Lessons Learned: Data Collection

“What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker

Heeding the wisdom of Peter Drucker, it’s important that the data your organization collects gives you information on progress towards the most meaningful programmatic outcomes. To inform future decisions, this data should also be collected in an efficient and timely manner.

Over the last month, we’ve supported ten organizations in the Social Impact Collaborative through the process of developing their data collection plans. Below are the top 3 lessons we’ve learned along the way.

  • Data collection doesn’t need to be an add-on. It can be overwhelming to think about how to collect data with everything else you have going on in your organization. The good news is that data collection can be incorporated into the day- to-day operations of a program or project. For example, at the end of an event, you could consider having participants provide feedback using the good ole’ chart paper, dot and sticky note method. Post a question you have on chart paper (e.g., “On a scale of 1-5, how effective was this session in building your skill?”) and give each participant a dot to rank their answer and a sticky note to explain their rationale. Sort the sticky notes into key themes for a quick snapshot on takeaways that can inform future sessions. Or have a quick survey participants can take on their mobile phones or as a written exit ticket before they leave a session to capture data in real-time! Check out tools like Poll Everywhere and GroupSolver.
  • Data collection should be aligned to your key indicators. It’s critical that the data you collect is aligned to your indicators (and what you hope to impact!). Otherwise, you run the risk of ending up with mounds of data and no idea how to make sense of it. It’s tempting when you’re creating survey or focus group instruments to start asking all sorts of questions. But keep in mind that less is more. It’s important to think about how the questions you ask align to your key indicators and desired outcomes. Sometimes developing instruments can help you gain more clarity on what you intend to measure and you’ll go back and revise your indicators. When creating instruments and finalizing indicators, the choice of words and phrases is critical to capturing the desired outcomes. Click here for tips on question creation and use this Quantitative Instrument Template and Qualitative Instrument Template to help ensure the alignment between your key indicators and data collection methods.
  • Data collection can be either internal or external depending on capacity. It’s critical to consider the feasibility of different data collection methods. You can design an ideal data collection plan, but if it’s not feasible for your organization to execute, then it’s likely to sit on a shelf. Do you have the needed platforms (e.g., survey system) to collect data? How much staff time can be allocated to data collection? Does the staff have the appropriate skills to collect data? What budget is available for external support? If you decide to use external support, it’s critical that you’re clear on the key indicators and outcomes you hope to capture through the data collection so the support can be most beneficial. If you’re interested in going this route, here’s a RFP Writing Guide.