Collect the right data, so you can analyse and apply the findings to improve the impact of your programme or service. Top tips below!
It is important to find creative, organic ways to engage people you work with when collecting information. You may or may not do this online.
Going digital. Many of us have had to very quickly get used to working more and more online. We are likely to have to continue to gain greater expertise of using appropriate technology, so we can continue to serve our beneficiaries. This means gathering opinions and seeking feedback through surveys, interviews, focus groups and through a range of creative ways, all carried out online. Examples from organisations we spoke to include: Zoom polls; Mentimeter ‘word clouds’ and questions; Google forms or other online satisfaction surveys; WhatsApp groups; and Facebook comments and threads for unsolicited feedback. It’s important to take the time to set up these tools well. Practice using them before ‘going live’ and ‘peel’ off key data, so it comes to you in a way that is useful. Read more tips here and see how Inclusive Skating has done it here.
Organic methods. Creative methods of collecting data do not all have to be online. Examples include ‘journaling’ or capturing ‘free talk’ at the end of a session. Such methods can mean that you get a lot of qualitative information – this is often richer than quantitative information, but it can take longer to process. It’s advisable to find a balance between the two, making sure you have both the skills and time to properly look at the qualitative information you collect. See how Middle Eastern Women and Society organisation and Voluntary Sector Support Horsham did it.
Keep your ears to the ground is a tip that we hear often in our conversations. This can be done both proactively and reactively, through a variety of informal and formal methods. For example, in either general conversations or in ‘check ins’, users may share quite clearly what is on their mind, what they are struggling with and what they have achieved. On the other hand, you might have to listen more deeply to hear their emerging needs, fears and concerns. Also think about connecting with communities, by collecting and sharing information within neighbourhoods, for example through WhatsApp groups. By staying connected and collecting information proactively, you will be ready to
adjust and develop your services in response to new situations. Find out how Merton Mutual Aid have used social media as a data source here.
Find time to collect information as part of your routine. While listening to organisations’ stories, we heard about the merits of building data collection into everyday activities. If you collect relevant data that can serve multiple purposes, and collect it in ways that blend seamlessly with your day to day activities, this can be rewarding and motivating for staff (when they receive positive data about user satisfaction). It can also be worthwhile for learning, improvement and accountability. Read about Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance’s creative ways to engage young people in data collection.
Collect data securely and confidentially. Collecting information confidentially and securely is always important. It is especially important in sensitive situations, for example when working with people who are vulnerable, and it’s necessary to collect and share evidence about their needs and about what works to support them. You may need to revisit GDPR and safeguarding regulations. In order to build trust and to enable people of all backgrounds to share their views, it is vital to make sure that individuals understand that their data will be collected, stored and used confidentially.
Give multiple ways to respond. Consider alternative ways you can engage and involve people, so that they have different options and opportunities for giving information. Remember that some may already be fatigued by the amount of time they now spend online. You may wish to prepare a few ways to ask the same set of questions, so that users can choose the method that suits them. For example, at one organisation we spoke to, an online questionnaire, a telephone interview, and a Zoom poll were all used to ask similar questions, with varying degrees of success and uptake. Read more about how Incredible Edible and Southampton Hub decide what data to collect.
Be mindful of relationships when collecting data. We heard many stories about the importance of relationships when collecting information. Users will feel at ease and ready to participate in your evaluation if you have good and sustained relationships with them. You can then get data that is regular and likely to be more honest and rich. This can be motivating and reassuring to your staff and volunteers who are delivering services. It is vital to build a rapport with new users. This may be more challenging when communicating online, but it’s not impossible. Many small organisations are also embedded in their communities, making a data collection approach based on relationships more organic. This can provide opportunities not available to larger, less well-connected organisations. However, it may also bring with it a potential loss of impartiality and the introduction of bias to the evidence. It’s important to watch out for this. Read more about how Sikh Women’s Action Network have done this in practice.
Make data collection empowering. The process of collecting data can be even more powerful and rewarding when it involves local community members carrying out the data collection themselves. As insiders, they may more readily pick up on cultural nuances and they may themselves gain new transferable skills. When working this way, a good support process will be essential – it will not be a cheap option. There will be a balance to consider: sometimes you may want to prioritise the process of involvement and participation, accepting ‘good enough’ data as a trade-off for empowering individuals and building skills. Find out how Azuko and Southampton Hub empower their communities to get involved in data collection.