing the programs. But this
led them to lose everything (computer programs
and files) and they had to calibrate and initialize
the computer in order for it to load again
the computer program.
The limited size of
the monitor made the program and file display
burdensome for the eyes of some enumerators.
Other problems encountered were related to
the kind of software necessary for writing and
running the computer program. The PSION Series
5 has an installed BASIC-like programming inside
the computer. This software was utilized for
the computer program for the pilot APIS.
The HP 360LX that runs under Windows CE Services
environment utilized the Visual Basic Software
along with the Toolkit Accessory Software. These
are not included in the softwares that are installed
in the HPC. The NSO had difficulty in finding
these softwares among the Microsoft Distributors
because the available Visual Basic is in Version
6 while the Toolkit is in Version 5. Hence,
the programmer had to attend a quick training
course on these softwares and at the same time,
had to make a lot of research and self-study
before he was able to complete the whole computer
program. The programmer did a lot of "trial
and error " as he executed the running of the
computer programs in the HPCs.
Though there were problems encountered, these
were not substantial to negate the benefits
that can be derived by the NSO and data users
from the HPCs. The main benefit that can be
derived from using the HPCs is the fast delivery
of outputs or results of the survey. The use
of HPCs reduced the waiting time of the data
users by more than one-half, say, if the preliminary
results of a survey are to be released six months
after the survey and the final results by another
six months, with the HPCs, the data can be released
right away three months after the survey operation.
The whole exercise was a worthwhile experience
for the NSO. It is right now looking forward
to maximize the use of the HPCs in other surveys
like the Labor Force Survey without the use
of questionnaires; in collecting the prices
of commodities for the CPI; and HPC may figure
prominently in the data capture and data entry
in the forthcoming census of population and
housing and census of agriculture and fisheries.
There are still a lot of things to be done
in maximizing the use of the HPCs and in discovering
all other functions that it can do for NSO.
But as for now the NSO is very much satisfied
that it has moved forward in its pursuit to
use IT increasingly in its activities.