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October 20, 2011 / Jo Ivens

DataBridge findings part 2

This is part 2 of 4 blogs on key issues arising from the DataBridge project.

Aim of this report: to summarise the most commonly mentioned issues raised by groups in the fieldwork, and to reflect on common themes. Discussion of key findings and specific recommendations are in parts 3 and 4.

  1. Partnership use of VCS monitoring information

3 of 4 groups said they were not clear what happens to information that they provide to local government. 2 groups did not have a direct funding or reporting relationship.

We’re not sure what they do with the information. There’s no feedback loop.”

Manager of service providing organisation

There seems to be a commonly held belief that monitoring information is not routinely examined in the wider context, shared or fed into a wider system of needs assessment. In addition, grants or contracts can appear to be managed in isolation from other grants or contracts, and focus is on performance management of specific organisations, rather than contribution to a bigger picture of service delivery or improvement of outcomes.

Groups reported that feedback is rarely received on the quality of information provided, there is limited discussion of what this information might mean in terms of service planning or innovation, although some additional information requests were received from officers, and responded to by groups.

This raised two important questions from groups:

  1. Are we collecting information that is not needed or used, and therefore wasting our effort and resources?
  1. How is monitoring information and other voluntary sector reporting used in wider needs analysis or service planning?
  1. Outcomes measures

BHCC has signalled its intention to move to outcomes-based commissioning as part of the Intelligent Commissioning programme of process and culture change. The groups in the DataBridge pilot are aware of this, and are already thinking about how this will affect them, their service delivery and their data collection. Even the smallest groups are keen to engage in discussions around this.

Groups are interested in leading the discussion about what can usefully (and efficiently and proportionately) be measured as an outcome, and what data requirements this might produce.

  1. Capacity, skills and resources on data

Most organisations felt that they had at least some skills on data analysis, but none were 100% confident that they had the right skills or sufficient staff time to make the most of their data, to do major analysis projects or to make the most of potential opportunities presented by open data. Pressure on resources and the need to prioritise funds to frontline work was reported as a key factor behind this.

The size and resource level of the group did not necessarily correlate directly with the value placed on data and the amount of time given to data management & analysis in the staffing structure. Organisational culture, business approach and practical awareness of data in a strategic context were more significant. However, data management and analysis is a lower priority in many organisations, and in 5 of 6 organisations the role is a small part of many roles, with some central management. In only 1 case was there a dedicated data manager.

Wider and more detailed investigation would be needed to say exactly what skills gaps exist in the sector and what limitations this will present on truly city-wide data sharing and needs assessment.

If the City wants to achieve a greater focus on quality of data, genuine cross sector contribution to a City-wide data store and development of the open data agenda locally it would be useful to consider how to resource this at a time where there is extreme financial pressure and high demand for services in the sector. It would also be useful for the Partnership, with the sector, to better articulate why this is important, and what the benefits are to VCS and to service users.

  1. Building shared information

If data sharing between voluntary sector organisations themselves and between voluntary sector and the Partnership is on the cards, there are a great number of intertwined practical and technical issues that will take significant work to resolve. This does not reflect on the potentially complex cultural issues which will need to be tackled at the same time, or the resources needed.

Officers in the Council have indicated that they are aware of this and that they’re approaching the questions positively. As open data and data sharing is an issue wider than the authority, it will be necessary for a cross-sectoral agreement on aims, ambition and boundaries.

Significant work has been undertaken in the past to consider issues around data sharing in the VCS, findings from this work should be the basis for any further work. Consideration of these issues could potentially be part of work within the Advice Review pilots.

  1. Collaboration or competition?

While the general principle of contributing to a better overall understanding of needs in the City makes sense to organisations, the reality of sharing information in this way raises a number of issues both sector-wide and within individual organisations around the impact of greater openness of data.

  • organisations may be reluctant to share with competitors, especially from the private sector;

  • practical issues, such as the capacity required to provide this data to acceptable standards or formats, and resourcing of this within existing work or new contracts/funding agreements;

  • sharing data may be seen as an early stage in a push to collaborate or merge

It should be noted that there are complex cultural and practical issues to resolve between organisations before the decision to collaborate in a consortia or to formally merge could be contemplated. This should always be a decision for the organisation alone.

  1. Quality of published data

The quality of existing published data on certain issues was flagged as a particular issue for two groups. MindOut find it hard to demonstrate need and demand due to the lack of LGBT specific data and the quality of what there is. They use estimates of population, but feel that these numbers are unreliable for a number of reasons, for example, there are no robust data sources providing information on LGBT groups, and this group is typically under-reported by surveys, e.g. the 2001 Census identified only 2,600 same sex households in Brighton and Hove.

Equally, Grassroots report that there are problems with the existing suicide completion data, as there is likely to be a much higher instance of suicide than is recorded for reasons of stigma and lack of certainty of intentions; poor recording of self-injury and lack of information about LGBT self injury and suicide.

Summary

  • There is a lack of clarity about what is done by the Partnership with monitoring data from VCS groups and a feeling that there is a disconnect between this and needs assessment.
  • We observed a certain passivity in the sector around dealing with statutory agencies on data issues, and a tendency to allow the information agenda to be set for them, rather than approaching knowledge management and data analysis from the perspective of the organisation’s business planning or service improvement needs.

  • However, groups are interested in leading the discussion about what can usefully (and efficiently and proportionately) be defined as outcome measures

  • Wider and more detailed investigation to define skills gaps in the sector on data management and analysis would be useful

  • It would be useful to set out the ultimate goal around data-sharing and city-wide intelligence, to consider practical challenges and how these are to be tackled, and resourced

  • Some groups are hampered by the quality of external data, and limitations on reporting for their area of work

Go to:
Introduction
Chapter 1 – characteristics of the groups
Chapter 3 – recommendations for Partnership
Chapter 4 – recommendations on open data
Summary
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