Develop a Data Collection Plan

There are many ways to collect data, including surveys, interviews, focus groups and searching through data that is publicly available. To determine which method is best, consider how you will obtain each of your data points, as well as resources such as money and staff time that you can dedicate to collecting data.

How Best to Collect the Data

Let’s look back at the measures we developed to decide how best to collect the data.

The goal of your organization is to increase the number of young people who take a gap year between high school and college to volunteer. By engaging rising high school juniors and seniors in short-term service programs, you will see more teens go on to participate in a year-long service program after graduating high school.

Some data can be collected by internal staff:

  • Number of individuals who register for a program
  • Number of individuals who participate in a program

Some data can be collected through a pre- and/or post-program survey, focus group or interview:

  • How participants feel about service before and after the program
  • How many participants already engage in service regularly

Some data can be collected through a follow-up survey, focus group or interview:

  • Percentage of high school students who choose to take a gap year for service before college
  • Percentage of college students who choose professional or volunteer roles in service graduation

Some contextual data may be publicly available:

  • In the US, how many high school students take a service gap year?
  • In the US, how many young adults have a volunteer role outside of their job?

Deciding between surveys, interviews and focus groups

Interviews and focus groups take a lot of time, but if you are looking for qualitative stories or you are interested in a lot of detail (more than a respondent would be willing to offer in a simple survey), focus groups can provide invaluable insight.

Survey Focus Group Interview
Level of detail: Amount of detail desired is significant X X
Timeframe: Quick results are necessary X X
Budget: Limited resources are available to collect data X
Sensitivity of data: Individuals may feel uncomfortable with others knowing the information requested X X

In the case of a teen volunteer program, if it is a one-time program, you can collect data just once at the close of the program with a short post-program survey. You can ask about change in attitudes and behaviors using a pre-then-post survey, where you ask questions at the end of the program to assess both how individuals feel now, and how that compares to how they felt when they started. If it is a longer program, you might consider collecting data twice, both before the program and after the program, using a pre-test survey before the start of the first session and a post-test survey at the end of the last session.