Interactive data collection

Participatory data collection methods are a grab bag of ways to engage people in research and evaluation. When you use participatory methods you change the dynamic of the interaction from Collector and Respondent to Let’s do this activity together—it feels different and it yields different results.

We use participatory methods because they are particularly good at….

  • Uncovering truths, motivators, and emotions, and often getting closer to the actual choices and behaviors of people
  • Generating rich data sets that can surface unexpected and un-designed for insights
  • Going deeper within a shorter amount of time, getting into both nuanced issues and a diversity of options efficiently
  • Easing the discomfort and power dynamics of an interview. Games make it easier and more fun for people to answer
  • Generating value for all. “Respondents” get value from the interaction, making the event more reciprocal in nature and less extractive

What kinds of interactive methods do we use?

  • Games to generate lists and rank (prioritize) items
  • Exploring common narratives through storytelling, mad libs, fill in the blanks, scenarios
  • Finding themes through sorting, affinity grouping, finding similarities
  • Understanding how things came to be this way by using event, individual, and community timelines
  • Exploring experience through journey mapping, transect walks, “and then what happened…” stories
  • Getting beyond words through body mapping, role plays, embodied experience
  • Understanding the physical and political context by making maps and 3D models
  • Going visual by using images, photo voice, a gallery wall

These types of data gathering activities spring forth from a diversity of fields—design, urban planning, facilitation & group processes, youth engagement & empowerment, community development, cultural organizing, game design, participatory action research (PAR), participatory rural appraisal (PRA) & participatory learning and action (PLA), and evaluation (and more!).

There is a vast well of sources for creative ways to approach research questions. We like to approach our design of these methods from a gameplay perspective.

A few examples…

Instead of. . .

Ask a respondent “Who do you go to for advice on parenting?”

We might . . .

Print out pictures of typical community characters (a mother, a priest, a friend, a doctor, etc.) and offer a scenario in which the respondent is asked to describe who a friend talks to in a situation involving parenting.

Instead of. . .

Ask a focus group about their preference on potential services and listening to the discussion.

We might . . .

Create a choose your own adventure series, in which participants get to make selections from the potential services and respond to potential variations by playing through a scenario of decisions.

Instead of. . .

Inviting youth to offer any further ideas on fun ways to spend their time.

We might . . .

Start a lightning round brainstorming competition in which the person with the most unique ideas wins a small prize.

Recent projects that have included participatory data collection…

  • Using games to test a game
  • Creating a toolkit for guiding home visits
  • Uncovering ideal customer insights
  • Mapping nutrition programs to better coordinate the landscape
  • Co-writing a curriculum—write shop