Types of data

Consider five types of data when assessing your programme or service

Data comes in various shapes and sizes: data about your users and how they engage with you; what they think about your programme or service; and what effect it has on them in the short and long term. The pages below help you understand the five types of data you may need to collect for your programme or service.

  • User data


    Information on the characteristics of the people you are reaching.


    To check whether your service is reaching the intended target group, and tell you 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?

    Your answers in the planning section should state clearly who you aim to work with and their particular characteristics. This can be translated directly 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. It’s always worth talking to organisations to see if they are willing to share this data as part of your partnership with them.

    Depending on your area of work, asking users can be sensitive (for example, if you are particularly targeting people who are lonely). It is OK to try to get this information from people once you have got to know them a bit - although it means you lose data from people who don’t come back.

    A case management system can help you to manage this data.

  • Engagement data


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

    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? What kinds of activities do they engage in?

    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 the data. To help them with this process you will need to make data entry as easy as possible, encourage them to enter it routinely (rather than storing it up to enter in bulk) and ensure they are consistent in how they enter it. For more on engaging staff and volunteers in data collection, see the culture section.

  • Feedback data


    Information on what people think about the service.

    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? Rate it? Find it useful?
    • Would they recommend it to someone else?
    • What aspects do people rate the best/least?
    • What is the quality of relationship you establish with them?
    • How could the service 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, by finding ways to get feedback whenever people use the project. In the past this meant ‘suggestion boxes’, but these days there are all sorts of ways to get feedback online and through social media. And, of course you simply talk to people! See our guidance on getting feedback in different ways. You can also approach feedback formally by using surveys / questionnaires or qualitative research. You can take a more occasional approach to formal feedback - no-one wants to be answering questionnaires all the time.

  • Outcome data


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

    To understand how have people been influenced or helped by your service in the short-term. Key questions include:

    • What is different now?
    • Do people make positive changes in their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours?
    • 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. Outcome 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.

    How to collect?
    Surveys, interviews, focus groups and observation are all potential methods, and in many sectors there are common outcomes tools available to use. For more general advice on choosing between quantitative and qualitative methods, see our guidance here.

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

    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.

Essential data to collect

User and engagement data is essential for effective impact management. All organisations should collect this as there is no way you can learn about the effectiveness of your project if you do not collect this.


Data Diagnostic

The data diagnostic asks 10 multiple choice questions about what your programme or service is, how it works and who it targets. It then provides a tailored report that discusses what kind of data you should consider collecting and how.

Take Data Diagnostic

Next steps


What to collect

These guides will help you understand what data you need to show your impact and what data you already have.

Learn more