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

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Using data to aid organisational change

7.3 How much secondary data will you need for your change management project?

By now, you might be wondering how much secondary data you will need to collect for your change management project. Well, the answer very much depends on your project objectives, the size of the organisation and how easy it is for you to access the required data.

It is very difficult to recommend how much and the type of secondary data you will need to collect, but the amount should be significant enough to ensure you can draw some meaningful conclusions and recommendations. For example, a project exploring a performance management improvement issue in a public sector organisation collected the following secondary data from the agency’s database and external sources:

  • 41 strategy documents within the strategic timeframe
  • 20 external documents, such as media reports and news coverage
  • 30 documents relating to the annual report from the database.

Although secondary data can offer valuable information, you are encouraged to collect primary data in parallel, if it is appropriate for your chosen work problem. For example, you may conduct interviews, create questionnaires or make observations to fully explore your questions and draw meaningful conclusions.

Additionally, the same question may be explored by different researchers in a very different way and with a varying amount of data, reaching different conclusions. As a researcher you will probably know when you have enough information to answer your question or address your problem.

Activity 10 Using secondary data in your change project

Timing: Allow around 40 minutes for this activity

Providing a straightforward answer as to how much secondary data you will need for your change project is not easy, so hearing experiences from others who have used secondary data may be useful.

In Video 2, you will hear from three people reflecting on the role secondary data had in their change management projects, which were part of their MBA projects at The Open University. Watch the video and then answer the questions that follow.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2 The role of secondary data in your MBA project

