Ways of Collecting Information
Whom to ask, how, and what will you do with the information?
Measuring or demonstrating change over time
Tips on asking good questions

Gather Information

Ways of collecting information

Once you have defined what you want to find out, and have set your key indicators, it is time to start thinking about what questions you will need to ask and the best way to collect the information.

Whom to ask, how, and what will you do with the information?

There are several decisions you need to make, including who you will need to approach to get the information that you need. Organisations with large groups of people to survey may want to approach a sample of the total group, asking only a percentage of people chosen at random to respond. It is also important to choose an appropriate format for collecting information based on whom you are asking and what you are asking about. Information about the different formats, such as questionnaires, focus groups, and telephone surveys can be found at Compare Research Methods. It is also important that you have a clear idea at this stage of how you want to analyse, present, and use the information you collect. These decisions will link back to some of the previous elements in the proving and improving cycle.

For example:

  • Your motivations for proving and improving.
  • Your organisation’s stakeholders, which will affect both whom you will be consulting or asking questions of and to whom you will be presenting the findings.

Measuring or demonstrating change over time

In developing some quantitative information about your organisation’s outcomes, you may wish to set up a baseline survey. This involves a series of quantitative indicators that you will measure at regular intervals with similar people or groups. This can help you to track the organisation’s performance over time.

If you intend to show the ‘distance travelled’ by people who are employed by your organisation, it will be important to do an initial interview, questionnaire, or survey when people first come into contact with your organisation and then at one or more specified points later on. You will want to ask about the same aspects of their lives – the areas in which your organisation hopes to make a change – at each point in time in the same way. These questions can be done either formally or informally as part of an ‘intake’ or initial induction process and as part of periodic check-ins or reviews at regular intervals.

Tips on asking good questions

The following are some tips for developing your questions and how to ask them – your methodology. In defining the questions you want to ask follow these helpful hints.

  • Ask about the most important issues – ones that can be acted upon.
  • Be precise – ask the exact question you want to know the answer to, and clarify it for yourself before writing the question by asking ‘what do we mean by that?’
  • Keep it relevant– make sure the questions are useful to your organisation. Surveys are not intended to be research studies, but to give your organisation and its stakeholders important information.
  • Be direct – ask about the respondent’s experience, opinions and perceptions, not those of others
  • Be unambiguous – use words clearly, and be sure to define them.
  • Be thorough – ask around the question, ask why and how as well as what and how many.
  • Be consistent – don’t use a 10 on a 10-point scale to mean ‘very much’ in one question and ‘not at all’ in another
  • Keep it short – most people will only want to respond to one or two pages worth of questions.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t ask respondents to calculate things – you can do these as part of the analysis. Do not ask people to generalise or to summarise events that happened long ago.
  • Stay neutral. Do not use loaded questions that encourage a respondent to answer in a way they think you want them to! Make sure that the questions have an equal number of positive and negative answers. (e.g. definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no).


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