Step 3. Choose your methods

Intended Learning outcomes

This page is designed to help you:

  • Understand in detail when to apply certain methods

  • Understand the pros and cons of commonly-used methods

  • Explore new ways of collecting data

You or someone in your team might be familiar with the data you want to collect. Or know which methods work well for your audiences. But before you decide on your data collection methods, remind yourself of the options available to you.  

Common data collection methods

Below we share a number of commonly-used data collection methods. At the bottom of the page, we also link to separate pages that show methods used to measuring environmental and economic impact.

Primary and secondary data

Is the data collected by your organisation for this purpose only? Then it’s primary data. Secondary data describes data that has been collected by another organisation or for a different purpose. 

Don’t rule out looking at secondary data. It can be a great starting point for your research as the hard work has already been done by others. These data can work as a guide for you in many ways. For example, you can use the data but also learn from their approach. What does their baseline say? Can these data act as a baseline? Can you collect data in the same way, and then compare?


The methods described below are qualitative.

1. Interviews

What: Face-to-face, phone or online conversations to gather deep insights, first-hand experiences or expert opinions

When: If you are interested in gaining more context and understanding of your stakeholders (e.g. to better interpret quantitative data)


  • In-depth and often rich answers

  • Also open to people with low literacy skills

  • Opportunity to explore unknown or sensitive issues in more depth

  • Generally people are willing to participate

  • Flexibility in the questions you pose


  • Time consuming to schedule, conduct and transcribe

  • Need for trained and confident interviewers

  • Possible interviewer bias (learn about interview bias and how to avoid this)

  • Sensitive issues can be challenging for the interviewer and interviewee

  • Difficult to compare between interviewees

  • Small samples

  • Challenge of interviewing those who speak different languages


See our tips on interview etiquette.

2. Focus groups

What: Group discussion to stimulate conversation about a (range of) topic(s)

When: If you are looking for a better understanding of an issue that is shared by multiple people and you assume the group dynamic will give you additional relevant information


  • No literacy requirements

  • Opportunity to explore complex issues

  • Different stakeholder perspectives

  • Conversation between participants can give you more insights and nuance

  • Readily available tips and guidance for effective methods to use


  • No privacy or anonymity

  • Difficult to bring together a balanced and representative group of participants

  • The strongest voices are likely to dominate the conversation

  • Need a skilled and sensitive group leader

3. Observation

What: Extensive description of what is happening by observing people in their natural setting

When: If you do not just want to ask people about how they do or experience something but rather see it with your own eyes to get a better idea of their experience


  • Real-life insights

  • Provides context and nuance

  • Fast results (immediately actionable)



  • Only gives you a snap-shot of the situation at a certain point, unless repeated

  • There are ethical considerations to bear in mind

  • Observer judgement (learn about observer judgement and how to avoid this)

  • People may change their behaviour when observed

4. Creative and arts-based methods

What: arts-based research methods are generally seen as part of the field of creative methods, where artistic practices are used to help answer research or evaluation questions, or where more commonly-used methods are combined with artistic practices. The artist is likely to be involved at both the research delivery and the analysis stage, and the participants too, including:

  • Story-stems - giving participants the beginning of a story and asking them to complete the story (using words, drawings, creating characters using craft materials, puppets, etc).

  • Writing - documenting through writing, which could include poetry, graphic novels, cartoons, short stories and more. 

  • Visualisation - visualising an experience or result in some way including through, for example, drawing, collage, sculpture, collaborative film-making and photography.

  • Performance - making a performance (e.g. through writing or improvising music or a play). 

  • Photovoice - an established technique combining photography and accompanying words or text. 

  • Creative mapping - asking participants to draw their journey in the form of a map, which can be helpful to understand a user journey and to think about how an experience or emotion has changed over time. This could also be combined with emotion mapping. 

  • Crafting - making something practically, e.g. with textiles, knitting, or other types of physical materials. 

  • Digital story-telling - a participant (or group of participants working together) shapes a narrative about their experience, often combining words (e.g. through sub-titles and structures), visuals (e.g. through videos or photography) and sound (e.g. spoken description). 

  • Creative drawing or writing in response to a prompt - creating an art-work in response to a prompt, and then analysing that art work to understand the meaning(s) behind it, either with or separately from the participant. 

  • Scrapbooking or journalling - asking participants to keep a visual or written diary of their experience, which they can later share or report on. 

  • Video-journaling - creating vlogs or short videos describing an experience.

When: many situations, for example, when you want to understand people’s physical and emotional interaction in a physical or digital space; when the project results in a creative output


  • Suits visual thinkers and communicators

  • A creative and fun method that engages people’s memories and sense of experience

  • Valuable with younger participants, and fun for others

  • A fun data collection method for older participants

  • Useful when used in triangulation with other data sources

  • Visual way to tell an impact story

  • Can be more intuitively embedded into (digital) exhibition mediation or guides, educational materials, etc


  • Software may be costly or not available

  • Few set or agreed methodological approaches

  • May not be an accepted methodological approach in some scientific or research circles

  • Communities of practice are only just emerging, e.g. the Arts & Evaluation Community of Practice in Canada


See our case study from St Fagans Museum of National History, Wales, UK, for more insights into how creative mapping methods were used and combined with more conventional methods like interviews.

5. Outcome Harvesting

Read our case study on Outcome Harvesting and how we used it in an impact assessment of EuropeanaTech and the implementation of IIIF.

The methods described below use mixed methods.

1. Questionnaires

2. Social media analysis


The methods described below are quantitative.

1. Digital user statistics

2. Social network analysis

3. Economic impact analysis methods

4. Approaches to measuring your environmental impact

Checklist - have you chosen the right method(s) based on:

  • The scale of your research and available resources and time?

  • The sample you want?

  • The moments (data points) at which you interact with the person or group you are surveying (data subject)?

  • Your own experience and confidence in analysing the data?

  • How you are going to use and learn from the data?

  • What the ultimate reader of the findings is going to want or need?

Finally - go back to your data collection plan

It’s now time for you to complete your data collection plan! You’ve identified the methods you’ll want to use. Go back to the page that outlines the data collection plan format and ensure that you’ve ticked everything off the list.

Next steps