Transcript: Video 2 The role of secondary data in your MBA project

I used secondary data for my project. When I’ve done this kind of thing before but not in the context of my MBA, I’d always thought about the wider world and what do I need to know about the wider world that’s going on. What do I need to know about competitors and customers? And then, what do I need to know about the internal organisation? So just thinking about those three things. And so when I go to the wider world, thinking about, oh, well, what do I need to read in terms of reports on education?
I’m working in an international education company. I need to understand trends, developments in terms of revision, how both customers and companies think about the role of revision and trends and developments in revision. So reading reports, whether that might be from the World Economic Forum right through to reports from Time’s Educational Supplement, TES, getting that kind – so getting those kinds of reports from the internet.
And then, coming a bit closer to the competitors, ok, looking at other education companies, looking at their websites and trying to understand what their offer was for revision and test prep, how they repurpose their assessment exams, what kind of technologies they were using, what kind of business models they were applying. So getting all of that information through the internet, through web searches.
I collected a variety of secondary data for my project along the way. First thing I looked at was the case study from AstraZeneca in the corporate finance module, which touched on IAS 38. I also consulted through a friend’s – Ernst and Young manual on guidance regarding R&D capitalization. And I had an interview with a friend who happened to work in that area, so I wanted to hear what his perspective was on my project.
I also looked at the annual report of my company, and I looked at the annual reports of competitors to see what they were doing. And some of them, although they weren’t in the UK, were actually doing greater capitalisation. So I thought that was a real bonus in driving my project forward. I looked at surveys that had been done by various regulatory bodies on IAS 38 industry-wide, not just in the pharmaceutical sector.
I also looked at a consultation paper from the Financial Reporting Council, which was actually going on while I was doing the project. And I had a look at the feedback that they were reporting from investors. I looked at the accountancy regulator ACCA’s working paper on this, and I looked at the US equivalent as well.
And as well as that, I looked at, aside from the purely financial analysis, which was quite heavy because I had to influence finance, was I looked at what kind of posters were being – were in the company, to look at the culture of the company in terms of risk and authority structures. And I listened to what my colleagues were – although it was kind of hearsay, it wasn’t me taking a direct interview, I listened to what was being said around me, which helped me in the social, cultural perspective of the context of my MBA.
So the types of secondary data that I collected for my project were essentially publicly available information, and also was well information that I had access to within the organisation that was confidential and sensitive that I used for the project, but I did not use or discuss in my final write-up. So publicly available information, for instance, such as accounts, reports, parliamentary inquiry reports, newspaper articles, various academic journals, books, and internal information, secondary information that I used.
That was an internal reports. That was an internal findings as well. And also, presentations, guidance, policies, and guidelines such as HR policies and guidelines as well.
So looking at secondary data in terms of internal and external, I found myself looking for a lot of information externally. And I think that was because, really up until then, the organisation hadn’t looked outside of itself, so I didn’t have that kind of information readily available within the organisation.
I think that I was working for an organisation that had grown quite quickly and had been very, very successful, and I felt that I was at a point where the organisation, its value proposition was starting to become less relevant because of the developments in technology, because of the different practices of users, of students. And so the organisation hadn’t really needed to look outside of itself prior to this point.
So most of it was – most of it was external, as I say, going to ex-colleagues through to going to web sites, going to reports. I did speak to the heads of other departments to get their views on – what do you think? So going internally to my colleagues and asking them, what do you think we need to be doing? Most people that work in education do have views on the service offerings, and most people working in education are quite passionate about what you’re doing, and particularly when you’re working in a nonprofit.
And so people do want to have, I guess, a voice at the table and a sense of contributing. So those were the internal sources of that secondary information or that secondary data. And I was also trying to be inclusive and involve my stakeholders throughout the process.
In terms of internal and external sources of data, the financial reports from competitors were from companies that were online, had produced their annual reports, they were a matter of public record. A lot of the internal data that I used was the figures – the analytical figures behind the projects that I wanted to capitalise.
And I use those as the basis for my ratio analysis and to calculate some NPV as well and provide the basis of my argument of – look at the savings that we’re able to achieve from more capitalisation. So in terms of justifying the project and selling the issues internally, I very much relied on the analytics group for providing me with this data and the interviews.
But in terms of external stakeholders, it was more what was a matter of public record in terms of annual reports, what consultations were going on by regulators in terms of ‘was this a hot topic’ which I later discovered it was. And so that was how I distinguished. I actually had –
Because of my research – and I found that the Financial Reporting Council in the UK was consulting on this – I had a brief interview with the Director of Accounting and Reporting Policy at the FRC, who told me that more guidance was needed on this as there was scope for interpretation on multiple levels. So I felt that I wasn’t just trying to drive forward my project for my MBA. I felt that there was actual – it had teeth, and it was worthy of taking forward.
He told me that I had captured one of the purest examples of conflict in accounting policy between relevance and reliability and in terms of qualifying assets, qualifying R&D assets and not having to adjust later for impairment.
The main sources of data were external. And the reason why I chose mainly external secondary data was because I was undertaking a project within an organisation where information was very sensitive and confidential and could be commercially sensitive as well. And because of that, I wanted to make sure that when I did my write-up and also when I was really trying to think about the problem and explain it to external people outside of the organisation, that I had concrete evidence that I could actually share with them. So it was very important for me to utilise publicly available information.
So I gathered together data about the various things that I have spoken about already. And the first thing I wanted to do with that data was work with the team that I was responsible for and get us all to understand from that data and information that our product, our products and services, that product and service mix, no matter how proud we felt about it –
Because we’d been – we’d created it and we’d put it out there and customers had been using it and it was something that we’d crafted and created, but that looking at what’s going on outside of the organisation and looking at other companies, other competitors, that there are different ways of doing things, and that we were losing sales and losing market share.
And therefore, how can we take some of the things that we identified in those other products that were being created by competitors or even by the educational technology companies developing platforms with various features and benefits, know how might we look at all of that information and think, well, what could we do for our customers? How could that be relevant for our customers? And take that information to help us think through this upgrade of our own suite of products and services.
So that was the information, I guess, that I was – sorry, the information and the data insofar as the product. And then, really importantly, using a lot of that information in terms of the sales reports right through to market share. What’s the size of our accessible market? How many people, how many schools, how many students are we actually selling our commercial products to?
Who are the competitors that are selling to our customers? Because they’re all following our curricula, so they are fundamentally our customers. So using that kind of information to justify doing it in the first place to get the investment. And you have to justify that investment from the organisation.
The data that I used was used in my MBA project really as evidence to inform the next steps in my cycles of inquiry, and also to validate my project and to create some sizzle, to keep it going, which is one of the hardest things to do, because as time goes on, people get distracted with other priorities.
So it was really helping me. It was providing me with evidence to say, OK, this is where I need to go now. Consult my stakeholder map. Who do I need to influence? What are their concerns? And I felt particularly things like having the stakeholder map was like a living tool. The stakeholders continually changed in the project, some moving from big supporters to lukewarm, some who I had anticipated were not actually interested moving up into a real key supporter, people who I had not thought of initially.
So all of this evidence and the interviews, the external data, the internal data, was all helping to form a picture and to help move things forward and to influence people. And I was learning skills along the way of – that people can be duplicitous. They can say one thing and do another. I learned huge amounts about politics, that things do not happen in a linear fashion. Things often cycle around a number of loops.
And then you can be quite surprised at how something that you thought was completely derailed suddenly comes up and then is suddenly back on the picture again, perhaps in a different scope. So it was a huge learning opportunity for me. But the evidence was important because it gave me that critical underpinning.
The way that I used the data and applied the data within my MBA project was I used it to actually help me implement change within the organisation. So it was data regarding how many people had undertaken the different types of training, how often they’d taken the training, what the training was. Also, the data I used was also in relation to the size of the building.
So because I was looking at sharing knowledge, my project implemented a – sorry, not implemented. It created a coworking space. And because I had created a coworking space within the building, I needed to understand the physical dimensions of the building, the number of desks, how layout could be changed. So I also used maintenance information and facilities information as well to help me actually implement change
End transcript: Video 2 The role of secondary data in your MBA project
Video 2 The role of secondary data in your MBA project
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  1. What types of secondary data did they collect for their project?
  2. Was the source of the data internal or external?
  3. How was the data used in, or applied to, their change project?
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


You may have noticed that the sources of secondary data available to you are numerous and varied. You may take a ‘wider world view’ through collating secondary information on the organisation’s competitors and customers. This ‘macro-environmental’ approach not only provides you with useful data but also provides a context for the improvements to the organisation and therefore evidence for justification of the project.

Internal secondary data is often more readily available than external sources, but it may be confidential or commercially sensitive, so making sure you have clearance for its use is imperative.

The secondary data you collect can be applied in a variety of ways. The obvious use of the data is to provide evidence to inform your change project and guide you in the next steps. Secondary data can also be used to conduct an audit of the organisation’s position in the market, for example, thus providing further evidence for change.



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