Overview of Methods to Collect Information

The following table provided by the Free Management Library for Non Profits is a comparison of different methods for collecting data during evaluations.

Overall Purpose

questionnaires, surveys,

when need to quickly and/or easily get lots of information from people in a non threatening way

-can complete anonymously
-inexpensive to administer
-easy to compare and analyze
-administer to many people
-can get lots of data
-many sample questionnaires already exist

-might not get careful feedback
-wording can bias client's responses
-are impersonal
-in surveys, may need sampling expert
- doesn't get full story


when want to fully understand someone's impressions or experiences, or learn more about their answers to questionnaires

-get full range and depth of information
-develops relationship with client
-can be flexible with client

-can take much time
-can be hard to analyze and compare
-can be costly
-interviewer can bias client's responses

documentation review

when want impression of how program operates without interrupting the program; is from review of applications, finances, memos, minutes, etc.

-get comprehensive and historical information
-doesn't interrupt program or client's routine in program
-information already exists
-few biases about information

-often takes much time
-info may be incomplete
-need to be quite clear about what looking for
-not flexible means to get data; data restricted to what already exists


to gather accurate information about how a program actually operates, particularly about processes

-view operations of a program as they are actually occurring
-can adapt to events as they occur

-can be difficult to interpret seen behaviors
-can be complex to categorize observations
-can influence behaviors of program participants
-can be expensive

focus groups

explore a topic in depth through group discussion, e.g., about reactions to an experience or suggestion, understanding common complaints, etc.; useful in evaluation and marketing

-quickly and reliably get common impressions
-can be efficient way to get much range and depth of information in short time
- can convey key information about programs

-can be hard to analyze responses
-need good facilitator for safety and closure
-difficult to schedule 6-8 people together

case studies

to fully understand or depict client's experiences in a program, and conduct comprehensive examination through cross comparison of cases

-fully depicts client's experience in program input, process and results
-powerful means to portray program to outsiders

-usually quite time consuming to collect, organize and describe
-represents depth of information, rather than breadth


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