HOME 5 Acquiring & Working with Data 5 Key Steps in Acquiring and Working with Data


Data can be acquired from internal (within your government) or external (outside your government) sources. There are many external sources of data about your citizens, some of which you may find especially useful (e.g., Statistics Canada). However, external sources will not contain all the information you need to track every outcome in your SGIG’s priority areas. You will need to collect your own data to fully track priority outcomes.

The process of acquiring and working with data can be summarized in the following steps:

  1. Define the population(s) of interest: Depending on the situation, this may be your entire citizen population or a subset of the population (e.g., citizens living on SGIG lands, citizens of a particular age group). If you plan to compare different populations, you will need to define the comparison population as well. See Tracking Change.
  2. Identify the associated concepts: Identify and describe the broader concepts you want to explore. For example, the “employment rate” is a measure of both labour force participation and success in obtaining employment in the labour force. More generally, these are measurements that could help assess individual self-reliance, contribution to community, and self-determination.
  3. Identify the variables of interest: Review your existing (or consider your potential) data sources to determine which variables most effectively capture the concepts you are trying to track. For example, if you would like to track the strength of culture among citizens, potential variables in a dataset of your citizens may be “language fluency” or “registration in a language course.” See Designing indicators.
  4. Define and evaluate an indicator: Constructing an indicator involves defining what calculations may be required to transform the data contained in your dataset into a specific metric or value you can report. Review your draft indicators to ensure that they enable you to capture the associated concept. See Defining and Evaluating Indicators.
  5. Develop an analysis plan: Determine how you will analyze your indicators. See Developing an Analysis Plan.
  6. Determine your data source: Which internal or external data sources will you draw from? See the External Data Sources and Internal Data Sources and Primary Data Collection sections for options.

What is the difference between administrative data and analytical data?

Administrative data is collected and used to perform operational functions, including program or service delivery. It can be generated through transactions, program applications or registration, communications, and day-to-day record keeping for internal government processes such as Human Resources and Finance. The primary use of this data is operational, although the data may be compiled and used secondarily for analytical purposes.

Analytical data is used in aggregate to perform any analytic function that will aid decision making, such as program evaluation, comparative analyses, and research. Some analytical data is collected specifically for analytical functions, such as survey data; in other cases, data which was initially collected and used for administrative functions can be transformed into analytical data when used for analysis. This process is shown in the graphic below:

  1. Understand your data source: Understand how exactly the data was collected to know the strengths and weaknesses of the data, and to properly interpret your analysis. Some questions to ask include:
    • Is this primary or secondary data?
    • If secondary, what was the original purpose of the survey or administrative data? Who collected the data?
    • How were the data collected?
    • What was the population?
    • How were the variables measured and defined?
    • For surveys, what was the sampling method (i.e., how were respondents selected and how many respondents were there?) and what was the response rate?
    • Are there any obvious sources of error in the data?
    • When were the data collected?
  2. Acquire your data: Once you know the source, undertake the steps to acquire the data. See External Data Sources and Internal Data Sources and Primary Data Collection for information about how to acquire data.
  3. Process your data: Process your data set as needed to get it ready for analysis. See Data processing.
  4. Analyze your data: Start your analysis with descriptive statistics, then perform more advanced analysis as needed. See the Data analysis section.
  5. Learning and reporting on your data: Use the data analysis to help your government make informed decisions and report internally and externally. See the Using Data: Learning and Reporting section.
  6. Communicating data: Communicate the story your data tells through different channels (i.e., visuals, narratives, audio).

Primary vs Secondary data

When acquiring and analyzing data (whether from internal or external sources) it is useful to understand if your data is primary or secondary data. From the perspective of a given project, secondary data is data that has been collected for some purpose other than the express purpose of your project. Primary data is data that has been collected for the express purpose of your project. Data that is considered primary data for one project may be considered secondary data for another project. In almost all instances, external data will be secondary data and internal data will be either primary or secondary.

For example, if you conduct a survey to answer a specific research question, this newly collected internal data is primary. However, if you use existing administrative health records to answer a specific research question, this internal data is considered secondary data.

Because secondary data has already been collected, it is often used for projects with smaller budgets or tight time constraints. Larger projects might use a combination of secondary and primary data

The webinar below is a presentation by Hannes Edinger and Rebecca Wortzman (Big River Analytics) on acquiring and working with data. For more webinars covering content in this toolkit click here.

Icon - Acquiring & Analyzing Data