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Tools and Techniques for Data Collection

 So, just how do you know?

In our efforts to develop and put our effort behind worthwhile initiatives, we want to have some confidence that we are working on things that will achieve their results and make a positive difference – in our organizations, in our communities, or in the wider society.

There is obviously a lot that goes into getting this right. One foundational component is to ensure that our efforts are targeted towards “real” needs – that is, needs that can be identified and assessed in as concrete a manner as possible.

Obviously not all needs are concrete, and not all issues lend themselves to being measured in a scientifically valid manner.  Nevertheless, we can collect subjective and qualitative information about the current state of affairs, and use this to inform our discussion about needs, and about where we should put our efforts.

Many resources exist for people interested in this area. A new publication, A Guide to Assessing Needs, does a useful service by compiling almost a dozen different ways to collect information (download it from this link).

Written by a team with a strong interest in performance improvement and educational strategies, the book offers practical information and tips on using the tools, which include:

  • Document or Data Review
  • Guided Expert Reviews
  • Management of Focus Groups
  • Interviews
  • Dual–Response Surveys
  • SWOT+
  • World Café (with “Speed Dating” Variation)
  • Delphi Technique
  • Performance Observations
  • Task Analysis (Hierarchical or Sequential, If–Then, and Model–Based)
  • Cognitive Task Analysis

The benefit of these techniques is that they provide data that can inform our analysis and decision-making.  This data can validate our hunches and support our gut intuition.  Or it can help us realize and understand where we have misunderstood the issues. even if we disagree with the findings, we have a basis for discussing what appears to be going on in the world around us.

And that is a good thing – for the more we know, the more ready we are to assess the gap between the current situation and our vision for the future.  And this allows us to make well-informed decisions about how to use our time and resources.
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