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

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5.1 Sources of external secondary data

In Activities 5 and 6 you were asked to consider the types of internal secondary data that would be useful for your project.

You will now collect information directly related to addressing your business issue. Table 3 contains examples of useful sources of external secondary data.

Table 3 Sources of external secondary data (adapted from Bryman, Bell and Harley, 2019: 298)
Title Dataset details
Office for National Statistics (ONS) Collects, analyses and disseminates statistics about the UK’s economy, society and population
Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES), UK Produces UK annual employment statistics and collects data on local units and business structures to update the Inter-Departmental Business Register
Understanding Society, UK The survey uses interviews and questionnaires and follows the same nationally representative sample of individuals within a household but is based on a much larger panel of 40,000 households
British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey The survey focuses mainly on people’s attitudes, but also collects details of their behaviour patterns, household circumstances and work
European Community Studies and Eurobarometer Cross-national comparison of a wide range of social and political issues, including European integration, life satisfaction, social goals, currency issues, working conditions and travel
Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), UK The most comprehensive source of earnings information in the UK, broken down by industry, occupation, age group and gender
Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS), UK Wide range of areas covered, including pay determination, recruitment and training, equal opportunities, workplace change, work attitudes, management organisation and employee representation
Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Promotes research into and the education of the public in the economic, social and political sciences and in science and technology, the voluntary sector and social enterprise, public services, and industry and commerce.

Activity 7 Planning, reviewing and reflecting on your search

Timing: Allow around 80 minutes for this activity

Part 1 Planning your search

Timing: Allow around 30 minutes for this part of the activity

Before you start collecting secondary data, and based on what you have learned and experienced so far about searching for information, write down a short search plan of no more than 200 words in the text box below that will enable you to better identify potential sources of secondary data that are relevant to your chosen work issue or problem. Consider the following:

  • Keywords – which ones will you use?
  • Sources − which database(s) will you use first to conduct your search?
  • Parameters added − based on the options available for the database you have selected, you may decide to add further search or filtering options; for example, limiting the time span of the research, or the type of material searched.
  • Outcomes – what are you hoping to find and what might be the minimum progress you are expecting to achieve in this research?
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At the centre of your search planning for secondary (and primary) data should be your topic and research questions. What is the main focus of your research? What do you want to explore with your secondary data? It may be more helpful to start with some broad terms and as you progress with your search make your search more specific.

The type of data that you require will determine the databases that you will use. For example, if you are looking for financial data, Business Source Complete can be helpful; whereas, if you are looking for employment statistics, the Business Register and Employment Survey may be more useful.

Depending on your topic you may have to set a particular time frame for the secondary data you may find useful for your study. For example, if you are looking at improving virtual collaboration between employees it may not be helpful to look for information from twenty years ago as this is an area of research that constantly changes and you are more likely to be interested in recent developments.

The outcome of your search will again be related to your topic. Do not expect to find a full list of secondary data in your first attempt. You will most likely find a few useful data. However, reading this secondary data you may be directed to other useful databases or sources of secondary data.

Part 2 Reviewing your search

Timing: Allow around 30 minutes for this part of the activity

As a reflective management practitioner, you are expected to critically review a search and demonstrate how its outcomes can enhance the learning process and inform you on what else may be needed to improve the search process.

As you carry out your searches of external databases, consider the following questions:

  • What did you learn as you undertook the various searches?
  • How did you manage, select and store all the information you came across?
  • What attracted you to the sources that you finally selected?
  • How would you update the search procedure in order to improve the outcome?
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Searching for secondary data is not an easy process − quite the opposite, in fact. You will most probably come across data that you are not familiar with. With data collected by others, a period of familiarisation is necessary. Reading about the reasons or purpose as to why data has been collected by the other researchers may help you become more familiar with the data and better equip you to decide if you can use it for your project.

Some of the best-known datasets that are employed for secondary analysis, such as the Workplace Employment Relations Survey, are very large in the sense of having very large numbers of respondents. You may therefore experience difficulties in using them for your project.

You can argue that secondary data offers you the opportunity to access data of higher quality and volume than you could collect yourself. However, you must think of the quality of the data that you are going to use in your project.

Even if there are some databases, such as the Population Census, that you believe you can safely assume are of high quality, the quality of secondary data must never been taken for granted, and it does not mean that these data will necessary meet all the needs of a prospective researcher. Always keep in your mind your topic and be critical about the value and importance of the secondary data you collect.

Part 3 Reflecting on your search skills

Timing: Allow around 20 minutes for this part of the activity

You will now reflect on how your initial assessment of the confidence in your search skills has changed in the text box below.

  • What additional actions have you identified?
  • What do you need to do to update your search skills for your project?
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Every researcher’s skills and developmental needs can be different. You may decide that you need to revisit your keywords for your secondary data search in order to get more focused results; you may decide that you need to spend more time familiarising yourself with the secondary data that you have collected in order to assess if they can be used in your project; you may conclude that there is not enough secondary data (or appropriate secondary data) in your topic and you should therefore revise your research strategy.