Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Finding and Gathering Data

Researchers typically gather information using a combination of methods, including:

  • Existing data can benefit prevention efforts and is often available through local agencies and institutions, including schools, law enforcement agencies, health departments, hospitals, and social service agencies. While using existing data can save the time and money needed to collect the data, it can still cost quite a bit if you lack the in-house expertise to analyze the data. Most States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions collect and analyze archival data.
  • Survey research is a very efficient way to collect information, since one person can survey many respondents. They provide standardized data that are relatively easy to manage and can be compared across surveys that use the same questions. And surveys can be used to both design prevention activities and evaluate their impact.
  • Focus groups are structured discussions in which a small group of people respond to open-ended questions in their own words. Focus group subjects (or participants) are chosen to represent a larger group of people about whom you want information—your target audience.
  • Key informant interviews are loosely structured conversations with people who have specialized knowledge about the topic you wish to understand. Key informant interviews were developed by ethnographers to help understand cultures other than their own. A good key informant can convey this specialized knowledge to you.

Epidemiologists and planners use different methods to acquire different types of information. For example, determining the extent to which young people in a particular community abuse alcohol, marijuana, and club drugs might require surveying the community’s youth. Alternatively, comparing the community’s problem with alcohol and club drugs with that of the State would involve looking at existing State or federal data.