Successful Approaches to Data Collection

Organizations seeking to solicit input or feedback on a plan, initiative or issue can use many different tools and approaches. I find these six steps helpful in planning an effective approach. When you reach the stage of designing your data collection process, these tools are most commonly used:

  • Interviews: These are conversations between an interviewer and a very small number of interviewees (usually one, but sometimes two or three). They have the advantage of being able to explore the interviewee’s perspective in some depth, and are often used as a way to solicit input from key leaders. The primary downside is that they are time intensive.
  • Group interviews and focus groups: These are small group discussions, which can take place in person or by audio or video conference. They also enable in depth exploration of issues. The group conversation can enhance opportunities for connection and can enrich your understanding of issues, but it may also inhibit expression of unpopular opinions. A critical design decision with small group activities is whether to make them homogeneous (e.g. made up of people with similar roles or background), or heterogenous (across different roles and departments).
  • Drop-in focus groups: Drop-in groups are similar to focus groups, but participants are invited to drop in when they are available, so that participation is much more variable and fluid. They are less reliable as a data collection method than more defined focus groups, but they can be a good way to engage people with unpredictable schedules.
  • Large group events: Large group events are a fairly efficient way to engage people, particularly if they are designed to create opportunities for participants to actively interact with one another and with the content. Many technologies exist and continue to evolve that can enhance both the participant experience and the volume and quality of data collected. Real and virtual white boards, audience response systems and other tools can be invaluable.
  • Discussion forums and boards: These can also be physical or virtual and can be a relatively low cost and engaging way to solicit input or reactions to a question or a draft. In all cases, they need to be well moderated.
  • Surveys and comment forms: These are probably the most efficient mechanism for gathering feedback, but opportunities for engagement are limited. Writing a good survey is harder than you might think, and some types of survey data are harder to analyze than others. There is an extensive literature on survey design. It’s worth seeking out a little bit of survey expertise before you hit send.