Creative methods

Could more creative data collection methods help you capture thoughts and feelings?

In addition to traditional research methods, there are creative ways to gather data and feedback using drawings and videos, diaries and storytelling, and online software. These methods are often less formal and, instead of a researcher asking questions, participants may be asked to document their own thoughts and feelings. Here we take you through how to use creative methods to collect information.

Why use creative methods to collect data?

Creative methods can be less formal and time consuming compared to interviews or questionnaires. They can be valuable in transferring power to the participant and engaging them in evaluation. They may also help to address barriers that prevent users from participating in interviews or focus groups; for example, where users are likely to struggle to understand the questions or lack the confidence to speak up in groups. They can be particularly useful when working with children and young people.

Benefits

  • Puts participants in control
  • Makes evaluation more fun and less formal
  • Helps you understand the user journey
  • Captures different views and perspectives
  • Reaches groups who may struggle with interviews or questionnaires
  • Can provide a more engaging record of impact

Limitations

  • Self-selection of participants may bias the findings
  • Partial perspective, because people choose how to represent themselves
  • Can be difficult to interpret visual or other representations
  • Aggregating data is difficult
  • Difficult to conduct at scale

How to use creative methods?

When using creative methods, it is important to reflect on the particular needs of your target audience. Keep in mind the challenges of creative methods; for example, some participants may lack confidence in drawing or storytelling. Be prepared to facilitate by seeking out voices that are not being heard and making sure you can make sense of the information being provided.

When it comes to analysing the information, interpretation may require a high level of skill and aggregating the data may be difficult. It is important to remember that there may be an element of self-selection in who participates, and the data may also only represent a partial construct that requires contextualisation to make sense.

Try to complement more traditional methods with creative methods. For example, you could accompany visual methods with semi-structured interviews.

There are a number of different creative methods you could use:

  • Visual methods may ask participants to select and share photographs or develop drawings, collages, maps, or diagrams. These can draw out perspectives and feelings and can be used to capture events in time. For example, repeated geographical maps can illustrate how land is used and show change over time. Visual methods should be accompanied by discussion to ensure you understand the themes represented.
  • Interactive tools can be used to obtain feedback. For example, you might set up a “graffiti wall” at events, so people can provide comments, or ask participants to complete a weekly diary. You can facilitate interactive feedback online by inviting users to share information and feedback in response to a webinar or by commenting on blog posts.
  • Mobile phones can be used to collect data from users. For example, for certain studies, mobile phones have been used to collect data about the use of drugs and alcohol by young people, and their related behaviours. Participants answer questions about their daily activities, alcohol use, stressors, and negative moods.
  • Short polls can be used to assess people’s opinion on a subject in real-time. This could be an online poll where people select their preferred option or an in-person show of hands at an event. They can be a useful way to gather data quickly, but bear in mind that sample bias is likely, as you are unable to control who answers the survey.
  • Online discussion forums can be a great way for users to get information and share experiences anonymously. As long as confidentiality is not breached, forum data can be mined for evidence of the difference a service has made. The analysis of users’ discussions can also uncover unexpected outcomes and new areas of need.
  • Social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter can be used to collect feedback. Online monitoring and reporting software can allow media files to be uploaded and accessed as part of a report. This can bring your project and its outcomes to life for a wider audience. However, these sources may generate a large amount of unstructured data, so you need to plan carefully how to capture and analyse it based on specific indicators.

Adapted from content from Inspiring Impact partner NCVO

Need help getting started?

The data diagnostic asks 10 multiple choice questions about what your programme or service is, how it works, and who it targets. It then provides a tailored report recommending what kind of data you should consider collecting and how.

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