Descriptions of Information-Gathering Tools

There are a number of different kinds of tools for collecting information about the thoughts and beliefs that different groups have about your organization. We focus on three: surveys, interviews and focus groups. You can use one or more, or a combination, of the following tools for different groups. Review the descriptions of the following tools, and keep them in mind as you work through this section. In Putting It All Together you will specify which tool(s) you will use for different stakeholder groups.

For example, you may decide to use a survey to obtain staff's perceptions of your organization, a survey for a majority of your clients and individual interviews with randomly selected clients, and focus groups with your board.

SurveysSurveys can be widely disseminated and are the most time-efficient method of collecting information from respondents.

People generally respond to surveys anonymously.

Most surveys include some yes/no questions, some questions on a Likert Scale (a commonly used numerical rating scale) (e.g., rate on a scale of 1 to 5), and a few open-ended questions.

The disadvantage of surveys is that you may need someone with fairly sophisticated computer skills to compile the information.

If you have the resources, you may wish to use consultants to administer and analyze surveys.

Online resources can help you to survey your staff, volunteers, clients, or board members. We do not specifically endorse any particular product. This website allows organizations to collect survey data for free, or for a low monthly cost, depending upon the length of the survey and number of respondents. Data is then automatically tallied and can be analyzed through charts or graphs.  This website allows users to create online surveys and analyzes results. Several different membership levels are offered, including a free basic membership for shorter surveys and a discounted nonprofit membership.

Other software programs and websites are also available; find them by entering "survey tools" into a search engine.

Read more about surveys.

InterviewsInterviews are useful tools for gathering in-depth information from your stakeholders. Interviews are particularly valuable because they allow you to ask follow-up questions of interviewees when you need clarification about a particular response.

However, it is easy to ask leading questions in an interview format. Therefore, it is important that the interviewers be careful to ask value-neutral questions. (An example of a leading question is, "Do you think people of color are disproportionately discriminated against?" Another way to ask that question is, "Are people of color and white people treated equally?")

It is also important that interviewers record the answers to questions carefully and that the full meaning of a response is recorded.

A third party with experience conducting interviews is helpful for designing and leading interviews.

Read more about interviews.

Focus groupsFocus groups are useful if you want to gather a lot of information from a group of stakeholders during a short period of time.

A typical focus group has 8 to 15 people in it and lasts for approximately 90 minutes.

Focus groups are generally conducted by a third party. The sponsoring agency is usually not present for the focus group so that respondents will be more frank with their responses.

If you have a large budget, firms that specialize in doing market research can help you organize a focus group. If you have a small budget, someone in your organization may be able to manage the logistics of organizing a focus group. Then you can hire an experienced consultant to facilitate or get a professional to donate his or her services. Because of the importance of having an unbiased facilitator, avoid doing a focus group if you do not have money to hire an outside consultant to conduct the focus group -- or the ability to work with a pro bono professional facilitator.

Read more about focus groups.



Other resources to aid you in data collection include local universities, through which you may be able to connect with graduate students who are interested in working with you for credit or for a lower cost.

The exercises will take you through the process of identifying which groups' perspectives you want to collect, the topics and questions you would like their opinions about, and the mechanisms you will use to collect their perceptions. As you work through this module, think carefully about whose perceptions and which topics will be most useful to your organization's particular needs and inclusiveness work.  

Complete Identifying Internal and External Stakeholders, Reviewing Information-Gathering Topics, and Putting It All Together.

The love of democracy is that of equality.
     Charles de Montesquieu