• Regional Ambassadors: María Fernanda Peña Valencia

How to Easily Use Open Source Software Technologies to Face COVID-19 in Your Region

The Impacts of COVID-19 survey on KoboToolbox

Efforts worldwide have shown the power that digital technology offers to face global threats like the COVID-19 [1]. Open exchange, collaborative participation, transparency, and community-oriented development are some of the Open Source softwares principles [2] that make this type of technologies a great option to deal with this pandemic.

The world has increasingly become aware of the impact that these unprecedented times have had as the COVID-19 situation continually unfolds. Many have had to adapt to what appears to be the new normal with calls of social distancing and the seemingly unending lockdowns. Even the simple things that we always took for granted, like social gatherings or daily commutes, have been altered. The repercussions, ranging from loss of employment or increased reports of domestic violence to the lack of information on the disease itself, are principally affecting lower-income households further increasing inequality, especially in underdeveloped countries.

The first needed point in order to address this issue is to know where these people are and how they have been impacted. To do this efficiently there is a need for up-to-date properly attributed geospatial data representative of all people. Institutions, organizations and local and national governments are relying on the use of online surveys to collect data. But in order to carry out this data collection, several considerations must be taken into account: the questions to ask, the platform to use, and where the data will be stored.

A team of YouthMappers Regional Ambassadors took the initiative to design a free and open method of crowdsourcing information of people in need. They developed the Impacts of COVID-19 survey, a modifiable questionnaire covering the health and economic welfare of individuals hosted on the KoboToolbox server. The following is a brief introduction to KoboToolbox and explains how to access, adapt, and use the survey in different regions of the world.

KoboToolbox is a set of Free and Open Source tools developed by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative for the collection of field data in challenging environments. For this reason, the tool has a series of features that facilitate the data manipulation process from collection to analysis and visualization. Its functionalities can be organized into 3 categories:

KoboToolbox is a great choice for deploying this survey in the different regions of the world because the author can create and modify complex forms through an easy online form builder, data can be collected on mobile devices, and data can be stored online or offline. (Learn more about the software architecture). Additionally, it has a library of questions and forms to share privately or publicly, where you can find previously created surveys as examples, such as the Impacts of COVID-19 survey. Once the Impacts of COVID-19 survey has been created and is ready to use, you just have to make a copy of it, modify it if you need to fully adjust it to meet the needs of your region -like organized languages- and start sharing it through a link. Here is a brief step by step guide for organizing and implementing a survey.


  1. Start a new project

  2. XLSForm

  3. Translate form into other languages

  4. Deploy survey into communities of interest

1. Start a new project

First, you need to register on the platform and log-in.

Once you are logged in, you can start a new project. As you´ll see, you have different options for creating your first form. First, there is the option to “Build from scratch” where you start creating questionnaires using the online form builder. Another option is importing an XLSForm from your computer or from a URL. Each time you start a new survey the system guides you through a step-by-step tutorial. However, if you are interested you can visit the KoboToolbox help center.

There are two ways to access the Impacts of COVID-19 survey: through the form builder by copying the survey from the public collections of the library or by uploading the survey in an XLSForm. Since public collections are currently organized by the KoboToolbox Team, the next step explains how to access the Impacts of COVID-19 survey with the XLSForm. A new version of KoboToolbox will be released this month. Stay tuned to see any new changes that may occur to the libraries, as mentioned, it is a super interesting option.

2. XLSForm

It is a standardized form created to help simplify the authoring of forms in Excel. You can download the Impacts of COVID-19 survey from the YouthMappers repository. Even though you can make editions of the survey on excel, if you are not familiar with the XLSForm, editing online in the KoboToolbox platform is recommended (after all, it is one of the best features of this tool). Then, once downloaded, open KoboToolbox and click on the “NEW” button and import the survey as an XLSForm. Give it a name and a description, then click on “Create Project.” You´ll see the form in the platform, so now you can edit the form based on the needs of your region ready to be edited to adjust it to the needs of your region. Click on the pencil icon. Notice that the survey is based in the city of Medellín, Colombia, so the options of localities must be changed. You can erase and add new questions. Remember that KoboToolbox has more than 20 different question types. Don´t forget to save changes!

3. Translate form into other languages

The Impacts of COVID-19 survey is in two languages (English and Spanish) but you can eliminate and add more languages, and select which will be the principal one. There are two options to change the languages: you can do it directly through the online Project Dashboard or you can add the languages in the XLSForm and then upload it to KoboToolbox. In the project dashboard just click on the three dots and select Manage Translations option.

In the XLSForm, add a new column with the new language and add your translations for every row inside the new language column. You can see an example of this for the Spanish language in the Impacts of COVID-19 survey. Then, if you want to eliminate the Spanish language you only have to eliminate its columns. Save changes and upload the form as a new project.

4. Deploy survey into communities of interest

Before deploying your survey, configure who will have access to it. Go to “Settings” and then to the “Share” option. Click on “Add User” and write the KoboToolbox username of the other accounts that will have access, then, select the permissions that you are going to grant them. Now your survey is ready to be deployed. Click on the button “Deploy.”

But wait! There is one last thing you need to configure. Remember that KoboToolbox is a set of tools for the collection of field data, so as you´ll see it has different options for the collection. Click on the “Form” button and then select the “Online-Offline” (multiple submission) option. Finally, copy the link and share it!

This article was previously posted on by María Fernanda. Read more by María Fernanda - El mundo es un pañuelo/The World is a handkerchief.


[1] USAID, "Leveraging the Power of Digital Technologies and Data Systems Against COVID-19" (2020), Medium.

[2], "What is open source?,"

© 2016-2020 by YouthMappers. Proudly created with Supported by USAID Award #AID-OAA-G-15-00007 and Cooperative Agreement Number: 7200AA18CA00015.

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