Decide what data to collect

What data do you need, and how are you going to collect it?

Having identified your goals and reviewed your existing data, it’s time to consider further information that will help you evaluate your programme or service. It’s important to prioritise what you want to find out, so you can decide what data you need to collect, and how.

We recommend carrying out the following exercises with your team, drawing on your answers to questions in the previous sections. Ask each person to think about information that would help them in their own role. Then bring everyone together to discuss and agree the most important research questions and the information you need to answer them.

Download the worksheet

Decide and prioritise what data to collect

This worksheet contains questions and guidance to help you to discuss and agree your most important research questions and the information you need to answer them.

How to create a data collection plan?

Building on your review of existing data, and your newly agreed data priorities, the following exercise helps you identify what data you’re actually going to collect, and how. It is based on our five types of data framework, available below.

Download the worksheet

Create a data collection plan

This exercise contains questions and guidance to help you identify what data you’re going to collect, and how, for each research question.

Five types of data

The five types of data progress from routine data you should always be collecting – user, engagement and feedback – through to outcomes and impact data, which you will only collect occasionally.

User data

Information on the characteristics of the people you are reaching.

Why?
To check whether your service is reaching the intended target group, and provide information about the population you are currently serving.

How often?
Routinely. User data is best collected from all your service users during the sign-up stage or shortly afterwards.

How to collect?
The Inspiring Impact defining your target audience worksheet asks you to state who you aim to work with and their characteristics. This can be directly translated into the information you collect from people when they first come to
the service. You can get this information by asking your service users, or by getting it from your referral partners.
Depending on your area of work, asking users can be sensitive. It is OK to try to get this information from people once you have got to know them – although it means you lose data from people who don’t come back.

Engagement data

Information on how service users are using your service, and the extent to which they use it.

Why?
To understand whether or not you effectively deliver the service to your intended users. Key questions include how often people come? For how long? How engaged are they?

How often?
Routinely. Like user data, you should be trying to collect this data on an ongoing basis—as and when people use the service.

How to collect?
The main method will be to rely on staff or volunteers to collect the data. To help them you will need to make data entry as easy as possible, encourage them to enter it routinely and ensure they are consistent in how they enter it.

Feedback data

Information on what people think about the service.

Why?
To establish whether your service gets the reaction you want and whether it is beginning to work in the way intended. Specific questions might include: Do people enjoy the service? Do they find it useful? What aspects do they rate the best/least?

How often?
Routinely – service users should always feel encouraged to share their views and have ways to do so.

How to collect?
Feedback can be approached informally whenever people use the project – this could involve suggestion boxes, online feedback, social media channels, and simply talking to people. See our guidance on getting feedback in different ways. You can also approach feedback formally by using surveys/questionnaires or qualitative research. You can take a more occasional approach to formal feedback.

Outcomes data

Information on the short term changes, benefits or assets people have got from the service.

Why?
To understand how have people been influenced or helped by your service in the short-term. Key questions include: What is different now? How, if it all, do they think your service has helped? Which aspects of the service have helped which types of service users in which circumstances? And which have not?

How often?
Occasionally. Outcome data is best collected by staff or volunteers because they develop the strongest relationships with people. But they should not spend all their time collecting this data, and you may not need to collect it from everyone—you could just collect it from a sample of your users.

How to collect?
Surveys, interviews, focus groups and observation are all potential methods. For more general advice on choosing between quantitative and qualitative methods, see our guidance here.

Impact data

Information on the long-term difference that has resulted from the service.

Why?
To understand the long-term difference you make for the people you work with.

How often?
Exceptional circumstances. This is the hardest data to collect – many services do not need to collect this data and should focus instead on the other types of data outlined.

How to collect?
Using high-quality evaluation methods when enough time has passed and ideally using a comparison group.

Need some help to decide?

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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