Data, data, data, it’s a big topic in today’s business climate and society at large. A necessary tool for empowering you to make smart business decisions, it is important to take the role of data seriously and look at some of the nuances informing its collection.

If you’re an organization considering whether to collect data on your own or get help from an external consultant, it’s wise to learn how to collect data and how different methods of data collection work.

Here are seven insights about how to collect data. These insights will help you better understand the process of data collection and make smarter decisions going forward.

1. Data collection exists in many shapes and sizes

The most effective way on how to collect data depends on many factors, including the context, the issue that needs to be monitored, the purpose of the data collection, and the nature and size of the organization.

Overall, the most important consideration should be ensuring any information collected is done so in a lawful way and with a clear objective. Keep in mind that you might need to defend the credibility and reliability of the data you collect at some point in the future, it is therefore important to have a clear strategy outlined that you’ll be able to refer to.

2. Data collection is usually informed by external factors

In order for data to be collected in the most effective way possible, it should only be done after the various issues and opportunities have been considered. To begin this process, it can be useful to conduct an internal and external assessment to understand what is happening inside and outside of your organization.

Depending on how much flexibility an organization has, this step might take a considerable amount of time to sort through. If specific direction on what issues should be explored and how data must be collected have not been given, it is important that the external factors are looked at carefully.

3. Data collection should be motivated by a goal

Once a priority issue or opportunity has been detected, it is time to set some more concrete goals and objectives to collect data. Some of the questions posed at this stage might include things like: is there a fundamental reason or opportunity to collect data from which other issues and/or opportunities seem to arise? How can be use the resources available in the most effective may possible?

While the organization may intend to collect data relating to multiple issues and at the same time, the next steps, including goal setting, should be individualized for each specific issue. The more clear-cut the goal is, the more success you’ll have on how to collect data.

4. Data collection works best when a specific method is followed

The method and approach chosen to collect the data should be a direct result of the goals set and will be significantly influenced by several key factors, including the organization’s context, size, resources, and the purpose and complexity of the issues in question. The selected method will of course, focus on the group of interest that the study will revolve around.

Using data collection software will make collecting data much easier. The softwaer should come with features like using existing or official data points, conducting surveys, holding focus groups or interviews, case studies, checklists, or observation. Each one of these has different strengths and weaknesses which should be taken into consideration before moving on.

5. Effective data collection is done with a grounding in practicality

It is important to be aware of the practical considerations and best practices in terms of the logistical challenges and other unchangeable factors. Implementing a data collection plan requires attention to matters such as establishing a steering committee to be consulted and held accountable for all major decisions about the data collection process.

In addition, you must design a communication and consultation strategy that will explain the data collection initiative and encourage the highest possible participation rate. Also, there should be a method by which to protect privacy and personal information by using carefully controlled procedures for collecting, storing and accessing data that comply with all relevant legislation.

6. How to analyze the data you collect

Once you have finished collecting the data, an organization must determine whether or not it has the internal capacity and expertise to analyze and interpret data itself, or whether it will need the help of an external consultant.

Depending on the size and scale of the data collection project, it is likely that internal resources will be able to provide adequate support in interpreting the meaning of gathered data.

7. Optimal data collection results in action

Once all collected data has been analyzed and interpreted, an organization may decide to act on the findings or collect more information through a similar or modified approach.

Ideally, they will now feel that they’re in a position to fulfill some of the goals established earlier in the process and can go forward with an effective action plan to achieve improved strategic organizational human resources, human rights, equity and diversity objectives.