This review originally was published on January 22, 2021, with the email subject line CT No. 70: "Everyone's invited to the first-party data party," alongside an essay about ethical first-party data collection.

Whether you’re a journalist, researcher, publisher, finding an alternative to basic web forms for data collection can be a minefield. Free survey tools have limited features for logic and data collection, and custom features like logic and white-labeling can add up quickly.

KoBo Toolbox is an open-source project from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, designed for humanitarian organizations, aid workers and data collection professionals. However, it’s free for all to use for involved research projects — such as audience or public interest surveys.

Would I use it for marketing if I have a marketing technology budget available? Probably not. That’s inviting bad karma all around. But if you’re on a strict budget and looking for more details about your audience or looking to explore a data-driven investigation, KoBo is an amazing resource.

KoBo Toolbox at a glance

Visual review of KoBo Toolbox features: Provides a new level of analytics, boosts efficiency, integrates with common tools; and strategic (helps put ducks in a row). This free tool is finely tuned, team-oriented, and intuitive.

KoBo enables all users to collect detailed data through logic-driven forms with multiple question types. It’s not sexy, but features:

  • On- and offline data collection
  • Supported across devices, with collaborative options for both data collection and analysis
  • Reusable question blocks and advanced logic
  • Import and export of existing XLSForms
  • Secure data collection through SSL
  • Immediate access to audience responses
  • Attractive and functional data visualization
  • Data exports (including SPSS) and API access

KoBo doesn’t feature embeddable forms or white-labeled branding, but it offers an extremely functional, professional workflow useful to anyone interested in data collection. I find it less buggy to create surveys with KoBo than Typeform, and that makes sense: it’s designed to perform in extreme situations, like humanitarian crises.

Even if you’re just looking to create a practice survey workflow and discover the types of questions, features and logic patterns you might need with a paid tool, KoBo offers significant flexibility at the low, low cost of free.

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