SWP 402 - Social Policy and Social Inclusion

Finding and Evaluating Statistics or Data

Where to Start?

This research guide focuses on finding data to support the formation of social policy. However, when undertaking new research it is beneficial to understand the background of the issues you are studying. Before looking directly to tables of data start on scholarly articles and reports from government and social organizations. 

Primary vs. Secondary Data

Secondary data is data that you can use for your own research that was originally generated by another individual or organization for another purpose. Primary data is data you generate yourself to understand the populations or issues you are studying. Generating new data can be time intensive and expensive. You should begin your research by determining if secondary data exists that will answer your question. Often you may not find data that meets you needs. You may then choose to generate your own through data collection methods such as surveys. 

Sources of Secondary Data

Data is created by governments and organizations to help them fulfill their goals and mandates. A good strategy for finding data is to think about which organizations or government offices are interested in your topics. Statistics Canada is often a great starting point. However, there are also Provincial and Municipal open data portals, and organizational websites that contain valuable data.

Evaluating Data

Evaluating the quality of data or statistics is similar to evaluating other types of information. Think about who created the data or statistics and what qualifications this group may posses. For example you may check to see if they are a government organization or a legitimate research institution. Think about the reasons an organization may have created the data and if they might  be trying to push a certain agenda. Check for information or documentation about where the data came from. If you cannot determine where they got the data or the methodologies used to generate the data it would be difficult to confirm reliability.