Collecting data and feedback

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The most appropriate method for collecting data and feedback will depend on the type of data to be collected, from who and for what purpose. In some cases it may be easiest or only necessary to keep simple records as you go along.

Remember to use the data and feedback collected and compare it with your baseline and against your objectives to inform your project and related activities. Largely this comes down to communicating your achievements with your supporters and the wider community, establishing an evidence base and using the information gathered to learn from the experience and to improve your approach.

Methods for collecting data and feedback include:

Surveys and questionnaires. Surveys and questionnaires can be a quick and easy way to collect feedback from a range of stakeholders. Topics could include feedback on a meeting or event, information about energy use or behaviours of households, or suggestions and support for a project idea. Online surveys produced using platforms such as SurveyMonkey and distributed to your mailing list can enable you to collect responses in a clear and common format from a large number of people. Alternatively, paper surveys can be handed out at public meetings or events for people to fill in and return before they leave.

Designing your surveys to be short and to the point will make it more likely that people will fill them out. Multiple choice questions can help to ensure the feedback you gain is comparable and in a common format, avoiding problems of misinterpretation and also being quicker and easier for people to answer. If you are able to provide incentives for filling out surveys, such as entry into a prize draw, this can help to maximise your response rate.

Focus groups. Focus groups can be a great way to test and trial ideas and initiatives, and to gauge local opinions on certain issues. Compared with surveys and questionnaires, focus groups tend to produce broad, open-ended qualitative results, communicated both verbally and non-verbally. This can enable your results to capture nuances, giving you a better idea of what people really think and feel about a topic. Focus groups can either be one-off, for example to inform the design of an initiative before it is delivered or after delivery to assess its success, or both before and after to compare how expectations and views changed.

For your results to be most useful, make sure your focus group is representative of the whole community or the sub-group within it that you are seeking feedback from. On the day, ensure a relaxed, informal and non-confrontational atmosphere in which participants feel able to be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings.

Keeping records. Often the easiest way to collect data on the impact of your project is simply through keeping records of your activities. This could include anything from recording the number of people who attend your events, volunteer their time or sign up to your mailing list, to the number of installations you have delivered, the amount of energy generated or saved, or the money coming into your project. The better your records, the better the information available to you, the better your decisions, and the easy it will be to make a persuasive case for your project.

Informal communications. Simply talking with people and asking them for feedback in an informal setting can help to assess what is going well and where there are areas for improvement. Conversations with new and different people at your public meetings and events, or people you bump into in the street or at the shops, can lead to new and useful insights that might not otherwise have been recognised or considered.

Case Studies
Country: Belgium

Students at the University of Leuven organised the 'Cité Climate Challenge', a contest which involved 820 students from 14 residential living blocks in Arenberg competing against each other to save the most water, gas and electricity. The contest put data collection and reporting at the heart of the project, drawing students' attention to their water and energy consumption and highlighting the impact that simple changes in behaviour can have. The data collected demonstrated that 4.5 tonnes of CO2 was saved through the project, and the winning residential block, block 3, was awarded €1,000.

Country: UK

Stroudco Food Hub collaborated with researchers from Cardiff University to run a focus group at a local school to gain an understanding of local food shopping habits. They asked a group of local mums to explore their food-buying habits using a mapping game and discussed with them the pros and cons of local food. They then explained their Food Hub initiative and its aims, and invited recommendations about how they could make their offer most appealing. Suggestions included being able to buy fruit and veg frequently and in small quantities, with more affordable options and special offers. It was suggested that the Food Hub should focus on cheap items (e.g.  potatoes and carrots), staple items (e.g. milk, bread, butter, cheese and eggs) and popular meat products (e.g. chicken and beef mince). The discussions also led to options being explored for more flexible arrangements for picking up produce, such as through liaising with the local family centre and schools to set up pick up points.

Country: UK

Low Carbon West Oxford has carried out consultations and distributed questionnaires to reveal barriers to participation in their projects. This research revealed time and cost barriers experienced by many members of the community. In order to overcome these barriers, the group developed small grant schemes for households to install carbon saving measures and to purchase childcare to allow them to attend workshops. They also developed more flexible opportunities to enable greater involvement of time-pressed individuals, for example through offering one-off opportunities and home visits. Surveys of participating households revealed a wide range of motivations for getting involved, which was used to tailor messages and communications for different groups.

Source: Low Carbon West Oxford and West Oxford Community Renewables (2010), Low Carbon Living: Power to make it possible

Country: UK

Bath and West Community Energy calculate forecasts for the output of their solar PV projects and track the actual output produced. These figures are calculated and communicated quarterly and posted on their website in the form of a simple graph. The graph shows the performance of all their operating solar PV projects since commissioning, comparing actual and forecast output. The line shows the percentage to which all the projects have performed above or below forecast when considered cumulatively since the date they were commissioned. This has enabled them to identify and communicate that overall their projects have performed 5% above forecast on average since commissioning. This was as high as over 10% above forecast in March 2012. They also have separate webpages showing the output from each of their individual projects, with graphs and explanations. This approach enables them to have evidence of the benefits of their projects which can be communicated to the community to engage both new and existing supporters.