Understanding data
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Understanding Data

Data can come in various forms, such as numbers (quantitative), words (qualitative) or images.

At North Devon Council we collect data in two ways.

1) Planned regular data collection.

This means data will be collected at regular intervals against a time scale. Examples include data collected at quarterly (every 3 months) or annually (once a year).

2) Unplanned data collection.

This ad-hoc approach could be a one off like a focus group or economic study of a town.

Using the data

Data can take many forms. You therefore need to know a few things about the data you are using before you can make a sensible judgment about how good or bad something is.
  • Sometimes a high score can be good, just as a low score can be good.
  • Sometimes a high or low reading doesn’t mean it is good or bad.
We express our data in different ways, such as, percentages or frequencies (the number of times something occurs).  Be careful if you decide to manipulate and combine our data to calculate percentages. You need raw data (the data collected from source not subjected to processing) to do this.

Cumulative data

Cumulative data is when data is added up over a prescribed sequence. This can include all sorts of measurements, such as money, time and distance.


You want to measure how much rainfall (inches) there is over a week whilst sampling every day. To calculate you simply add each day’s amount of rainfall.

 Amount of rainfall (Inches)Cumulative(Inches)
Day 155
Day 2712
Day 3012
Day 4618
Day 5 119
Day 6322
Day 7022

Please be aware that to calculate cumulative percentages you need to use the raw data.

Missing data

If some data is missing from our publications it could be due to the analysis has not yet been completed. For example annual surveys (April to March) may not be published until the surveys have been returned and then processed.  Therefore this data may not be available for a few months.

Some of the information about our data cannot be published as a person could be identified. For example we need to publish information about our workforce but because only a small percentage have a particular disability the full detail cannot be published as those people can be identified. We may use the word “other” in such circumstances.
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