Overview of Basic Methods to Collect Information

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    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Nonprofit Program Design, Marketing and Evaluation, Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development with Nonprofits, and Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development.

    The following table provides an overview of the basic methods to collect data.


    Overall Purpose



    questionnaires, surveys, checklists when need to quickly and/or easily get lots of information from people in a non-threatening way -can complete anonymously
    -inexpensive to administer
    -easy to compare and analyze
    -administer to many people
    -can get lots of data
    -many sample questionnaires already exist
    -might not get careful feedback
    -wording can bias client’s responses
    -are impersonal
    -in surveys, may need sampling expert
    – doesn’t get the full story
    interviews when want to fully understand someone’s impressions or experiences, or learn more about their answers to questionnaires -get a full range and depth of information
    -develops a relationship with the client
    -can be flexible with client
    -can take time
    -can be hard to analyze and compare
    -can be costly
    -interviewer can bias the client’s responses
    documentation review when wanting the impression of how the program operates without interrupting the program; is from a review of applications, finances, memos, minutes, etc. -get comprehensive and historical information
    -doesn’t interrupt the program or the client’s routine in a program
    -information already exists
    -few biases about information
    -often takes much time
    -info may be incomplete
    -need to be quite clear about what looking for
    -not flexible means to get data; data restricted to what already exists
    observation to gather accurate information about how a program actually operates, particularly about processes -view operations of a program as they are actually occurring
    -can adapt to events as they occur
    -can be difficult to interpret seen behaviors
    -can be complex to categorize observations
    -can influence the behaviors of program participants
    -can be expensive
    focus groups explore a topic in depth through group discussion, e.g., about reactions to an experience or suggestion, understanding common complaints, etc.; useful in evaluation and marketing -quickly and reliably get common impressions
    -can be an efficient way to get much range and depth of information in a short time
    – can convey key information about programs
    -can be hard to analyze responses
    -need a good facilitator for safety and closure
    -difficult to schedule 6-8 people together
    case studies to fully understand or depict client’s experiences in a program, and conduct comprehensive examination through cross-comparison of cases -fully depicts the client’s experience in program input, process, and results
    -powerful means to portray the program to outsiders
    -usually quite time-consuming to collect, organize and describe
    -represents depth of information, rather than breadth

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