Technology is one of my favorite things. I love to “geek-out” and have conversations about how to use new technology in evaluation projects, such as new updates to online survey software and social media tracking strategies for community organizing projects. My technology toolbox is well stocked and constantly growing. Often I am tempted to use these tools simply because I can. However, as I was reminded today, this is not always a good idea.
I joined my team this morning to brainstorm ways to collect data from college students. In our attempt to make it easy for the students, we planned to use four different tech tools to track data: two online surveys, a text message survey and Facebook event tracking. My mind began to spin and I started to panic!
How are we going to keep track of all these data? What if students respond more than once? What if two students report different attendance numbers for the same event?
Thankfully, after much discussion, we streamlined our methods and limited ourselves to a fraction of our original plan (two online surveys). In hindsight, my panic resulted in an important learning: don’t use technology just because it’s available. Having the right tools is important, but knowing when to use them is the key to success. Here are some thoughts I now keep in mind when determining which tech tools to use.
- Know your audience. What tools do your constituents use? Does your audience text or use Facebook? Do they have access to new tech tools? How can you meet them where they already are? Does your audience need incentives to respond?
- Do your research. What are the strengths and limitations of each tool? Are the tools easy to use or are there steep learning curves? TechSoup has a wealth of resources about different types of tech tools that I have found helpful when answering these questions, such as the pros and cons of various online survey software systems.
- Make informed decisions. What types of data will different tech tools produce? Does the type and quality of the data vary? Is it necessary to use more than one tool? Since using too multiple tech tools can create analysis complications down the line, proactively think about the specific data you expect to collect from each tool.
On a positive note, these guidelines have helped my team choose the most appropriate tech tools and ensure that we collected accurate data. On the other hand, it does mean that the really cool text message survey will just have to wait until my next project…