Data Collection

The data collection process has undergone a revolution since the early days when we initiated Field Studies.  The principal methodology used in those days was the one on one interview – and that is STILL most likely the most effective way to collect Field Study data – ESPECIALLY considering that “communications” is one of the most important of the “Critical Skills” being taught.  Certainly internet skills and the abundant use of “Google” are important – and these can be practiced in Field Studies, but the interview remains as the primary teaching goal.

There are three important ingredients for success in Field Study data collection through interviews:

  • A carefully constructed interview guide;
  • Aggressiveness and perseverance in scheduling and conducting interviews;
  • High quality note taking and summarizing.

Field Study interviews are structured – that is, a specific set of questions is asked to each person being interviewed.  The questions are directly related to the issues being addressed, and are arranged in a sequence that allows for a logical flow of discussion and invites comments and anecdotes.

Questions asked should be, for the most part, “open ended” – that is, they should not call for a “yes” or “no” or an answer that does not lead to a follow up question by the interviewer.

Field Study interview questions should be READ EXACTLY AS WRITTEN IN THE INTERVIEW GUIDE to each individual being interviewed to ensure that the answers to the questions can be compared to others who answered the same questions during the analysis phase.  We want to compare ‘apples’ to ‘apples,’ so to speak.

Both the faculty supervisor and team captain should be aware that Field Studies often bog down during the data collection phase.  Often, interviews are postponed by students because the priority is not high.  This can lead to serious trouble because it reduces the time for analysis, thinking, and report writing – the essential part of the Field Study and the key to a high degree of product quality.

One important point to consider:  Field Studies with interviews require some restrictions – mainly because the data collectors are students and their safety is paramount.  So it is important to point out that with student-conducted Field Studies, a certain degree of statistical accuracy must be sacrificed in order to keep the project to a manageable size and, more importantly, to ensure the safety of the students during the process.