The cycle of good impact practice: The five types of data

What are the five types of data used in impact practice?

It is useful to get to know the five types of data which are fundamental for monitoring and evaluating services or programmes.

The five types of data progress from routine data that you should always be collecting (user, engagement and feedback data), through to data that you will only collect occasionally (outcomes and impact data).

1. User data

Information on the characteristics of the people you are reaching.

Why?

To check whether your service is reaching the intended target group, and provide information about the population you are currently serving.

How often?

Routinely. User data is best collected from all your service users during the sign-up stage or shortly afterwards.

How to collect?

The ‘defining your target audience’ worksheet asks you to state who you aim to work with and their characteristics. This can be directly translated into the information you collect from people when they first come to the service. You can get this information by asking your service users, or by getting it from your referral partners.

Depending on your area of work, asking users can be sensitive. It is OK to try to get this information from people once you have got to know them – although it means you lose data from people who don’t come back.

2. Engagement data

Information on how people are using your service, and the extent to which they use it.

Why?

To understand whether or not you effectively deliver the service to your intended users. Key questions include how often people come? For how long? How engaged are they?

How often?

Routinely. Like user data, you should be trying to collect this data on an ongoing basis—as and when people use the service.

How to collect?

The main method will be to rely on staff or volunteers to collect this data. To help them you will need to make data entry as easy as possible, encourage them to enter it routinely and ensure they are consistent in how they enter it.

3. Feedback data

Information on what people think about the service.

Why?

To establish whether your service gets the reaction you want and whether it is beginning to work in the way intended. Specific questions might include: Do people enjoy the service? Do they find it useful? What aspects do they rate the best and what do they think could be improved?

How often?

Routinely – service users should always feel encouraged to share their views and have ways to do so.

How to collect?

Feedback can be approached informally whenever people use the project – this could involve suggestion boxes, online feedback, social media channels, and simply talking to people. See our guidance on getting feedback in different ways . You can also approach feedback formally by using surveys or qualitative research such as interviews or focus groups. You can take a more occasional approach to formal feedback.

4. Outcomes data

Information on the short-term changes, benefits or assets people have gained from the service.

Why?

To understand how people have been influenced or helped by your service in the short-term. Key questions include: What is different now? How, if it all, do they think your service has helped? Which aspects of the service have helped which types of service users in which circumstances? And which have not?

How often?

Occasionally. Outcomes data is best collected by staff or volunteers because they develop the strongest relationships with people. But they should not spend all their time collecting this data, and you may not need to collect it from everyone—you could just collect it from a sample of your users (i.e. working with a representative group).

How to collect?

Surveys, interviews, focus groups and observation are all potential methods. For more info on quantitative and qualitative methods, see our guidance here.

5. Impact data

Information on the long-term difference that has resulted from the service.

Why?

To understand the long-term difference you make for the people you work with.

How often?

Exceptional circumstances. This is the hardest data to collect – many services do not need to collect this data and should focus instead on the other types of data outlined.

How to collect?

Using high-quality evaluation methods when enough time has passed and ideally using a comparison group.

Plan

The cycle of good impact practice defines what impact practice is and articulates a clear path to success. It follows a four-step cycle. This page is part of Plan, the first step in the cycle.

Other resources from this step in the cycle
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This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.

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