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Figure 1. Differences between active and passive data collection

Active data

Active data – the data you need to request from the given person. The participant needs to actively provide this data.

To supply information, the participant needs to spend time entering data, coming up with and formulating answers. In a sense, the participant creates the information that is provided.

Limitations of active data

    Collecting active data entails barriers for the participant relating to:
  • the scope of questions asked (they may not want to answer some questions or may not know the answers)
  • the amount of information provided (you can only ask a specific number of questions)
  • response frequency (in general you cannot ask participants to spend an hour every day answering your questions).

Subjectivity of active data

Active data is based on the subjective perception (of a given phenomenon or situation) in the eyes of the respondent (participant).

In the course of the survey (collecting active data) the researcher is involved in the process of data collection, and the participant is usually aware of being observed (and assessed). The process of collecting active data impacts on the participant’s behaviour (and therefore on their responses).

The researcher’s behaviour (or the way the questions are formulated in the survey) also affects the information provided by the participants.

For an in-depth understanding of the problem

You can ask not only “what” but also “why” questions, gaining a much deeper insight into the situation.

Some information (so far) can only be obtained in the form of active data (e.g. regarding personal attitudes and emotions).

Passive data

Passive data - data gathered without the involvement of the data provider. The participant (data provider) may not even know that the data is being captured.

Unlike active data, passive data is completely objective. Examples of passive data collection – internet browsers, web sites, mobile phones. Passive data collection may require sophisticated computer applications or simply reviewing historical data.

When is passive data needed?

    When you need to ask for the same information multiple times, because:
  • values or data points are dynamic (change every time)
  • data from a number of sources is needed (from many people, numerous processes)
  • current data is needed
  • you want to quickly check differences in behaviour following the introduction of improvements or changes.

Advantages of passive data collection

Passive data provide a better representation of preferences and future behaviours of individuals (employees, clients) than their own conscious opinions expressed in surveys, interviews, etc. As it turns out, people are not so good at assessing and predicting their own behaviour.

Passive data makes it possible to objectively measure user experience, the duration and frequency of specific activities, preferences and habits.

It can provide incomparably more samples of the same phenomenon, over a short period of time.

Lab1 as example of passive data collection

Lab1 software collects data without any manual input. That not only saves time but also increases data objectivity. Lab1 gets activity data in real-time from computers, phone calls, calendars and TNA systems. All that is done without invading privacy. Lab1 does not collect any content or private confidential information.

Photo credit: Freepik

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