Data the Key for Collective Impact
12 February 2014 at 10:14 am
A Collective Impact approach is key for the Community Services sector to take the next step in the sector’s evolution in Australia, however the approach brings with it the challenge of sound data management says Greg Were, Director and Co-Founder of Community Data Solutions.
In the last three to five years, local community services organisations have sought new ways to collaborate with other similar organisations, especially in the area of tracking work outcomes from combined service deliveries.
The provision of well-targeted services is essential in communities where social service interventions are demanded. This helps reduce both the demand for such services, while also improving the quality of service delivery.
In Australia, collected data on these activities are mainly program-based; community service organisations are encouraged by their funders to report on funded program outcomes through de-identified quantitative data reports.
However, policy-makers, funders and leaders in the community services sector have growing concerns about this data, specifically the issues of double-counting, the inability to access data to track client pathways, and the absence of robust data on the performance of programs.
As a higher-level approach, Collective Impact meets these challenges; it finds ways for clusters of organisations, with a common set of services, and a common target group, to collaborate.
The ultimate goal is to find the best methods of service delivery to achieve long-term outcomes for clients. A Collective Impact approach is key for the Community Services sector to take the next step in the sector’s evolution in Australia, however the approach brings with it the challenge of sound data management.
We have worked with many organisations to help them implement data collection systems that work towards broader Collective Impact initiatives. A large part of this work involves sorting through the various organisational implications of this new collaborative approach however we also focus on data management, which is often an after-thought in the planning phase of Collective Impact projects.
By definition, a Collective Impact project requires good quality data and data measurement design from the commencement of the project. A good Collective Impact project also requires long-term data management, as client, family and community outcomes in the Community Services sector are often measured over many years.
With these considerations in mind, it is helpful, from the outset of any Collective Impact project, to select a powerful data management model to ensure it can meet the data challenge, and capacities of all the participating organisations.
Organisations seeking to work in collaboration should first assess each participating organisation’s data-collection capacity, and then develop a model for data integration that minimises data loss while maximising data quality, and enhances frontline staff workflows.
This first step can be completed by an independent consultant with a sound understanding of data collection issues in the Community Services sector, and a sound understanding of Collective Impact goals. Organisations can then use these assessment outcomes to consider data-sharing options, preferably through cost-effective data integration.
The way forward for Collective Impact projects with data management is highly achievable, and accessible, as the technology is available to make it happen. Those who have the vision for Collective Impact should make the most of these opportunities, and include software experts alongside the social workers, managers and CEOs to develop the right solutions and robust data management systems from the outset. This ensures that the organisations are ready to collect data immediately after launching a Collective Impact project, rather than relegated as a secondary concern.
We look forward to the Collective Impact conference coming up in February 2014 where these issues will be further explored by practitioners and leaders in this emerging area.
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.