6. Collecting Useful Information /

6.2 Finding the right data-collection methods


We use data-collection methods that meet our needs.

To meet the standard in full, you have considered the data collection methods available. You have chosen methods and tools that are relevant to your area of work and will give you the information you need. These are practical to use and reasonable to implement within the resources (such as staff time and money) available to you.

For each performance indicator you have selected for your social enterprise, and each item of data you require, you will need to decide on appropriate data collection methods.

Consider methods and tools that can enable you to quickly and effectively gather the information you require. Remember that quick, regular and simple data collection (although sometimes imperfect) is usually better than collecting data infrequently or not at all.

The following are among the most common methods available to you and will satisfy the requirements of most social enterprises:

  • Client and activity records
  • Surveys, questionnaires and feedback forms
  • Face-to-face and telephone interviews
  • Focus groups and discussion groups
  • Structured or unstructured observation
  • Staff diaries, logs and case notes
  • Participant outcomes sheets
  • Users’ forums and engagement events
  • Mapping, diagramming, ranking techniques
  • Story-telling and testimonies
  • Logbooks, blogs and webchats
  • Photo diaries and scrap books
  • Video and audio diaries

Every data collection method has its particular advantages and disadvantages, so think carefully about which methods are right for you.

Your choice of method(s) will depend on the performance indicator you are tracking, the way that you plan to use the information, and the situation in which the data is being gathered.

Course 6 in the Impact Practice series from the Social Enterprise Institute covers much more detail on data collection methods, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to choose between them.

In all cases you should remain focused on collecting data that matters to your stakeholders.

You should also be realistic about what is possible. Just because your methods don’t meet the gold standard of evaluation research doesn’t mean that the data you produce should be any less useful to you.

Using more than one method to collect data can provide you with stronger evidence of change – this is called triangulation. However, try not to overburden customers or beneficiaries with requests for information. Also, ensure that the combination of methods you choose is manageable to implement within the resources available to you.