Sources of secondary data

Secondary data





There are quite limited resources available for research and evaluation in non-profit and public sectors. Among these limited resources are funds, time, and knowledge. Due to these limitations it becomes difficult to create primary data for research and hence one is forced to carry out research and evaluation with secondary data. Secondary data is data previously collected by another researcher at a different time.

Researchers can obtain secondary data from quantitative and qualitative research strands. There are different types of secondary data that can be used in the evaluation of the program, policy or problem. Sources of secondary data from a quantitative research strand include external sources such as published sources. Public agencies gather data from crime rates, vital statistics, governmental budgets, census data and scores from educational testing and avail the data to researchers. Government agencies carry out studies on various public issues, and the information is published (Johnson, 2014). They release government statistics such as population censuses, family expenditure surveys, social surveys, import, and export statistics.

Another secondary source of data is syndicated data that is data that is sold by research firms. There are research firms that carry out research and after they get the information they sell it to other researchers. Another secondary source is data from national and international institutions (United Nations, n.d.). These institutions avail data on business economic reviews, journals and articles, and university research reports. Secondary data can also be obtained from online sources. Researchers can carry out research on the problem, policy or program and public the information on articles, journals that they make available online.

Sources of secondary data from a qualitative research strand include interviews. Researchers can try to get a person-to-person response on previously prepared questions that are aimed at obtaining in-depth information on an individual’s experiences. Interviews are also aimed at finding out more information on surveys or questionnaires. Interviews can be conducted on the key officials that can assist in the verification of the interpretation of a particular researcher. The interviews can also help in exploring issues that might have been left out in a written form and hence provide context. Another secondary data source is observation that involves accurate on-site observation of the operations of a particular program. It includes observing the activities that go on, discussions, processes, and results that can be observed. Researchers can observe different things like the patterns of land use in the country, friendliness within waiting rooms in public agencies, quality of housing or even the road conditions (Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d.). Observation can be carried out in either a structured or semi-structured format. For a structured observation, there are specific checklists that contain check boxes that make it possible to count things precisely. On the other hand, in semi-structured observations, the researcher makes notes on whatever is of interest to them, unusual things or typical things. Researchers can also carry out a detailed observation of research-related documents and records to obtain information.

Secondary data sources have a great impact on the evaluation of the problem, policy or problem. First, these sources of data make useful information available that is necessary for carrying out an evaluation. With secondary data, there is a lot of background work that has been conducted by different researchers and hence there is a lot of information such as case studies and literature reviews (Johnson, 2014). This background information makes it easy to undertake an evaluation of the program, policy or problem.

Due to the amount of background work conducted, secondary data has a high degree of reliability and validity. A researcher using secondary data does not need to re-examine the data before use. Reliability and validity makes the process of evaluation easy and fast since there is no need for re-examining data. The re-use of qualitative data provides a good opportunity of studying raw materials of the past in order to get an insight of theoretical and methodological purposes. Less time is required to collect secondary data and hence making the evaluation process fast. Secondary data also plays a significant role in the exploratory phase of any research whenever the task been carried out defines a research problem and also to come up with a hypothesis. Gathering and analysis of secondary data helps in improving how a researcher understands the problem.


Johnson, G. (2014). Research methods for public administrators (3rd ed.). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.Chapter 7, “Data Collection I: Available Data and Observation” (pp. 97–111)

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2014, from 

United Nations. (n.d.). Official documents and bibliographic databases. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from 

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