Methods, tools and techniques describe ways to gather data.

OVERVIEW

Counts does what its name says: it puts a number or volume to things. That makes it a ‘quantitative’ way to collect data. It starts with things as they are and measures changes as a project progresses.

Counts figure a lot in conservation projects where they monitor the presence, growth or decline of a species of plant or animal. Counts are also used in the social services to document anything from homeless people eating meals at a soup kitchen to the number of empty state houses in a suburb.

You can use counts to measure how many clients, programmes or service sessions a government agency may have funded a community organisation for. They call that their ‘outputs’. But counts are more than just numbers. You can use them to demonstrate how one thing has influenced another. An example might be an investment in a new facility that helps residents get to know each other better. Perhaps a home visiting service prompts more patients to visit the clinic. Observation and technology produce counts. The technology part is usually video or laser sensors to monitor behaviour, as part of a project.

USEFUL RESOURCES

EXAMPLES OF COUNTS

The Greater Vancouver Homeless Count is an example of a count being used for a social issue. A series of report cards connected to the Homeless Count project, measures improvements or deterioration. Organisers use the counts to measure the effects of public policy and the effectiveness of investment in services aimed at the homeless.

This paper explains a study to effectively count pedestrians – this could be useful for an organisation that receives funding to increase physical activity. It also shows how to think about the best way to undertake counts, depending on the situation and desired results.

Advantages

  • Counts are usually about numbers, so they provide good evidence of changes – who took part, what they did and how interested they were.
  • Counts are simple and anyone with some basic guidance and support can count and record numbers.
  • Counts can be analysed quickly and the results compared with previous counts.

Disadvantages & Limitations

  • Most counts, in nature and with people, have counting errors – some individuals missed, some non-existent recorded, or incorrect counts, large groups miscounted and individuals misidentified.
  • Counts only measure activities or their absence, they don’t say why something has happened, what has influenced the behaviour and how subjects are thinking.