Data Collection Tools

Hello! Holly Starr here. I’m an Associate Consultant for Viable Insights. My background is in social work, and my lifelong quest is to improve social services with data! We’re going to explore the basics of what exists out there in the world of data collection — specifically, the tools that are commonly used for gathering data for research and evaluation.

Now, there’s a whole world of information and wisely-worded narratives on research design you can look to when choosing your data collection methodology. This is not meant to be one of them. I’ll share some tools and the strengths and challenges that accompany them and provide some resources for you to dive deeper. I highly encourage you to explore these resources. It’s important to give justice to the myriad of considerations when selecting a data collection tool (e.g., validity, reliability, ethics, obtrusiveness), in order to respect the populations involved, yourself, and the impact of your research. Not to mention, the tool that’s right for your study will depend greatly on your guiding research questions, your environment, staffing, time constraints, and so on.

So what is data collection? The examples below can serve as a loose definition, but let’s start by thinking about more contextual questions, such as: when does data collection happen in the course of a research project? The answer is, really, whenever. It can be before, during, and after your project. You’ll need an initial set of data to analyze, but depending on your research design, you may have multiple phases of data collection with one or more tools. For instance, you might do a literature review and identify a need for further research on a particular population. You might then develop a survey with questions curated from insight you gathered during interviews with key informants in that population. Those responses could then inform a plan for an intervention, which you would measure again with… fill in the blank. The list can go on and on!

In one sense it’s thrilling that data collection can be endless – there is SO much potential for improving services with data, anywhere and everywhere. Alternatively though, it can be daunting to commit to a set of tools in hopes that it will answer your research questions and serve your target population well. The initial hurdle is understanding the basics of each tool and their strengths and weaknesses. Storing this information away for quick recall can help to clear your path to a confidently-chosen and successful research plan.

Interested in a breakdown of tools you can use, including their strengths and challenges? Share your email for a data collection tools reference!

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