Government, social and health organizations working in developing countries use large-scale data collection to measure their impact and control the quality of the services they provide. Many of these organizations rely on paper forms to perform this data collection. Paper forms are a well-understood and trusted medium, and the low cost and ease-of-use of paper forms suggest that paper will continue to be utilized in developing communities for many years to come. However, the potential benefits of digitizing data from paper forms for statistical analysis and aggregation are significant, and there is thus a need for tools that bridge the gap between the paper and digital worlds, allowing organizations to continue to use familiar, cheap paper forms while also facilitating the collection of digital data.

We built an Android application that automatically captures digital data from paper forms. The phone’s camera is used to photograph the form and computer vision algorithms running on the phone automatically extract digital data from the image. Our design utilizes a lightweight form description language to facilitate the processing of existing paper forms without the need to redesign or add coded marks to the form. We field tested our initial prototype by using it to digitize “bubble” forms that collect vaccine statistics in clinics in Mozambique, and were able to digitize one month’s vaccine statistics for one clinic in 30 seconds with over 99% accuracy.

Although our initial prototype focused on digitizing multiple-choice or “bubble” forms, our latest prototype is capable of reading check-boxes and assisting with the entry of handwritten form fields. We have also integrated the application with the Open Data Kit platform and are looking for NGO partners and collaborators interested in pilot testing the application with their paper-based workflow.


Nicola Dell, Nathan Breit, Timóteo Chaluco, Jessica Crawford, Gaetano Borriello. 2012. Digitizing paper forms with mobile imaging technologies. In Proceedings of the 2nd ACM Symposium on Computing for Development. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2:1–2:10. PDF

Nicola Dell, Nathan Breit, Gaetano Borriello. 2012. Digitizing Paper Forms with Mobile Imaging Technologies. In 1st International Workshop on Mobile Data Collection in the Developing World (DataDev 2012). IEEE, Bangalore, India, .

Leave a Reply