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

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7.2 Usefulness of your secondary data

Due to the ‘second hand’ nature of secondary data, it is always prudent to take a critical approach when selecting evidence to address your chosen work issue. You may want to examine the source of the data, as well as why it was produced. Similarly, the time period or context in which it was produced may have an impact on its usefulness.

Activity 9 Critically evaluating secondary data

Timing: Allow around 40 minutes for this activity

As part of the process of enabling an effective and ethical change in your chosen work problem, you may be required to evaluate secondary data for its relevance, objectivity and provenance, so that you can be sure it is of value to the change project.

  1. Select two pieces of secondary data relevant to your opportunity, one from an internal source and the other from an external source.
  2. Apply the PROMPT checklist [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   to evaluate your chosen data using the template provided.
  3. Reflect on the use of secondary data in your project.


PROMPT is a useful tool to evaluate the secondary data you have. Think of questions such as:

  • Is the information presented and communicated clearly? If the answer is no, then you will most probably not be able to fully understand this data.

  • Is the article biased, or motivated by a particular agenda? This is a critical question, particularly if you are using secondary data produced by an organisation. You would expect that an organisation would like to present a positive image so in publicly available reports emphasis may be mostly based on successes and positive practices, rather than showing the full picture.

  • Although some documents don’t set out to mislead, it is likely that figures will be reported in such a way as to put a particular ‘gloss’ on them, given the publishing body’s own agenda. Ask yourself if these reports represent what actually happens in an organisation.

  • Is it clear where the information has come from? If you do not know the source of the information, then you shouldn’t be using it in your project.

  • How up-to-date is the material? The answer to this question will affect the relevance of this data for your project. You should therefore make sure that you know when this data was collected and/or written.

Once you have selected your secondary data, it is necessary to evaluate it for its authenticity and credibility, i.e. will it stand up to comparisons with other sources of data on the same issue? You should also consider which of the views expressed represent those of the whole organisation.

Finally, you should consider the meaning and significance of the data as there may be both organisational and national cultural differences in certain terms and expressions.

Looking at these aspects is key to taking a critical approach to any data you gather for your project. It will also help you to reflect on the use of secondary data in your project.