C4D: Collect and/or retrieve data (methods)

What is it?

Data collection methods should be selected on the basis of how well they will answer the key questions, with due consideration of available resources. Decisions about methods need to be made in conjunction with other decisions about the key questions (what to collect data on), whether indicators might be used, how sampling will be used, and how data will be managed and analysed. When decisions are made, these should be documented in Planning Documents. The data collection methods on this page will generate descriptive data: information about what has happened or how things are through measuring or describing things. 

General information

While there are many different methods for data collection/retrieval, they can be grouped into the following types: information from individuals (eg key informant interviews); information from groups (e.g. focus group discussions); observation (either directly or through photographs and videos, including aerial observation); physical measurements; and existing records and data (including social media and other media). General information on methods and other methods is available on the Collect or Retrieve data page of the Rainbow Framework. This page is recommended background reading before considering methods to apply to C4D. 

Applying the C4D principles


Some methods are more engaging, less extractive, and enable mutual learning, to a greater extent than others. Although this is not the full extent of what it means to take a participatory approach, methods of this nature are recommended.


If your key questions set out to explore contextual factors, the methods you chose to answer the questions need to be the type that helps you construct 'thick descriptions' (comprehensive, in-depth, contextual).


We need to be conscious of gender and other power inequalities that exclude marginalised groups from contributing to the process: analytically reflect on how methods may distort, exclude or silence particular perspectives and voices.


Choices about methods must remain practical, pragmatic, and feasible, and fit with the available resources. This may involve compromise to remain realistic, however, in C4D ensuring that local needs, voices and experiences are given prominence should remain a priority.


Data methods should be chosen for how well they will show different perspectives and experiences, and increase understanding of how contextual factors influence outcomes. In complicated and complex interventions, quick methods (compared to slow methods like national surveys) will be more useful for informing adaptive implementation of C4D.

Recommended methods for collecting data to answer descriptive questions relating to C4D

Data from individuals or groups

  • Communicative ecology mapping

    An interactive method which seeks to uncover rich details about communication environments, uses and contexts through mapping. They can be made with individuals or with groups of people during discussion or drawn up afterwards on the basis of discussions and then checked with the participants. It is particularly useful for C4D situation analysis and intervention design. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways: 

    • Holistic: Communicative ecology mapping enables participants to share how they use different communication spaces, uses and contexts. It does not assume that communication looks the same in all places in the way that standardised surveys might. 
    • Participatory: Communicative Ecology Mapping can be an engaging and visual method where participants map their communicative ecology (although it can also be created from interview data) 

    Communicative Ecologies and Communicative Ecology Mapping is covered in the EAR Toolbox.


    Communicative Ecology Mapping was used as part of an assessment of the Violence Against Children campaign in Vietnam. It mapped children's communicative ecologies, and was intended to be used for planning the next phase of the campaign. See Appendix page 52-54 

  • Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal

    Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal was adapted from ‘Rapid Rural Appraisal’ (RRA) as a way to conduct multidisciplinary and participatory research in rural settings without requiring the intensive time commitment assumed by other qualitative investigations. By actively involving community members in the research process, the method also builds capacity by training people in research and involving them in the analysis. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Participatory: Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal uses appropriate participatory techniques to involve participants in reflection and learning processes.
    • Realistic: Like RRA, Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal focuses on 'rapid' and less time-intensive participatory approaches to participatory research.

    For guidance on data collection tools associated with PRCA see Chapter 4: PRCA Tools and Techniques and Chapter 5 (Toolbox): Tools and Techniques


    A study exploring Knowledge Attitudes and Practices relating to Violence Against Children in Tanzania used Participatory Appraisal (not necessarily PRCA), among other methods.

  • Critical Listening and Feedback Sessions (also Participatory Viewing and Listening)

    Critical Listening (or viewing) and Feedback sessions is a process of group listening to or viewing content, followed by reflective and analytical discussions and responses. It has been used in C4D as a way for content producers to critically reflect on their content, and to get feedback from key community groups and audiences. This method is consistent with the C4D Framework in the following ways:

    • Learning-based: The feedback can be used to continually improve content, or as part of an assessment of content.
    • Holistic: The process enables rich explorations of meaning and interpretation of content.
    • Participatory: The process is a highly engaging method in which participants engage in mutual learning.

    Module 4 of the Equal Access Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation toolkit provides an overview of Critical Listening and Feedback Sessions.


