When I first developed ecological momentary assessment software and apps, I wanted to make it freely available for all researchers. However, as more researchers joined, I soon found tough to keep up with the demands, provide quality technical support, and meet data security needs. As such, I founded ExpiWell to ensure that we can pay for a solid team of developers to serve the research community.
For researchers wanting free ecological momentary assessment apps that enables scheduled surveys. Here are four platforms to consider.
PIEL Survey: This nifty platform provides both iOS and Android apps. There is some low-level programming that will be needed to schedule surveys and create survey logic. The surveys are all scheduled on the device and participant responses will need to be emailed back to researchers.
SEMA3: This is a platform created by some amazing researchers whom I admire: Peter Koval, Mario Alvarez-Jimenez, and John Gleeson. Creating surveys and scheduling are done on a graphical user interface which makes it easy for researchers. The apps are available both on iOS and Android and participants need to sync it to servers and can participate without an active internet connection. It is important to note that the servers are stored locally at the University of Melbourne.
Paco: The Personal Analytics Companion (PACO) was developed by a Google engineer and is open source. There are apps available in both iOS and Android, however, from my experience and others I have spoken to, the Android app is better developed. Researchers use a form to specify the survey questions and schedule and launch the project. One caveat listed on the site is that Paco cannot be used in EU and Switzerland due to agreements around data handling.
Again, free options are great if you are on a budget. From my experience, there are five main issues to work through when using free apps:
Is it important for you to track response rates during your project? If it is, it may be better to be able to have an ecological momentary assessment platform that allows real-time access to participant responses to ping, encourage, and incentivize them.
Might you change aspects of your study halfway through? With these free options, you cannot change your surveys or schedules halfway through your data collection. You should carefully pilot every aspect of it and root out any mistakes or issues before your main data collection.
How viable will the platform be for the duration of your project? I was very excited to see mobileQ by an amazing research team (Meers et al., 2020). However, their service unfortunately ended in 2021. I encourage you to carefully consider if the free apps will still function when you collect your data.
Are the free apps compatible with a wide variety of phones? When was the last update done for the apps? What I have learned is that both software and hardware are constantly being updated. When you plan to use these free apps, you should determine if they will work for all your prospective participants’ devices. An important point is to check when they were last updated on the website on in the app store.
How comfortable are you with doing development and troubleshooting? If you are, free apps are great and can help you build valuable skills; the main downside is your time spent in dealing with potential technical challenges for different participants. From experience, even if it works for your device, does not mean it works for everyone. Just make sure that you have done extensive testing so you do not need to pay for additional new participants should things “break” during data collection.
I hope this is a helpful resource for researchers seeking to do ecological momentary assessment and experience sampling on a tight budget! If you do have a budget and want to find out more about how ExpiWell can help with your research, please contact us at email@example.com
Koval, P., Hinton, J., Dozo, N., Gleeson, J., Alvarez, M., Harrison, A., Vu, D., Susanto, R., Jayaputera, G., & Sinnott, R. (2019). SEMA3: Smartphone Ecological Momentary Assessment, Version 3. [Computer software]. Retrieved from http://www.sema3.com
Meers, K., Dejonckheere, E., Kalokerinos, E. K., Rummens, K., & Kuppens, P. (2020). mobileQ: A free user-friendly application for collecting experience sampling data. Behavior Research Methods, 52, 1510-1515. doi: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-019-01330-1
Thai, S., & Page-Gould, E. (2018). ExperienceSampler: An open-source scaffold for building smartphone apps for experience sampling. Psychological Methods, 23(4), 729–739. https://doi.org/10.1037/met0000151
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