Found verses manufactured data

March 20, 2008 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

In evaluation projects, we often feel the strong need to talk to people – to assess a situation or judge a phenomena by surveying or interviewing people. However, this is “manufacturing” data – we are framing questions and then putting them to people – and perhaps in doing so are influencing how they respond.

Alternatively, there is a lot to say for “found” or “natural” data – information that already exists – e.g. media reports, blog posts, conference papers, etc. We often forget about this type of data in our rush to speak to people.

Take this example. I recently saw a paper presenting “current challenges in the PR/communications field”. After surveying PR/comm. professionals, a list of five current challenges were presented by the authors. This is “manufactured” data. An approach using “found” data would be to examine recent PR/comm. conference papers and see what challenges are spoken about – or study the websites of PR/comm. agencies and see what they are presenting as the main challenges.

Another example. Imagine you would like to study the experiences of US troops in Iraq. Of course you could survey and interview military personnel. However, a rich body of data certainly exists online in blog posts, videos and photos from military personnel describing their experiences.

Of course, there are limitations to using “found” data (such as it may present only the views of a select part of a population/phenomena) – but an evaluation project combining both “manufactured” and “found” would certainly make its findings more solid.

Examples of “found” data:

  • blog posts
  • discussion forums
  • websites
  • website statistics
  • photo/video archives (online or offline)
  • media reporting
  • conference papers
  • policy documents
  • records (attendance, participation, complaints, sales, calls, etc.)

If you are interested to read further on this subject, this book “A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Qualitative Research” by David Silverman provides more examples and information on this concept.


Entry filed under: Evaluation methodology, General, Research & Studies.

Likert scales, frequency and Woody Allen Fact sheets & “fun” sheets on evaluation

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