    The Ruka Juu II Young Farmers in Business impact study (from 2013) is a good example of the use of participatory viewing and listening sessions undertaken with various community groups as part of an impact assessment.

  • Surveys

    Surveys and questionnaires are a set of structured questions that aim to collect specific information from the chosen respondents (written or orally). The questions are designed to gather information about attitudes, preferences and factual information of respondents, and can be useful when information from a representative sample is required. Knowledge Attitudes and Practices surveys (KAPs) are common in C4D. However, experience from practice suggests that KAP surveys are often limited and unsatisfactory for a deep understanding contexts and causes. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Accountable: Because a survey can collect data from greater numbers of people it helps to give a sense of the scale of impact, which is useful in discussions about effectiveness and impact.
    • Critical: Surveys should include some questions about demographics, which can be useful for disaggregating data and understanding differences and equity dimensions (see Sample).

    FAO Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal Handbook

    Chapter 5 of this resource, on baseline studies, provides good advice on constructing a questionnaire or survey

    This page offers detailed information and links to resources about survey methods.


    Tuzungumze na Watoto (T-Watoto) is an example of how a system for regular mobile phone household surveys can be set up by partnering with a local call-centre to regularly collect data for monitoring and evaluation. A representative sample of randomly selected households are surveyed, depending on the sample-size requirements. Any member of the household may be interviewed.

  • Key Informant Interviews 

    A Key Informant Interview (KII) involves gathering information directly from an individual who has good knowledge or experience on a subject of interest to the study or evaluation. KII is useful and effective when the person doing the interview is trusted by the key informant. This allows the interviewer to probe or ask further questions until he or she gets the necessary information. It is a common method and can be consistent with all the C4D Evaluation Framework principles. In particular:

    • Holistic: semi-structured interviews with key informants in particular allow for open exploration of points and factors
    • Critical: people who may not be able to participate fully in group settings may feel more comfortable to speak in interviews, especially if the interviewer is trusted

    Page 10-11  of this resource provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations. 

    Provides guidance and links to a range of examples (beyond C4D) and resources.

    The EAR Toolbox provides guidance on individual and group interviews - useful if you are interested in a more ethnographic approach to interviewing (semi-structured) .

    Mack, Natasha, et al. 2005. Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide. Research Triangle Park, NC: Family Health International, Module 3.

  • Focus group discussions  

    A Focus Group Discussion (FGD) is an effective way to capture information about norms, behaviours, practices and the variety of opinions or views within a particular population or group (e.g., adult married women, female teachers, and male farmers). The richness of focus group data emerges from the group dynamics and from the diversity of the group. FGDs may help identify commonly held views among group members, including – at times – divergent views. An FGD usually gathers 8 to 15 individuals (not too many) who represent a specific group to talk about a specific subject. The composition of the group is important: depending on the socio-cultural setting, it may be inappropriate to host mixed groups (e.g., adolescent girls and boys). Further, age and gender are important considerations. Focus Group Discussions can be consistent with all the C4D Evaluation Framework principles. In particular:

    • Holistic: Focus group discussions allow for participants to drive open exploration of points and factors and discuss ideas together.
    • Critical: In focus group discussions are usually conducted with groups of people that are similar or diverse (such as women, men, adolescents, community leaders, etc.), which helps to reduce barriers to participation, and enrich the quality of voices.

    Page 12-14 of this resource provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations. 

    The EAR Toolbox provides guidance on group interviews - useful if you are interested in a more ethnographic approach to focus groups (semi-structured)  

    Mack et al., 2005. Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide. Research Triangle Park, NC: Family Health International, Module 4. (find hyperlinks)


    A study exploring Knowledge Attitudes and Practices relating to Violence Against Children in Tanzania used focus group discussions in a highly engaged, dialogical way, among other methods.

  • Social mapping  

    Social Mapping is a cartographic, two-dimensional, visual representation of the distribution of resources, services, processes, social relationships, and networks. Mapping may help to assess not only where key resources and places are located, but why certain services are or are not being accessed by all members of the community (e.g., why certain health clinics might not be visited by women or children). It can also be used to understand the organisation of institutions. A variant of Social Mapping, Body Mapping, can reveal people’s anatomical ideas and health concepts, aspects related to mental and physical health, wellbeing, and even child protection issues such as sexual abuse. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Participatory: The visual and group-based nature of the method makes it a more engaging method where participants can actively lead the direction of discussion.
    • Critical: This is a critical method that allows for the decentralisation of power and control in the data collection process. 
    • Holistic: By moving away from interview techniques that are strictly guided by predetermined questionnaires or closed-ended questions, mapping and follow-up interviews can reveal cultural barriers, the beliefs that hold them in place, and bottlenecks that may have never arisen from traditional surveys or interviews.

