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Using creative data collection methods

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Use this page to understand creative data collection methods and when they can be used.

Defining creative data collection methods

Creative data collection methods are non-traditional approaches to gathering data that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of a topic or issue.

We use these when traditional qualitative methods for collecting data aren’t suitable for gathering the data needed for evaluation.

The different types of methods

The creative data collection methods we’ll look at here are arts-based.

They involve the participant in creating data through artistic methods such as visual (diagrams, video, film), storytelling, performance (for example, music and poetry)

All creative data collection methods mentioned allow us to gather qualitative data we might not be able to access any other way.

Why use creative data collection methods

There are many reasons for using creative data collection methods.

Creative data collection methods:

  • They're participatory. They allow participants to share the power in the evaluation, meaning they:
    • feel more engaged and own the results
    • and can give stakeholders the ability to become partners in the evaluation process.
  • Less time-consuming than carrying out individual interviews.
  • Useful for helping participants to recall and express events and feelings.
  • Particularly useful for children, people with communication difficulties, non-English speakers, and for discussing sensitive topics.
  • They help participants to participate in a meaningful way if they’re unlikely to respond well to interview situations or questionnaires.
  • Give participants the opportunity to be more independent and less restricted by criteria set by the evaluator.
  • Offer a valid method of self-reporting, particularly if participants might struggle with words or numbers.
  • A fun experience for the participant, again helping them feel more engaged with the evaluation process.

As with other information collection methods, time and care should be taken to make sure that your evidence is valid and credible.

Spend time in advance to understand the context and to identify appropriate tools. Consider if the tools you use need to be adapted before you use them.

Arts-based data collection methods

Arts-based data collection methods include

  • visual (drawing, film-making, photography, collage etc)
  • story-telling (writing a story or poem)
  • performance (songs, or role play).

Visual

Visual methods of capturing data can be used to draw out perspectives and feelings that may not have been shared through words.

They can be a way to capture events in a person’s life. The data from this can be used to show change over time.

It’s important to discuss the product (for example, artwork or photographs), framing discussions around themes or indicators and allowing new themes to emerge.

Examples of this is a photo diary which includes a discussion about the individual photographs taken by participants. Or photovoice which uses the photographs of participants to guide interviews.

When using visual methods (such as photographs and film), you need to consider confidentiality issues and make sure you seek consent from those individuals being photographed or filmed.

Storytelling

Storytelling can be a powerful way to communicate the impact of a programme or an organisation. This can be done through a variety of methods, including:

  • Personal stories: Sharing the stories of the people who have been helped by the organisation's work can connect with readers and show the impact of the work in a real and relatable way.
  • Case studies: Case studies can provide more detailed information about the work and the impact it has had on specific individuals or groups.

When done well, storytelling can help to:

  • build trust with stakeholders by sharing personal stories and case studies
  • increase engagement by connecting with people on a personal level
  • drive action.

Tips for using storytelling in an evaluation report

  • Focus on the people at the heart of the story. Make sure to highlight their stories and experiences throughout the report.
  • Don't just tell us that you have helped people. Tell us how you have helped them.
  • The stories you tell should be authentic and genuine. Don't try to oversell the impact. Let the stories speak for themselves.
  • Visuals can help to bring the stories to life and make them more memorable. Use photographs, illustrations, and infographics to tell the organization's story in a visually appealing way.

Storytelling is particularly strong when participants in the evaluation are directly involved in deciding the sorts of change to be recorded.

It involves asking participants to collect stories to demonstrate change.

Most Significant Change (MSC) is an approach for using personal stories in evaluation. To do this, stories are collected and the most significant stories are selected to demonstrate outcomes and impact.

Stakeholders work as a group to discuss the value of reported change. The method can be expanded by further group work on the stories, This is to analyse how different stories overlap and the causal connections between different groups of stories.

Find out more about Most Significant Change.

Performance

As with the previous two methods, performance can be used to stimulate discussion and draw out perspectives and themes.

For example, role play can be used to act out a scene which provides the group with an opportunity to discuss a particular process or experience.

What to consider when using arts-based methods

There are a number of things to take into consideration when using arts-based research methods.

  • If working in groups or using visual methods, there will be confidentiality issues to take into account. You'll need to seek consent from the individuals being photographed or filmed.
  • Using personal stories or experiences will provide one perspective on the outcome being evaluated and should be combined with other methods of evaluation.
  • If participants aren’t fully engaged with the process, it will be difficult to gather robust data.
  • The method used should be suitable for the participants you’re working with and for the data you want to collect.

Other creative data collection methods

There are many creative data collection methods that fall outside of the two types discussed above but that may be useful to you when you’ are collecting data. These include:

  • Timelines: These can be used to show a participant’s journey over time, noting important changes.
  • Daily activity charts: Recorded activities can illustrate how much an individual is making progress against specific measures.
  • Ranking: This can be done by simply listing preferences in a priority order
    • by pairwise ranking
    • asking participants to choose between pairs of options
    • or by using a matrix, showing options on one axis and criteria on the other.
  • Card sorting: Project outcomes can be written on cards, and participants (individually or in groups) can be asked to sort the cards into piles to indicate their rating. This can be particularly useful if the outcome is knowledge-based.
  • Evaluation wheel: One option for this exercise is to divide a circle into segments, with each segment representing an outcome or outcome indicator. Participants can then tick the segment if they feel that this outcome has been achieved. It can also be used to show responses to activities or processes.
  • Geographical mapping: Has traditionally been used particularly in international development evaluation to illustrate how land is used, and access to resources, such as water and irrigation. It’s becoming more common to use this in different types of evaluation, such as mapping behaviour in a particular area, or understanding the geographical reach of an event.
  • Body mapping: Uses sheets of paper and the outline of a person’s body is drawn. Participants are then asked to respond to questions, such as ‘what are you most worried about?’, ‘what are you most hopeful about?’. Participants draw and write their answers on or around their body outline.
  • Wellbeing mapping: Uses different sorts of diagrams (for example, a triangle or star) to map indicators of mental health, physical activity, social well-being and healthy eating.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 September 2023

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