Skip Navigation

Overview of Data Collection Procedures

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

Needs assessment data should be gathered from multiple sources using multiple procedures. The primary source, however, should be those who will be most affected by and/or involved in implementing the new program that is planned. Several data collection procedures useful to needs assessment are briefly described below. Each procedure has its particular uses, advantages and disadvantages.

1. ONE-TO-ONE INTERVIEW:The one-to-one interview is one of the most effective procedures for determining needs of individuals. There are three basic types of interviews: structured, semi-structured and unstructured. Structured interviews are, for the most part, orally administered questionnaires. Semi-structured interviews make use of open-ended questions, but seek specific information (e.g., What do you think are the important staff development needs for the math faculty?). Unstructured interviews rely on one or two key questions, but seek additional information that addresses issues raised by the interviewee (e.g., Describe how, in your opinion, the staff development program has changed since you were hired). For the most part, needs assessment procedures will make use of semi-structured interviews. It is best to develop written protocols to be used in interviewing.

Individuals who are interviewed should be carefully selected. Random selection is usually not recommended. Rather, individuals representing particular points of view and subgroups should be selected. For example, individuals who are both strongly supportive and strongly critical of staff development efforts should be interviewed. An attempt should be made to get a complete picture of the area being addressed. That is, a sufficient number of individuals should be interviewed who fill in "different pieces of the puzzle."

The one-to-one interview can also be adapted for panels or small groups. In these situations, participants should be very clear of the protocol.

2. NOMINAL GROUP PROCESS:This technique is designed primarily for problem-solving and decision-making in groups. For example, it can be used if you are interested in obtaining a judgment from program staff as a whole for identifying and prioritizing needs perceived by the group.

Nominal groups are not primarily discussion groups, although some discussion may be necessary in the final steps of the technique. It is mainly a creative technique for generating and identifying ideas through a structured group process. For use with 6-9 people (larger groups should be subdivided).

3. QUESTIONNAIRE:This is a quick and simple way to obtain quantitative responses to specific predetermined questions from a broad range of respondents. Keep the length of questionnaire short, within two back-to-back pages if possible. Consider using a four-point scale to reduce the number of choices and to minimize "central tendency" responses. Keep questions simple and be sure each item addresses only a single idea or question. Be sure the reading level of the questionnaire is appropriate to the level of the respondent. Consider selective sampling rather than blanket surveying of a population, such as teachers, students or parents.

4. DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE: This includes documents surrounding a curriculum or other school program under consideration. Examples might include a program's curriculum, class schedules, minutes of committee or board meetings, memos and letters, schedule and topics of inservices, policy statements, business records, faculty and student handouts and numerical data (budgets, school attendance records, test scores, etc.).

Use of this material can provide additional evidence to support needs identified by other procedures. This is also a good source of background information and understanding that otherwise is not generally available.

Data obtained from a review of documents is represented by the conclusions and judgments reached by the investigators when viewing the documents from the perspective of the question or issue at hand. For example, a group might find, from a review of the committee's minutes, that most of the agenda items that the committee has handled over the last year relate to issues of classroom management, rather than curricular concerns. This suggests there may be staff development needs related to this issue.

Various forms of content analysis may be applied to documentary evidence to help identify themes, categories, etc.

5. FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW:This is a qualitative approach to obtaining information from specific groups for purposes of planning and evaluating educational programs. Information gathered by this approach usually includes beliefs, opinions, attitudes and feelings of the individuals in the group towards a specific problem, service, experience or some other phenomenon.

Groups that are interviewed are usually (although not always) homogeneous with respect to some characteristic, such as teachers or students within the same program, parents of students enrolled in the program or administrators having direct responsibility for some aspect of the program.

It is most effective when used to explore hunches or beliefs that program staff may already have about their program (e.g., "Our textbooks do not reflect state-of-the-art knowledge in this area." or "We need to more effectively teach writing across the curriculum."). These preliminary hunches may have been derived from the staff's own knowledge about the program prior to the self-study, or they may have been obtained from some other data collection procedure, such as use of-documentary evidence or questionnaires.

6. ADDITIONAL PROCEDURES: The Delphi Technique, strategic planning and observational procedures are also useful in documenting needs for staff development or other purposes. The Delphi Technique is a kind of paper and pencil version of the Nominal Group Process. A variety of classroom observation procedures have been developed and can be readily adapted for needs assessment purposes. Finally, strategic planning is a process for envisioning a desired future and seeks to design procedures to achieve that future. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (AS CD) suggests that strategic planning can be learned and applied to current obvious weaknesses to identify changes to address those weaknesses.

[Adapted from: Planning Effective Staff Development.Wisconsin Association forSupervision and Curriculum Development, October 1988.]

Materials development supported by funds from the former Region VII Comprehensive Center, University of Oklahoma.

The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and are intended for general reference purposes only. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Center, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. Some resources on this site require Adobe Acrobat Reader. This website archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.