    Page 14-16 provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations. 

    FAO's Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal 

    This resource includes concise guidance on sketch mapping. 

    This method page provides detailed explanation, guidance and links to resources and examples.

    Rural appraisal: Rapid, Relaxed and Participatory (PDF) - IDS Discussion Paper 311

    Resource by Robert Chambers.

    Tools together now! 100 participatory tools to mobilise communities for HIV/AIDS(PDF)

    Cornwall, Andrea, 2001. Body Mapping in Health PRA/RRA. London: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Originally published in RRA Notes (1992), Issue 16, pp.69–76.

  • Transect walk

    The Transect Walk is a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tool for observing the terrain and everyday life in a given place from the perspective of local community members. During the walk, stops are made along the way, and observations are discussed with community members. After the walk is over, a small group discussion may ensue. Use in Equity-focused Monitoring Transect walks can help provide an overview of the distribution of resources, use of a particular service or supply, or other specific features of a settlement in a short period of time. For example, a transect walk may be used to check for treated bed-nets in every other house and asking persons in that house who sleeps under them. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Participatory: the group-based nature of the method makes it a more engaging method where participants can lead the direction of discussion.
    • Critical: walks can be a powerful way of uncovering differences between groups.
    • Holistic: walks can reveal the interconnected nature of problems and change, and locate issues in the local environment and context. 

    FAO's Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal Handbook

    This resource includes concise points about Transect Walks. 

    Page 16-17 provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations. 

    This method page provides examples, guidance and links to resources

    Transect walk (PDF)

    World Bank resource provides an overview of transect walks.

    Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development (IAPAD)

    The IAPAD website focuses on sharing information on participatory mapping methodologies and processes.

    Transect mapping - IAPAD (archived link) 

Existing documents

  • Media review 

    A media review is the process of studying newspaper articles, letters to the editor, television or radio broadcasts, possibly advertisements, and other types of media as applicable in order to understand the range of opinions around a specific issue of concern. It can be used to in the context of advocacy communication work. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Realistic: The bulk of the work in a media review is desk-based, and it can therefore be a less expensive option. 

    Page 8-9  provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations.


  • Participant observation 

    Participant Observation is a method used by ethnographic researchers while present in a community or organisational setting to gain a close understanding of people’s lives, including actions, interactions, behaviours and practices, through intensive involvement and participation, often over an extended period of time. The intention is that as participants become more comfortable and trust the researcher, the 'observer effect', where people change their behaviours because they know they are being watched, is reduced. Typically it is based on semi-structured and open-ended observation techniques, where extensive field notes are taken and where there is a flexible research design. It is consistent with the C4D Evaluation Framework in the following ways:

    • Realistic: Although observation can lead to significant amounts of data in the form of fieldnotes (especially less structured, more open types of observation), it can be a less expensive method compared to interviews and focus groups.
    • Holistic: Sometimes people's reported behaviour (in interviews, surveys, focus groups etc.) is different to their actual behaviour, where additional environmental, social and other factors can influence behaviour. Observation can help give different, more holistic insights.

    Page 9  provides a comprehensive guide with UNICEF C4D examples and considerations. 

    Rainbow Framework : 

    Look for the 'Observation' section on this Rainbow Framework page for a list of different types of observation techniques with detailed outlines and links to resources and examples. 

    Participant observation and fieldnotes in the EAR Toolbox - particularly useful for using observation techniques in the context of an ethnographic approach.

    Qualitative methods

    Finding a voice: Themes and discussions

  • Non-participant observation

    Observing individuals and groups without actively participating or engaging. The observer takes on a more distant position and avoids influencing practices. However, it is important to recognise that even without active participation, people may change their behaviours if they know they are being observed (known as the observer effect). Non-participant observation may be structured (where very specific and pre-determined phenomena and variables are documented); semi-structured (where some areas of interest and variables may be pre-determined, with space to include additional details; or open-ended (without any pre-determined structure). Examples include observation of hand washing practices among child and adult members of a community, observing a clinic session in a local health facility, or observing a community meeting where programme-related issues are discussed.


    Non-participant Observation involves observing participants without actively participating.

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