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Who you are collecting data for?

Another really important, but often overlooked, factor to consider is ‘who are you collecting the data for?’  Is it for a manager, a policy maker, or for yourself to evidence and improve your own care?  Is the data being collected nationally or as part of a local project?  Or are you looking to start routinely collecting information on a particular topic?  Depending on the answers to these questions the type and volume of information that you need to gather will be different.

The best way to think about this is to break it into two categories:
1) Collecting data to improve your individual practice (so collecting it under your own initiative).
If you are collecting data for yourself, then you are essentially the master over ‘what’ you collect.  The ‘why’ is still important – remember, it is only useful and ethical to collect data that provides useful information for feedback or change in clinical practice.  You should still develop a question or purpose for your data collection, and you should still keep records of your data collection and project progress.  And you should think about how you are going to use your data – will you report it to anyone, and if so who?  If you are not going to report it; why not?  Write down and keep safe a justification in your records (e.g., to feedback to patients on their progress; to improve your patient centeredness).  Stages 5 and 6 of the Framework give more information on reporting and using your findings.

2) Collecting data for someone else (locally for a manager, for example, or as part of a national project).
If you are collecting data for someone else (if you have been asked or told to do so) don’t be afraid to ASK what exactly it is that is wanted AND what it is that is needed – these are not always the same.  Ask about the volume of information that is wanted/required.  There are many, many stories about people who have collected masses of information only to be told that they have done too much (or, the opposite, too little).  If you start out by finding out clear instructions about what is wanted and what is needed then it will be far less stressful for you and will help to prevent error.  You should also ask why the data is to be collected – what it will be used for.  This will help to clarify what it is you are to do and will help you to really collect the best information for the purpose.  And a final consideration: ask about how the person would like you to report the information.  Do they want a long, very detailed report; a brief summary of your findings; graphical presentation or text, or even just a verbal update?  Finding out these answers will let you plan ahead how to use the data, and knowing how you will use and report the data will help you to grasp what it is you will need to collect.  Stage 5 of the Framework gives more guidance on reporting findings.

No matter why you are collecting the data or who for, you should keep accurate and up-to date records of your purpose, progress, and findings.  These records should be securely stored in line with the Data Protection Act.

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© Copyright 2012 NMAHP RU, Stirling University