The Commons Introduces Grassroots Mobile Survey
To serve a community, you have to be in the community. No one understands this better than nonprofits. They have workers and volunteers, sometimes literally, on the front lines to both provide immediate support, and to learn more about the problem they are trying to solve, and who they are solving it for.
This type of work often brings workers to areas of limited or no connectivity. While the image of a volunteer holding a clipboard may spring to mind, we all know that it’s an inefficient method for collecting and processing data.
Enter: Grassroots Mobile Survey, now available to install.
This open-source, accessible solution enables workers and volunteers to collect data wherever they need to go. By using a mobile phone, they can collect data on the go and easily sync it to their Salesforce platform if they are in an area where the internet is unavailable.
What makes this product particularly special is that our community developed it through The Commons program. Trish Perkins, founder, and CEO of WorldsTouch, had the initial idea, and in partnership with Dar Veverka, Solution Architect at Idealist Consulting, Shun Kosaka, Solution Architect at Accenture, and other members of The Commons community team, are proud to share Grassroots Mobile Survey with the community.
Because Grassroots Mobile Survey was built for the community, by the community, I wanted the team to tell you about it in their own words. I had a chance to sit down with Trish and Dar at the last Commons Sprint in San Francisco, and with Shun virtually, to hear the story of how the app came to life, what it can do for the community, and how the Commons supported their journey.
Cori O’Brien (CO): Trish, you brought Grassroots Mobile Survey to The Commons. What inspired you to share what you had built?
Trish Perkins (TP): I was working with a disability nonprofit in Nepal that wanted to put together a database of people who needed their services. Through the discovery process, we discussed how some staff members had to go to remote villages that were a month’s walk through the mountains to conduct interviews. It became clear as we talked through the process that they needed a lightweight, efficient means to collect data that didn’t rely on internet connectivity. They needed a mobile app that worked offline.
I looked around for existing solutions, but the options were limited, and well beyond the budget for any nonprofit I could think of. So, I started sharing my idea at different networking events. I was fortunate to meet some individuals who connected me to developers that helped me with the first prototype of the app. I knew there was still a lot of work to be done, so I continued to share it with people in the hopes that I could find a team to help me. That’s how I ended up taking it to The Salesforce.org Commons.
CO: I think many nonprofits can relate to needing to solve a technical or operational challenge and not having the resources to do it. Even if they know how they want to approach it, the development process can be prohibitive. How has participating with the Commons program helped this project?
TP: For many nonprofits, particularly small ones, developing and maintaining solutions through Salesforce can be difficult. They just don’t have the resources or anyone to help them maintain it. Being able to develop the kind of technology we do with The Commons gives us that advantage, those resources, that we need.
Dar Veverka (DV): Grassroots Mobile Survey is a great example of this. The Salesforce architecture is actually the simplest piece because it’s built on a common data model. But when you add in Heroku and the mobile app connections necessary to make it work the way we need it to, it starts to become pretty complicated. That would be a dead end for a nonprofit working on their own. They can’t afford a Salesforce developer, nor can they make the additional technology investment, to bring something like this to life and keep it going. That’s why the Commons makes so much sense to me. The app isn’t reliant on one individual; we can always recruit more volunteers.
TP: It’s also helped us prioritize features for our roadmap, and find holes we wouldn’t otherwise find. Getting fresh eyes on the project at every Community Sprint event helps us develop something that can be really useful for the community, not just what we want to build.
CO: What makes Grassroots Mobile Survey so innovative?
TP: It’s the flexibility of use. It’s not just useful for offline situations like interviewing people in rural India. It can be used anywhere, with or without connectivity, from wildlife sanctuaries to disaster relief efforts, to supporting refugees, and more. Every time I talk to an organization, they can see a use for it specific to their organization.
DV: I agree. I met someone at Dreamforce who runs an education nonprofit to support at-risk youth who are in danger of dropping out of school. This organization does home visits to check in on the students. He told me they could use the app to collect the data they need during the home visit and immediately sync to their Salesforce database, rather than jotting down notes and trying to translate them later.
The app can also work for every stage of a data collection project. For example, an at-home healthcare organization can use the app to support intake, needs assessment, track the progress of a patient, and conduct an exit survey when they no longer need your services.
Shun Kosaka (SK): From a technical perspective, we publish our survey object as a customizable Salesforce package to provide this flexibility. You are free to implement the fields you want to collect, the automation you want to achieve after you have done the surveys, and so on.
CO: It’s incredible what the team has built — and it’s just getting started! Where do you want to see the app go from here?
DV: We’re starting with a fairly basic version so we can get it into the hands of nonprofits that need to use it today. They can install it and see a sample survey package, and build from there depending on their needs. They can also get the reports right from the survey. It’s supposed to be a simple but effective tool that can flex to the unique needs of different organizations. We have already had some feedback on broader needs, like the ability to upload files and conditional logic, so we have those in the roadmap now.
SK: I hope our solution is used by nonprofit organizations around the world that need it. The community is like a base camp for our activities. Our solutions grow by repeating the cycle of identifying the current situation, setting goals, planning, and implementing them in the community.
CO: Dar, you joined the Grassroots team while it was just getting started in the Commons. What was it about the project that drew you in?
DV: I saw Trish give a presentation, and I could really see the need for an app like this. At Idealist, I work with nonprofits that could use it. I eventually volunteered as a project manager, which is one of the team roles that ensures trust and sustainability in what we’re building, and required to be a part of The Commons.
CO: And, Shun, what about you? You’ve given a lot of time to the project, even with a busy professional and personal schedule. Why is it important for you to find the time to work on a project like this?
SK: I have been involved in this project since I met Trish in India in 2018. I have been doing this for a long time because there’s no other affordable solution for nonprofits, it has social significance, and it allows me to try new technologies. The Community Sprint events encourage me to continue to improve our product and to support documents as we get ideas and suggestions from new volunteers.
CO: We talked a little bit about how The Commons has helped advance the product. How has the community itself helped?
TP: At every Sprint event, the entire volunteer team installs it. They all get exposure to the app and can give feedback. They all know someone who could use it, and so they help us get it into the hands of those people.
DV: Building a solution in the Commons truly is a team effort – not a competition among peers to get clients. We welcome volunteers from all different kinds of consultancies and organizations. At least three different organizations are required to be on the team so that no one entity can have a louder voice over others. But even though it’s built by many, individual organizations and companies see the impact it’s going to have and choose to promote it on their blogs, expanding the reach even further.
CO: Thank you for sharing more about what you’ve built with Grassroots Mobile Survey and your experience with the Commons. What advice do you have for others looking to share a solution that they’ve come up with?
SK: Share your ideas and opinions with the community. Start by contributing your own ideas and skills to existing community projects in the Commons. We always need your help!
TP: Come to a Community Sprint event. It’s as simple as that. Just show up. You will find people that are as passionate about solving common challenges in our community as you are. If you’re committed to rolling up your sleeves and doing the work to get it done, you can get it done. It might take a couple of Sprints to get your idea off the ground, but don’t give up.
Special thanks to all the Grassroots Team volunteers who have contributed their skills and ideas to the app along the way. It’s been quite a journey, and each of you helped get us to where we are today.
Bhim Raj Manali
Andy Engin Utkan
Melissa Hill Dees
Hima Bindu Moka
About the Authors
Founder, and CEO of WorldsTouch
Solution Architect at Accenture
Solution Architect at Idealist Consulting
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