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Choosing your collection methods

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Consider the needs of your organisation, those you work with and your stakeholders before deciding on the best way to collect data.

Depth of information required

Think about how much information you need, and at what level of detail – you can look back at your outcome indicators to help with this. If you need in-depth, qualitative data, interviews may be helpful. If not, you might choose a method that collects quantitative data such as a questionnaire.

Sensitivity and complexity of the issues

Do you need information on sensitive or complex issues such as people’s life style choices or behaviours? Consider which method will be appropriate for asking questions on these.

Time and skills required

How much time and skill are you and your staff able to allocate to designing and using data collection tools? For example, focus groups need skilled facilitators. Also consider how much time you will be asking people taking part in your data collection to spend on this, and whether this is realistic and proportionate depending on the nature of contact you have had with them.

Ease of collection and analysis

Think about how straightforward it will be for you to collect and analyse data. Interviews and focus groups are likely to be more complex to record and analyse, but you may decide it’s important to spend time on this if you want to collect qualitative data.

Credibility

Will the methods you use be acceptable to the stakeholders you will be reporting to? If not, the information you collect may be questioned.

Some tools are well established. For example, interviews and questionnaires. Consider if these methods are appropriate.

If you decide to choose more unusual, visual or participatory tools, make sure those who will be using the evaluation agree that these ways of collecting information will provide sufficiently credible evidence.

Is the collection method appropriate to the service and its values?

It’s important to consider which tools are most appropriate to your organisation and its values.

In some situations, more informal methods or anecdotal data may be acceptable. In others you may need to use methods that are tried and tested, such as a validated questionnaire recognised and used in a particular field.

User views and rights

Before you collect information from people, you should make sure they know why you are collecting it, and how you will use the information. Make sure that users have consented to the way that you are collecting the information and that they understand you will treat information confidentially.

Think about any other needs that users might have. These could relate to their learning, sight or hearing abilities, cultural background or other circumstances.

Reliability

A reliable method is one that can be applied consistently each time you use it, in different situations and with different people. It is essential when you are comparing information over time or between different participants and/or within different situations. If the question you ask can be interpreted differently by different people, your data may not be reliable.

Validity

Are you measuring what you intend to measure? To what extent, for example, are you relying on selective perception, rather than cross-checking through a number of data collection methods? How far do the questions you ask through your data collection tools provide valid evidence?

For more information

The Inspiring Impact Hub is a one-stop shop for impact resources and tools. It pulls together a wide range of resources relevant to improving impact practice. You can search and filter results according to your needs.

Last reviewed: 07 February 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 07 February 2022

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