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Collective Impact - The Holy Grail of Community Services Data

3 September 2013 at 8:06 pm
Staff Reporter
Data solutions expert Greg Were responds to last edition’s Impact Opinion with a discussion of the difficulties in capturing data to measure Collective Impact projects.

Staff Reporter | 3 September 2013 at 8:06 pm


Collective Impact - The Holy Grail of Community Services Data
3 September 2013 at 8:06 pm

Data solutions expert Greg Were responds to last edition’s Impact Opinion with a discussion of the difficulties in capturing data to measure Collective Impact projects.

I read with some interest the article on Pro Bono Australia’s website regarding Collective Impact – the Devil is in the Data, by Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham.

This article was music to my ears. The authors are correct when they say data is the key to Collective Impact progressing in community services in Australia! It was so refreshing to hear leaders in the sector put it so clearly.

Collective Impact requires reliable real time data on interventions with clients and communities to feed into the broader Collective Impact framework and planning systems.

The Collective Impact website lists five conditions of Collective Impact, with the second condition being:

Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all the participants ensures shared measurement for alignment and accountability.

If this condition is not met, one can only assume Collective Impact is not possible from a practical point of view, and remains a theoretical discussion around frameworks, collaborations and innovations.

The data collection of Australian community services agencies is, often driven by, Government funding requirements rather than Collective Impact or organisational impact. Each Government funded program usually requires de-identified client and service data to be submitted to the relevant department as a determinant of ongoing funding. Hence the silos of Government departments and the demand for continued funding, drive many community service organisations to develop separate data sets for each Government funded program, making consolidated organisational and community data a secondary consideration. Additionally, as rightly pointed out by Dawn and Kerry, this data collected by Government is rarely released as annual reports of their programs, comparisons on service benchmarks or information on regional and local trends.

For Not for Profits and community services organisations seeking to engage with Collective Impact tools such as Results Based Accountability or Outcomes Star, they have many challenges to meet before being able to engage in these realms.

The first challenge is for organisations to be able to get a deeper understanding of the need to collect data, beyond program data. Organisations need to develop tools to collect data on who their clients are, how often they are being serviced, what programs they are accessing, in what order, what happens when they leave programs and so on. To do this, organisations require an integrated data management system that will capture all their interactions with all their clients within all their programs. This is extremely difficult. The more programs or service types an organisation operates, the greater the costs and complexity in building an integrated data management system.

To complicate things further, larger organisations have an increased likelihood of having multiple Government funded services requiring online case management. This effectively introduces time-consuming dual data entry for workers. There are technological and structural options to manage this, but significant database development time and a supportive Government department are prerequisites for avoiding costly data duplication in multiple data systems. This is a large task in developing such systems and managing their ongoing support. Funded programs change, Government reporting requirements change, and the internal environment changes, hence ongoing support for the data management system is vital.

If this challenge can be met efficiently, and affordably, then we eventually get to Collective Impact opportunities. Once the individual organisation has the capacity to create and generate goals management information against all service types, for all clients and communities, they can then begin to generate data sets on population groups to provide effective data on interventions and outcomes.

A further step can be achieved by linking multiple data sets with other organisations information and or with other population data sets. Without an integrated CRM data management system(s) to collect client and community data, community service organisations outcomes measurement tools are empty vessels.

Government could significantly assist Collective Impact endeavours by establishing common benchmarking of service data and consistency of data collection methods. The NGO sector, working in collaboration with all levels of Government, has a significant challenge to develop common data standards, both in measures and methods.

So to answer the question put by Dawn O’Neill and Kerry Graham of Collective Impact, then yes, there are data software providers and yes, Australian software providers, who are grappling with these issues. As one such provider we enable collaboration within individual community service organisations and are keen to facilitate collaboration across organisations and sectors, however to achieve this significant “buy in” across sectors and organisations is required.

Our organisation has had many meetings with community services organisations on their needs and through these discussions we have implemented agency-wide systems that have a variety of goals management packages attached to allow for Collective Impact opportunities moving forward. These discussions with Australian Not for Profits, has led us to very similar conclusions. Namely, that the devil is in the data and the Holy Grail of data collection systems is to develop the necessary skills and tools to enable Collective Impact.

Together through collaboration between software providers, the community service and Government sectors will we most effectively utilise emerging technologies to make Collective Impact a working reality.

About the author: Greg Were lives and breathes data as Director & Co-Founder of Community Data Solutions. Community Data Solutions recently won the iAward for South Australia in the Community Category.  

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews


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