Four Ways to Collect Data

Title Examples Advantages Disadvantages
Talk to People
  • Interviews (in-person, phone, intake and exit interviews)
  • Story circles
  • Oral histories
  • Focus groups (or group interviews)
  • Public forums or other kinds of discussion groups
  • Can probe and ask follow up questions to reveal deeper information, e.g. thoughts and opinions about sensitive issues
  • Takes advantage of a natural form of information sharing
  • Effective when people have limited reading or writing skills
  • Can use groups to stimulate conversation and feedback
  • Can be time consuming to conduct
  • Typically generates a lot of qualitative data, which are time-consuming to analyze
  • Not anonymous, which could influence responses to sensitive issues
  • Must be careful not to bias answers through interview procedure—interviewer training is required
  • Must take care to develop questions that are appropriate for different cultural groups, and where language barriers may exist
  • Group dynamics can become challenging or contentious
Get Written Responses
  • Surveys (mail, online, in-person)
  • Questionnaires
  • Opinion polls (from voters)
  • Collect information relatively quickly and easily
  • Anonymous
  • Much less time consuming to capture data from a large number of people
  • Quantitative data from close-ended and short answer questions in surveys are easier to analyze.
  • Qualitative data can be collected through open-ended questions
  • Attaining adequate response rates can be a challenge, as respondents suffer from “survey fatigue” or being asked frequently for their opinions.
  • Can’t follow up on answers as easily as in an interview
  • Not as rich an array of answers
  • Respondents must be literate
Review Documentation and Existing Data
  • Artist, project participant, or stakeholder journals
  • Artwork as documentation of an individual’s or group’s civic or social concerns
  • Administrative data from cultural organizations (attendance records, demographic data on who participates, etc.)
  • Meeting notes
  • Media articles, editorials
  • Voting records
  • Census data
  • Membership lists
  • Previously conducted survey results
  • Data collected for local, state, or federal funders
  • Budgets
  • Written policies or procedures
  • Typically already have the information—don’t have to collect it
  • Often quantitative and easy to use and summarize
  • Cheaper to obtain than most other methods
  • Often easy to distribute to stakeholders
  • If staff doesn’t feel like the data is used, then it may not keep accurate information
  • Can burden staff by having to gather it
  • Observe and document participants or audiences at project activities or events (performances, arts-based dialogues, workshops, artmaking activities).
  • Stakeholders or partners observe community change.
  • Evaluator or respected peers conduct site visits
  • Non-intrusive. Doesn’t require much participation
  • Easier than asking people to fill out a survey or participate in an interview
  • Can only collect limited kinds of data through observation
  • Takes a lot of time
  • Different people observe in different ways, and there is a need for training to ensure consistency in approach


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