FMC has noted the growth in the culture of data collection at markets over the last few decades. In response, we have begun to provide resources and training to those communities in partnership with funders and network leaders. The information included in this document is a good start in designing an evaluation system for your market, but also check out what other markets have uploaded into the FMC Resource Library and what we have available through our data collection software site Farmers Market Metrics.
Good Data Comes from Good Data Collection
To gather good data, a market will need to recruit volunteers, reassign organizational staff, or, in the best scenario, have market partners or funders offering support to manage this for the market. For that very reason, these methods work for volunteer or low-capacity markets or for other partners to do the collection.
We know it all can be a bit overwhelming and we want to break it down to a few simple rules to start:
- Select the audiences for the data. Using a few simple tools such as FMC’s Audience Exercise found on www.farmersmarketmetrics.guide site, choose a few stakeholders in each season that you want to influence or keep engaged. Add new ones each season.
- Collect as little data as possible. This seems counterintuitive, but many markets exhaust their team by collecting too much data that they never use! Or, some market stakeholders forget that the market is not a laboratory but an actual mercantile space that needs to operate as smoothly as possible. Remember that every piece of data you collect will need to be checked (probably by you) for accuracy and relevance, so the less added work, the better.
- Start with the simple data. Any data point that requires complete collection (like vendor sales) or advanced calculations (like figuring out the average sale per shopper) should be added in later seasons and not at the start of a data collection phase.
- For each data point (metric) that you gather, use it often on social media, in your email signature, on chalkboards, shared with vendors. Use the data again and again.
- Always consider the amount of time and staffing required to collect, enter, analyze, AND to use the data.
When choosing metrics, re-read the goals of a project or, in many cases, a market’s mission statement provides clues where to begin. Let’s say that your market’s mission highlights supporting regional producers; in that case, selecting the metrics: ”average distance in miles traveled from production site to market” or ”total acres owned or managed by market vendors” would be helpful to measure its success. Find the FMC list of Metrics Chart here: https://farmersmarketmetrics.guide/resources/
Methods for Data Collection at Farmers Markets
FMC currently focuses on three general data collection methods. They are listed below, with how markets use them. These three methods were selected because they are relatively cost-effective, practical and gather the information that farmers markets usually collect.
- Document Review – using administrative documents, or those created during market activities, to pull out relevant data points. A good example is using the merchant report from an EBT machine to determine the day’s total SNAP sales.
- Observation – taking notes (usually via a tally) on products, people’s activities (such as event attendance or the number of recipes taken), and conditions, including weather records, added educational programming and conducting visitor counts.
- Surveys – this is asking questions of customers or vendors through questionnaires to determine vendor demographics and customer desires or activities.
We recommend conducting these activities 2 – 4 days per season to collect a representative sample of data. Here is an example of how to schedule them: Here is an example of how to schedule the different data collection efforts for a market:
- Visitor Counting Days: On the 4th, 10th, 16th, and 22nd market days of the season
- Visitor or Vendor Surveys: On the 4th, 10th, 16th, and 22nd market days of the season
- Other Observation: On the 6th, 12th, 18th, and 24th market days of the season
- If two seasons of data collection are needed, repeat for each season.
Tips for Successful Data Collection Days
Collecting data either via an online form that anyone can access from their phone or tablet or it can be collected on slips of paper. The latter will require someone to do the data entry once all are collected and checked.
Find templates at https://farmersmarketmetrics.guide/resources/ under Data Collection Methods.
Some general tips about data collection day(s):
Assign one person as Survey Leader. That should not be the market manager if at all possible. That person will manage the team, collect completed surveys and check the tallies throughout the day. Explain the day’s breakdown, including where everyone is to be at what time. Keep water and extra supplies and chairs for between shifts. Have everyone introduce himself or herself.
If there is time, do one or two rounds of role-playing with the survey leader acting as the data collector.
Assure the collectors that this will go well and be easy work. Offer some sample language for intercept or dot surveys, such as “Do you have a minute to help the market?” and give a simple explanation to use when questioned by visitors or vendors, such as, “We’re gathering information to help the market.”
When handing the collectors their interview or observation sheets, mark their name and goal for completion for that hour on the top sheet or a post-it note. Then, ask them to come back to the booth or arrange to meet them at a specified time at the end of that time period. All collectors should have 5 minutes as needed for a break or a 20-30 minute break for those collectors working the entire market day. Make sure the Survey Leader has all of the team’s mobile numbers; you’d be surprised at how hard it can be to spot a volunteer!
Give everyone the name and phone number for the survey leader to call if they have an issue, even if that person will be checking with them regularly. If possible, also introduce each collector or counter to the vendor nearest to their station.
At the end of their first collection, ask collectors how things went, ask them to describe one of their data collections, and ask them for any ideas to make it easier or more fluid the next time.
Analysis of the Data
Analysis is the process of identifying patterns and correlations within the raw data and then translating it into usable information. Analysis can answer some important questions like “How is this market benefiting vendors?” or “How are attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge changing because of the market?”
The approach to data analysis may vary, depending on who is leading the research effort. Like everything else about a farmers market, a collaborative and open process works best. The responsibility can be shared with university researchers, other markets, or municipal or agency partners. When working with partners, markets should still retain ownership of their raw data and ask for author credit for all analysis and reporting or, at a minimum, be acknowledged as a full partner. When the analysis is done in-house on spreadsheets, FMC’s resource on organizing the data will be helpful. In most cases, analysis is a simple process of calculating numbers for a market day or season. Just make sure that the analysis is appropriate and will not skew later data collection efforts. For example, taking a tally of visitors only on special event days may mean the analysis inflates the actual number of visitors over a season. Or vendor data does not include a large portion of the vendor base, meaning that the data is not really representative. When there is less data, there may still be a way to use it to report, with a case study approach (“On the first market day of the year, prepared food vendors reported a 25% increase in sales over the year before.”)
Using the Data
Explore these two FMC toolkits for how your market could use the data you collected to its best advantage: