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Using data to aid organisational change
Using data to aid organisational change

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4.2 Sources of secondary data

As you start to collect data, you may instinctively jump into conducting your own original primary research. However, it would be a good idea to spend some time exploring the full range of information that might be readily available. Knowing where and how to collect secondary data will be crucial in gathering information and evidence to address your chosen business issue.

Often there is so much secondary data available to you, it may be difficult sifting through to see whether it is of value to your project. Secondary data can also be helpful when defining and refining your specific work issue and developing your methodological approach to researching your work problem. A good place to start would be to separate secondary data into internal and external sources.

Internal secondary data is data available within the organisation for whom the research is being conducted (Malhotra and Birks, 2003). Internal data is produced by an organisation as it goes about its everyday business and, as with all secondary data, it existed prior to and for purposes other than your own project. In contrast, external secondary data refers to information that comes from a wide variety of sources outside an organisation.

Internal secondary data

Much of the internal secondary data available is generated as part of the normal operation of the organisation’s activities (Lancaster, 2005) and is often accessed and analysed through the company’s databases and management information systems. There may well be internal secondary data that stems from previous research and data gathering activities related to your chosen work problem (Lancaster, 2005).

Sources of internal secondary data can range from regular management reporting information, such as revenue, cost and efficiency data, through to emails and documents, such as minutes of meetings. Additionally, you may find that some of the information is available in a ready-to-use format, such as information routinely supplied by the management information system (Malhotra and Birks, 2003). Examples could include policy documents and sales reports.

Your challenge will be to critically select and evaluate the appropriate internal secondary data and organisational evidence to address your chosen research problem.

Activity 5 Identifying the types of internal secondary data

Timing: Allow around 30 minutes for this activity
  1. In Table 2 below, note down the different types of internal secondary data your organisation produces that you feel might be helpful for the issue or change you are investigating.
  2. Do you expect to encounter any issues collecting data? If so, describe them in the table.
Table 2  Sourcing internal secondary data
Type of internal secondary data Issues or challenges in obtaining the data
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Below is a list of examples of internal secondary data:

  • Organisational data
  • Annual report
  • Corporate brochures
  • Agendas and meeting notes
  • Policy documents
  • Emails and letters
  • Financial statements
  • Productivity reports
  • Orders and invoices
  • Previous company research.

As your practice-based project is intended to benefit your chosen organisation, you would expect there to be few problems with accessing the required internal secondary data. However, there may be factors such as confidentiality and commercial sensitivity hindering access to certain documents, or even personal or political issues with individuals to overcome.

Where and how you can access documents for research depends to a large degree on the nature of the documents themselves, but also to an extent on your own status within the organisation (Tight, 2019). Additionally, some of the internal secondary data relevant to your work problem may be located in a different part or division of the organisation, which in itself could cause retrieval issues.