Validated tools

Validated tools have been statistically tested and can help you measure certain things.


Validated tools (sometimes known as ‘standardised’ or ‘off-the-shelf tools’) are questionnaires that have been statistically tested, so we know they measure what they are supposed to. They produce consistent results when used by different people or with different groups of service users.

Typically they have been designed by measurement experts and often include guidelines on data collection and analysis. Someone has invested time, skills and resources to develop, test and pilot them, so you don’t need to.


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Why use validated tools?

There are a number of good reasons to use one or more validates tools as part of your data collection activities:

  • Using a validated tool will save you time and resources in developing your measurement tools because the time, knowledge and investment needed to develop the tool has already been contributed by someone else, including testing and piloting to improve validity and usability.
  • You can be sure of the quality of the questions you are asking and of the data that you will collect, because validated tools were typically developed by measurement experts.
  • Some validated tools allow you to share and add your data to a database from different organisations using the same tool. This allows you to compare your results to those of other organisations, share findings and learn from others.
  • Off-the-shelf tools may have more credibility with funders. They may already be familiar with the tool, so it is easier for them to understand the data you present.
  • Some off-the-shelf tools have guidelines, training packages and/or IT packages to support them.
  • Results are likely to be higher-quality and more informative, though it is important to make sure you are measuring the right indicators for your work.

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Challenges of using validated tools

There are also some challenges to keep in mind when deciding if using one or more validated tools is right for your organisation.

  • Some of the questionnaires are long.
  • Off-the-shelf tools have not been designed with your service in mind, so their content might not be ideally suited to the people you work with or your context.
  • Think about your users, before deciding if validated surveys are suitable for you. They are typically administered in paper-based or online form and the user is asked to read and fill out a questionnaire on their own. This makes these surveys unsuitable for people who would struggle with such a task, such as people with learning disabilities or whose level of English is inadequate to understand the questions.
  • It may be tempting to pick and choose parts of tools, and add your own questions to adapt them for your services. Using single questions from a tool or adding questions in a different format will invalidate the tool—this means your data won’t be comparable to data collected by others using the same tool. Using some questions from a validated tool might still be helpful if you’re looking for a well-structured question on a specific issue.
  • Using off-the-shelf tools you can miss out on the process of engaging staff and service users to think about how outcomes might be measured.

Whether you choose to use one or more validated tools, they shouldn’t be your only data collection method. You should complement them with some qualitative data from interviews or focus groups, possibly some bespoke survey questions, and regular collection of user, engagement and feedback data.

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