We visited the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) and saw a presentation on an interesting technology that holds good potential for data collection in rural areas.
Developed by a British firm, the Digital Pen writes on a special paper and records the information that is written using a digital camera. This data can then be connected with a cell phone (using bluetooth technology) to send an SMS message to a central database. This system allows for the quick collection and analysis of data.
As strong a system as this is, however, a word of caution is prudent. It is a relatively complex process that involves lots of individual pieces of technology. Any one of these technologies could fail, thus throwing the system into trouble. For example, if the battery on the pen dies then the data doesn't get transmitted. Fortunately, as the pen actually writes, there is a paper copy of the data, however, having the need to include the backup paper as the primary source introduces a complexity that could be problematic if not handled properly.
Now, having said this, I don't want to be too pessimistic. As I said previously, the system holds great potential. Also, any system that makes the collection of data more timely is worth exploring - especially as that is necessary for formative evaluation to truly be effective.