Magpi has two ways to collect data using SMS/text messaging: structured and interactive ("iSMS"). To learn more about the general differences between them, click here. This article will explain how create a structured SMS form in Magpi, comparing it with the creation of a form for use with the Magpi mobile app. After reading this article you will want to proceed to How to Deploy a Structured SMS Form with Magpi.

If you have ever created a Magpi mobile data collection form, then you already know 90% of what is needed, because iSMS systems use the same forms as you might already be using with the Magpi mobile app. If you don't know how to create a Magpi form, please refer first to the Magpi Quick Start Guide for instructions, and watch our Magpi Data Collection Basics intro video.

Magpi structured SMS systems use the same form designer as any other Magpi form, but the interface for the respondent is very different. An SMS text notification is sent to a respondent as a single text message, and their response is sent as a single text message back. That response will contain the respondent's answers to ALL the questions in the form.  Since all that information has to fit into a single 160 character text message, we can see that structured SMS will be most useful for small amounts of information (i.e., forms with few questions).

Important points to remember for structured SMS form design

  1. Question prompts are not displayed on the data collector's phone
  2. Jump/skip logic is ignored
  3. Range limits are ignored

Example: Collecting Name, Gender, and Age from Every Clinic Visitor

As an example: suppose you want to create a simple form to allow a health worker to report the name, gender, and age of every person who comes to the clinic requesting information on HIV medications.   If you were going to have that health worker use the Magpi app on a smartphone, that form might look like the image below in the Magpi form designer (you can right-click the image to open it larger in a new browser window or tab).

Basic Form for Use with the Magpi Mobile App (with a data collector and a respondent)

Basic form designed to be used with Magpi app

Notice that the questions are designed for the question prompt (e.g. "What is their age in years?")  to be displayed on the screen when using the Magpi app.  The idea, of course, is that a data collector with a mobile phone or tablet will run the Magpi app and open this form in that app. Then they will go to the person of interest (i.e. the respondent) and ask the questions of them and answer them one at a time.

With structured SMS it's a little different.  The health worker in this example would still be collecting the three pieces of information from the patient, but the questions would NOT necessarily be displayed on the screen of their mobile phone: the health worker would need to know what questions needed to be asked.

How would they know this? A few possible ways:

  1. training
  2. practice
  3. a "job aid": for example, a laminated piece of paper with this information

This "having to remember what questions to ask" can increase the training requirement for structured SMS (compared with using the Magpi mobile app, or with using interactive SMS) -- although this is balanced by the fact that typically very few questions are included when collecting data with structured SMS.

iSMS can be a little different. Although the form above could be used for iSMS, with a data collector asking questions of a different person, with iSMS their is the additional possibility that the person entering the data (the data collector) might be the same person as the respondent: they may be answering questions about themselves.

If the iSMS system is meant to allow people to answer questions themselves, the same form might look more like the next image.

Getting back to the form design screen, remember that the question prompts are not going to be shown to the data collector, so it doesn't matter what you write in them.  Usually it's good to include some text just to remind yourself what that question is for.  Below you can see an example of the same form with simplified prompts.

Basic Form for Use with structured SMS (with a data collector and a respondent)

Another important point regarding designing forms for use with structured SMS is that structured SMS does not utilize any skip logic (i.e., logical branching) or range checks.  So in the example above the system will just ignore any jump-to commands for the gender question, and also ignore the range limits for the age question.  This just reinforces the need for training when deploying a structured SMS system: the data collectors must be well-trained, and must be submitting data frequently to maximize data quality.

On the data collector's phone, their data submission (i.e. the text message they send into the Magpi system) might look something like this:

Once the respondent has finished, the data they provided is in the Magpi data tab online, just like with any other Magpi form:

Now that you understand how to create a Magpi structured SMS form, you will want to proceed to How to deploy an structured SMS form with Magpi.

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