It occurs to me, as I have mentioned before (see July 13, 2010), that data management is the least likely part of evaluation to be taught.

Research design (from which evaluation borrows heavily), methodology (the tools for data collection), and report writing are all courses in which  Extension professionals could have participated.  Data management is not typically taught as a course.

So what’s a body to do???

Well, you could make it up as you go a long.  You could ask some senior member how they do it.  You could explore how a major software package (like SPSS) manages data.

I think there are several parts to managing data that all individuals conducting evaluations need to do.

  • Organize data sequentially–applying an order will help in the long run.
  • Create a data dictionary or a data code book
  • Develop a data base–use what you know.
  • Save the hard copy in a secure place–I know many folks who kept their dissertation data in the freezer in case of fire or flood.

Organize data.

I suggest that as the evaluations are returned to you, the evaluator, that they be numbered sequentially, 1 – n.  This sequential number can also serve as the identifying number, providing the individual with confidentiality.  The identifying number is typically the first column in the data base.

Data dictionary.

This is a hard copy record of the variables and how they are coded.  It includes any idiosyncrasies that occur as the data are being coded so that a stranger could code your data easily.  An idiosyncrasy that often occurs is for a participant to split the difference between two numbers on a scale.  You must decide how it is coded.  You must also not how you coded it the first time and the next time and the next time.  If you alternate between coding high and coding low, you need to note that.

Data base.

Most folks these days have Excel on their computers.  A few have a specific data analysis software program.  Excel can be imported into most software programs.  Use it.  It is easy.  If you know how, you can even run frequencies and percentages in Excel.  These analyses are the first analyses  you conduct.  Use the rows for cases (individual participants) and the columns as variables.  Name each variable in an identifiable manner AND PUT THAT IDENTIFICATION IN THE DATA DICTIONARY!

Data security.

I don’t necessarily advocate storing your data in the freezer, although I certainly did when I did my dissertation in the days before laptops and personal computers.  Make sure the data are secured with a password–not only does it protect the data from most nosy people, it makes IRB happy and assures confidentiality.

Oh, and one other point when talking about data.  The word “data” is a plural word and takes a plural verb; there fore–Data are.  I know that the spoken convention is to think of the word “data” as singular–in writing, it is plural.  A good habit to develop-

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