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Gathering Data Techniques

Learn more about good practice for gathering data from focus groups, interviews and surveys.
© Creative Computing Institute

Data plays a huge role in designing inclusive systems, particularly with the increase in automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

What is Data?

Data refers to any units of information relevant to a topic or subject. It is important not to only think of it in terms of datasets used for machine learning or artificial intelligence. Qualitative data is ‘descriptive and conceptual…and can be categorized based on traits and characteristics (1), and is important for understanding peoples’ perspectives. Quantitative data is numerical information that can be measured or counted and is important for statistical analysis.

Consider the following types of data, and then we will discuss how these types of data can contribute to an inclusive design.

  • perspectives gathered in focus groups
  • data points gathered from interviews and surveys
  • datasets for machine learning -outcomes or results found during testing

In this step, we’ll look at focus groups, surveys and interviews. Later, we’ll look at datasets for machine learning.

Focus Group Data

In an earlier section, we discussed running focus groups during user research. They may also be used throughout the process of design, development and testing, to gather perspectives and opinions external to product teams.

When conducting focus groups to collect qualitative data on a subject, it’s important to have subjects and/or researchers who are representative of the community that the product will be serving. It may be necessary to consider the use of translators if the researchers/subjects do not have the same primary language. There may also be occasions where there are cultural nuances that may not be understood. If possible, run multiple focus groups, and consider how the answers that people provide may be affected by external events that may not have come up in earlier sessions.

Each response during a focus group session forms part of the data which can influence design. As an example, consider AfriClick, the networking and dating app for African-Caribbean professionals (2, 3). The team observed that Black women are least likely to be matched on dating apps and ran sessions with the community to understand what they were looking for in dating (4). Following this, they wanted to better capture their audience in the app, so they added features such as ‘sickle cell genotype’, ‘country of heritage’ and ‘tribe’ as options users can filter by.

When conducting focus groups, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a wide range of people attending and are they representative of the people who will be using the product or service?
  • Could there be a benefit in running multiple focus groups, some with audiences segmented by different demographics and some which have a range of people?
  • Is there enough data to understand your audience?

Interviews and Survey Data

Surveys can be used to collate quantitative data. This is typically structured data – for example, from questions such as ‘how much, on a scale of 1 to 10?’.

Much like focus groups, interviews can be used to collate qualitative data. Qualitative data is unstructured data, and is collected from free-form questions, such as ones that ask ‘how?’ ‘why?’ and ‘what?’. This information will be subjective but can be a key way of gathering opinions from the people who will be using products and services.

Beyond Data Gathering

As we’ve seen, data has a large impact on design, and it is important to gather it equitably and inclusively and use it to understand the range of perspectives relevant to your project. However, as we discussed in step 2.8 of ‘Gender Inclusive Approaches in Technology’ ‘participatory design’ gives users the chance to be even more actively involved in the design process, from ideation to deployment. One of the leading thinkers in this field is Sasha Constanza-Chock, the author of ‘Design Justice (5).


  1. Devin Pickell, 2019. Qualitative vs Quantitative Data – What’s the Difference? Learning Hub.
  2. BOA54, 2020. Dayo Akinrinade founder of Africlick – Ordinary People Africa.
  3. Smart Monkey TV, 2018. Dayo Akinrinade & Ray Ajike Ajoke on start-up Africlick, a dating app for global Africans.
  4. Christian Rudder, 2014. Race and Attraction, 2009 – 2014 OK Trends.
  5. Sasha Constanza-Chock, 2020. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need

Further resources:

  1. Emily Hadley, 2020. 5 steps to take as an antiracist data scientist Towards Data Science.
  2. Nell Chitty, 2013. Inclusive Focus Groups – through my eyes.
© Creative Computing Institute
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