Why bother with this data collection stuff anyway?

|| April 1, 2015

Some words on data collection
Melissa S. Saunders, MS., BCBA
Executive Clinical Director


It’s boring

Collecting data can be cumbersome, it isn’t flashy, and it’s not very fun to do. At times it seems like a big pain! So why do it? Well all of those things listed above are true, but the following things are also true; collecting data is a really great tool for monitoring progress (or lack thereof), helping us to maintain programmatic integrity, and well, overall just good practice! It’s the foundation of what we do as practitioners in applied behavior analysis. It helps us to ensure that the applications of the tools developed by all of those wonderful researchers (who have worked tirelessly to develop empirically validated programming) are effective for the specific individual we are working with.

Any old system will do

Ok, “yeah, yeah... we know data collection is good. It doesn't matter what kind of data collection tool use is does it??" But of course it does! There are so many ways to collect data and so many reasons for choosing a specific data collection procedure. For example, if we are looking to identify the length of time a child's tantrum lasts (perhaps with a goal of decreasing that length of time) then we would want to be sure that the data collection system we are using is measuring duration (length of time a behavior occurs), right? So remember the procedure you use to collect data should be individualized!!

Side note- In the above example- in order to best measure the Bobby's duration we must first define the behavior in measurable terms- the reason we do this is so that anyone who is observing Bobby's tantrum would be able to see it and say to themselves “ok so he is hitting the floor with his fist while repeating “no”, this is defined as a tantrum for Bobby” this would prompt them to begin to time the duration and gain an accurate measure. That’s the beauty of data collection… anyone can collect data if it is set up properly.



There is a point to taking data-I promise!!

If we determine that an individual (in the above case “Bobby”) has tantrums that last an average of 45 minutes every instance, we have identified a significant area in need of behavior change.  That’s when the fun begins!  We get to dig into our bag of tricks (or really, conduct research on all the great interventions that have been shown as effective in reduction of this type of tantrum behavior!!!) and implement a data driven, research based intervention! With ongoing monitoring of the application of this intervention there are a few things we might see;

1)      There could be no significant change with the intervention in place or even an increase in the tantrum behaviors once we start the intervention. This would indicate to us that we need to change it!

2)      Or we could see that the behavior is decreasing or even extinguished and consequently, we will have improved the life of that individual (in this case “Bobby” and his loved ones)  … so yea it not flashy or fun and sometimes is a big pain,  but it does the job and does it well!


Happy collecting everyone!!!


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