6. Collecting Useful Information /

6.5 Collecting data effectively


We collect data in an efficient and ethical way.

To meet the standard in full, you collect no more data than you need, and you collect it in ways that are respectful to the people you serve. If it is not possible to collect data from everyone you work with, you use an appropriate sample.

Where possible, try to collect data in an efficient as well as ethical way.

It’s usually best to collect no more data than you actually need. Collecting unnecessary information places a burden both on your social enterprise and the people that you ask to supply it. In Section 6.1 we talk about the importance of prioritising the information to collect.

It is also important to keep in mind that it may not be possible to collect all of the data you would like from all of your customers or beneficiaries. Where this is the case ensure you don’t rely only on data gathered from those who are easiest to engage as this produces biased results.

This is where sampling comes in helpful. Sampling is the process of obtaining representative data from a group (e.g. some of your customers) in a way which allows you to draw conclusions about the entire group. Sample size calculators such as this example can be used to determine how many people you need to gather results from in order to draw wider conclusions. Sample size is important, but not as important as ensuring the representativeness of the sample. There are different sampling approaches you can take, which you can find out more about here.

Where possible, be upfront about limitations in your sample size or composition. This is an important part of being credible.

Whether or not you take a sampling approach, your data collection should be conducted responsibly to ensure that no group is unreasonably excluded and that you do no harm.

There are many ethical guidelines to data collection that you can check out. Regardless of which you refer to, there are usually some common points to keep in mind:

  • Ensure participation is voluntary and based on informed consent, taking account of your specific data requirements.
  • Take special care to protect the interests of vulnerable groups, including children, elderly people, and so on.
  • Ensure that participants are protected from intrusion, distress, indignity, physical discomfort, embarrassment or other harm.
  • Ensure that research is conducted with respect for all groups in society, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, and other significant differences.

Put simply, in the rush to gather data, try to make sure that participants are not in any way worse off as a result of participating in your data collection efforts.

Due to the sensitive nature of some information that you may be collecting, always refer to data protection laws to make sure you manage and use your data legally.

Course 6 in the Impact Practice series from the Social Enterprise Institute covers 10 tips for better data collection and a simpler life.