Our toolbox for primary data collection
To collect primary data (data that we need to collect first ourselves), we can rely on a sophisticated tool box – largely from social sciences – that has been developed over decades.
Let’s look at some important tools available to us:
Tools for quantitative data collection
- For quantitative data collection, an often-used tool is the structured sample surveys. Keep in mind that surveys can rely on asking people, but can also be conducted for things or documents.
- New insights can also be gained by mining or making additional calculations based on official statistics, for example social service records, hot line records or school records.
- Data routinely collected by programmes or services can also serve as a basis for new measurements and additional calculations.
- More recently, ‘big data’ – large or complex sets of data – has turned into an interesting, alternative source of information, for example by analysing communications on Twitter.
- Sensors are another innovate source of data, for example by tracking people entering a building or by using aerial photography.
- Finally, crowdsourcing is another recent tool to engage the public in data collection, for example by asking citizens to anonym ously report on potholes or having paid a bribe.
Tools for qualitative data collection
For qualitative data collection, we can collect information from individuals. There are plenty of tools available – the most commonly used are in-depth and key informant interviews, case studies, expert reviews or life histories. We can also collect qualitative data from groups using e.g. group interviews or focus groups. Finally, we can collect qualitative data from observations using field trips – or from documents by reviewing policies or plans or analysing media reports.
The secrete for effective primary data collection is to know exactly what we absolutely need to know – and to select the right mix of tools to get us this information.