Types of evidence and where to find it

A business strategy based on clear evidence is more likely to be accepted, believed, supported and executed than one which is based on opinion and supposition.


  1. Introduction
  2. Types of evidence
  3. Observational versus self-reported data
  4. Which type of evidence is best?
  5. Where to find evidence
  6. Evidence about the future
  7. Using evidence in StratNavApp.com

Image representing evidenceIntroduction

A business strategy based on clear evidence is more likely to be accepted, believed, supported and executed than one which is based on opinion and supposition. A business strategy that is tracked with objective evidence-based KPIs is more likely to be followed through to a successful completion.

But not all evidence is created equal. Nor is it all equally readily available.

Having a good understanding of the different types of evidence will help you to develop better business strategies, and execute them more effectively.

Types of evidence

Here are some different types of evidence, arranged in order from weakest to strongest:

  1. Opinions:

    Opinion is the weakest form of evidence.

    Some might argue that opinion is not evidence at all. But an opinion from an experienced and informed person is often based on evidence they've encountered in the past.

    Sometimes, the person holding the opinion has forgotten what the original evidence was and can't clearly explain why they hold that opinion.

    So, when you encounter an interesting and relevant opinion, it can provide you with clues to look for other stronger forms of evidence that may (or may not) support the opinion.

  2. Anecdotes:

    Anecdotes are simple stories about things that have happened.

    They're a stronger form of evidence than opinions because we know they actually happened.

    But they're still not very strong because they're not statistically valid. We can't know if what happened has ever happened before or will ever happen again. I could be a once-in-a-lifetime outlier which is the exact opposite of what normally happens the rest of the time or will ever happen again.

  3. Qualitative evidence:

    Qualitative evidence is information about what people believe, understand, think or feel about something. It is often collected through focus groups, interviews and certain types of surveys.

    Good qualitative evidence can be very rich. But it is still not statistically valid. We don't know, for example, how widely held those beliefs are.

  4. Quantitative evidence:

    Quantitative evidence is information about the number of people or organisations who do or say something. Think surveys or other forms of data gathering.

    Good quantitative evidence is usually not as rich as good qualitative evidence. But, if it's collected and analysed correctly, it can be statistically valid, and this can give you greater confidence that is both true and generalisable.

Observational versus self-reported data

  1. Observational Data: This is information gathered through direct observation of behaviour or events. It's objective and quantitative, providing concrete evidence of what is actually happening. In a business setting, this might include sales data, website traffic analytics, or customer behaviour in a store. Observational data is highly reliable for understanding actual behaviour, but it might not always capture the reasons behind those behaviours.

  2. Self-Reported Data (What People Say): This includes information gathered from surveys, interviews, customer feedback, or social media. It's subjective and often qualitative, offering insights into people's perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and intentions. This type of data is invaluable for understanding why people behave the way they do, their preferences, and their satisfaction levels. However, it can be prone to biases such as social desirability bias (people presenting themselves in a favourable light) or recall bias (inaccurate memories).

Which type of evidence is best?

People argue at length about which type of evidence is best for evidence-based decision making.

This is counter-productive. All types of evidence are different. They are best when used in combination with each other.

For example, qualitative/observational data may be the most reliable accurate and statistically sound. But it can be difficult to gather. And whilst it might tell you what happened, it can't tell you why it happened or what will happen. Qualitative and self-reported evidence might give more insight into why people behaved in a certain way or how they might behave in the future. But it can be less reliable. By looking at both together, you are much more likely get an accurate picture of what has happened and what might happen in future.

Where to find evidence

So, where do you find the evidence to use in your strategic planning?

You can find evidence in many places:

  1. Structured interviews and meetings. With any and all stakeholders: staff, customers, suppliers, board members, industry experts, etc.

  2. Company documents: historic plans, company reports, contracts, and proposals.

  3. Trade press for your industry.

  4. Networking and attending events.

  5. Industry analysis and reports from trade bodies and regulators. (Often called secondary research.)

  6. Structured research like surveys and focus groups that you conduct yourself (or pay someone to do for you) to answer a specific question or questions. (Often called primary research.)

The key in all of the above is to remain curious at all times.

Evidence about the future

People sometimes argue that you can't use evidence in business strategy because business strategy is about the future and you can't have evidence of something that hasn't happened yet.

However, the past is littered with clues about the future. Or, as renowned science fiction writer William Gibson once said: "The future is already here, it is just not very evenly distributed."

So you should combine evidence from your own experience with that from other industries and laboratories. What you see happening there could well be coming here!

Using evidence in StratNavApp.com

Whatever evidence you use, and wherever you find it, StratNavApp.com will help you record, analyse, process, and incorporate it into your business strategy. You can capture meetings, competitor analysis and strategic insights and link them all together and to your strategic goals and initiatives. Making sure your business strategy is rock solid.

Sign up or log on to StratNavApp.com now to start building your evidence base and strengthening your business strategy.

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Updated: 2024-06-10