Secondary data is data that is repurposed from its original use, typically collected by a different entity. This is different from primary data, which is data you collect and analyze for your own needs. Secondary data may include, but is not limited to, data already collected by other departments at your institution, by national agencies, or even by other grants. Secondary data can be useful for planning, benchmarking, and evaluation.

Using secondary data in evaluation could involve using institutional data about student ethnicity and gender to help determine your project’s impact on underrepresented minority graduation rates. National education statistics can be used for benchmarking purposes. A national survey of educational pipelines into industry can help you direct your recruitment planning.

The primary benefit of using secondary data is that it is often cheaper to acquire than primary data in terms of time, labor, and financial expenses, which is especially important if you are involved in a small grant with limited resources. However, secondary data sources may not provide all the information needed for your evaluation—you will still have to do some primary data collection in order to get the full picture of your project’s quality and effectiveness.

One final note: Accessing institutional data may require working closely with offices that are not part of your grant, so you must plan accordingly. It is helpful to connect your evaluator with those offices to facilitate access throughout the evaluation.

About the Authors

Jason Burkhardt

Jason Burkhardt box with arrow

EvaluATE Blog Editor

Jason is currently a project manager at the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University. He is also a PhD student in the Interdisciplinary PhD in evaluation program. He enjoys music, art, and the finer things in life.

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