2020 has been the toughest year in many people’s memories; and has required all sectors of society to pull together to ensure those in most need are supported. Data has been crucial in supporting these efforts and answering key questions, for example in health how can we prioritise people with health vulnerabilities to ensure they have access to groceries? One answer has been for the government to share data (for people who opted in) with supermarkets. However, data can also be misused and cause confusion, which may undermine trust in data - anyone remember those terrible charts presented in various government coronavirus updates? This shows the importance of asking the right questions of data and being careful to explain its uses and limitations.
We were able to see this in abundance on 9th December 2020, when I had the great pleasure to chair the Funders Collaborative Hub event on how funders can use data to drive their response to Covid-19.
Generating insight from data
Speakers at the event were Tania Cohen, Chief Executive of 360 Giving; Rosario Piazza, data lead at NPC; Amelia Smith, Impact and Evaluation Manager at Buttle UK; and Jo Kerr, Director of Impact and Innovation at Turn2us. Tania gave numerous examples of how the data standard created by 360 Giving has supported funder collaborations. Collecting standardised data allows funders to pool their data together and can show which organisations have & have not been funded. This has played an important role during this pandemic to enable funders to target funding and to speed up grant giving - as some funders have used the data as part of their due diligence checks. To date £360 million worth of grants has been published.
Rosario, Amelia and Jo presented their collaborative work to identify areas of high vulnerability, and through use of Buttle UK and Turn2us data, the levels of demand for support. The Covid-19 data tracker is a free tool which allows anyone - those with or without data skills - to better understand where support can be targeted in England (NPC is working to expand across UK nations). The tracker enabled Buttle UK to compile and see their data in different ways than previously used; to inform their work; and how it can be shared for others to make use of which has been incorporated within their latest impact report. Through working collaboratively with Turn2us, further ideas for collaboration have been generated, with both organisations developing a project focused on the qualitative data they collect. The tracker has also informed the update of Turn2us’ benefit calculator, and similar to Buttle UK they have been able to draw more information from the data they hold through the partnership. They have further plans to continue their data journey with upcoming partnerships with DataKind UK to look at the data from their help lines and web chat and to explore how insight from data they collect can be co-produced with people who are experiencing the very issues being analysed.
How can you get started?
These presentations exemplified the importance of collaboration, as the insight gained from the data was not created by one organisation, but by many organisations opening their data, and working together to use the data to inform their work. Here are my two top tips to get started:
One - talk to each other! As part of the event, breakout rooms were used to encourage people to discover what they were, and could do with their data. In my room, attendees exchanged details so they could support each other with their data work.
Two - talk to data experts! 360 Giving has developed programmes to support funders to use data and open up their data; NPC has a track record of working with charities on their data needs. However they are not the only organisations you can contact for support. DataKind UK provides free data support & projects to the charity and public sector and are currently leading the Data Collectives programme which is a collaborative approach to reach more organisations. In London, Superhighways leads DataWiseLondon for small charities, whilst across the UK there are fabulous organisations such as Sheffield Data for Good, Data Orchard, Statisticians for Society, Coalition for Efficiency, Pro Bono Economics and Pro bono OR, Open Data Manchester and Scotland’s Data Lab - to name a few! Funders can meet more at next year's Data for Good festival.
So as chair, I hoped attendees would be left inspired by what has been done; and what they can do with their own, or open source data. The sector is awash with data which is not being effectively utilised, and funders have a key role in changing the sector’s culture to an environment where data is part of our everyday decision making. There are a number of charities and social enterprises working across the sector to support individuals and organisations to improve their data skills and more generally confidence to ask questions about data.
We all don’t need to retrain as data scientists, but in this increasingly digital world, we do all need to understand how data can be used, and how it is being used, by the government and private sector to influence the world we live in.
Tracey Gyateng is a freelance quantitative social researcher who has spent over 15 years providing support to public and social sector organisations.