By Hope Gilbert
As evaluators, we are well versed on the many ways to collect data––surveys, interviews, observations, focus groups, social media monitoring––and the list goes on.
As we move toward the post-digital age, I find myself wondering where data collection will be in the future. What is the next best online platform to make data collection cleaner, faster and easier? Will Qualtrics and REDCap be the go-to data collection platforms for online surveys? Will MAXQDA, NVivo, ATLAS, QDA Miner, Quirkos still be used to help synthesize qualitative data?
When I think back to my first exposure to data collection, there were no iPads or smartphones for in-field data collection. Strictly old school. Paper and pencil. Were those data less robust? No, we double-blind entered every survey and then checked for agreement. Those were some of the cleanest data I have ever worked with and required minimal management once they reached my desk for analyses.
The one thing using paper and pencil provided participants was a true sense of anonymity. I didn’t send them a survey using their personal contact information. I handed them a piece of paper and a pencil with only a unique id at the top of the page.
Adapting Data Collection
Last year we launched a survey using one of our very reliable online platforms but our rate of return was abysmal. After talking with the client, it became apparent why. Our survey participants didn’t like the idea of providing information––private information that some haven’t shared with friends or loved ones––to a total stranger. Even though the information was de-identified and in no way traceable, the online data collection method that was convenient for me was viewed as intrusive to them.
We decided to go back to the basics and try paper and pencil. Once implemented, participation doubled, tripled, quadrupled and we ended up with one of the strongest return rates for the year. Sure, this method required a little more work on our end to create a database by hand and enter in responses; however, we accomplished something far greater than a solid rate of return. We met our survey participants where they were and made them comfortable enough to trust us with their responses and to participate in data collection with perfect strangers.
As we start off 2022, how will you collect data in this cyber era we all live? Will you use a high-tech platform, the latest app…? Or will you go old school, like CERE had to do for a project last year? At the end of the day, what matters is 2-fold: comfort of participants and data integrity. You can’t have one without the other, so if you keep that in mind, you just might find yourself asking the same question we did…does anyone else still use paper and pencil to collect data anymore? CERE does if it means meeting our clients where they are…