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Data collaborations enabling innovation

24 June 2020 at 5:25 pm
Mike Davis
Mike Davis shares some of the key lessons TaskForce learned from a recent collaboration and what it means for the community sector. 

Mike Davis | 24 June 2020 at 5:25 pm


Data collaborations enabling innovation
24 June 2020 at 5:25 pm

Mike Davis shares some of the key lessons TaskForce learned from a recent collaboration and what it means for the community sector. 

When I first arrived at TaskForce we used multiple client management and reporting systems specific to the needs of each contract we were servicing. We knew if we were meeting the requirements of each service contract, but couldn’t tell you much more than that. 

Over the past few years we’ve been on a journey to impact, incrementally improving our systems and practice. This has got us to the point where we now know who our clients are, why they attend our services and how effective we are at helping them improve their wellbeing. You can learn more about our youth outcomes here

Graph showing the number of contacts per month at TaskForce

It is also worth checking out the incredible and highly impactful work Our Community Innovation Lab is progressing. Prior to the release of the final report on TaskForce by Our Community, I want to share some of the key lessons learned from this collaboration and what it means for the community sector. 

Data collaboration

In late 2018, we commenced a data collaboration or partnership with Our Community. Our Community was in the unique position of having received grant funding to employ a data scientist to help improve not for profit data capability. 

This enabled them to be able to support us in a pro bono capacity to investigate our drug and alcohol service data sets (VADC). This data partnership was a first for both TaskForce and Our Community. 

Challenge points

The partnership got off to a good start, but ran into a few challenging periods. Here are some of the key challenges that emerged:

  • We were often speaking different languages without a translator function in play (data science, clinical work, strategy speak).
  • We didn’t have much alignment around the key questions we wanted to ask or the information we wanted to gain.
  • We lost a key staff member who was the main liaison and clinical manager running our drug and alcohol services and administering the VADC software.
  • It was hard for our mainly clinically and operationally focused staff to find time to work on this strategic data collaboration.
  • Our staff were not that used to stepping out of the machine to work on the machine rather just within the machine.

Graph showing all youth clients, which addiction they sought treatment for and whether they completed treatment

Success points

Some things worked really well in this collaborative partnership format. These included both learnings for TaskForce on effective collaboration and substantive improvements:

  • We learned about how important it is to arrange regular check-ins with our partners on important work like this.
  • We learned that to obtain useful data-driven insights, there must be regular strategic and clinical input to explain how the data is obtained and why it is reflected in a certain way.
  • We learned that we can stretch ourselves to embark on innovative data partnerships successfully.
  • We learned that the data we were collecting was extremely valuable and will enable us to better serve our clients needs moving forward.
  • We were able to identify key gaps in our service provision including underserved and vulnerable client groups that need our attention.


This experience has shown us that we need to spend more time investigating our own data and working with cross-skilled and sectoral experts where possible, to ensure we are asking the right questions and making better decisions that better serve our clients.

In this project, we were lucky to be one of two community organisations, including Berry Street, to work with Our Community’s Innovation Lab. The work put in by Our Community and the data scientists on hand, would generally be inaccessible and unaffordable for TaskForce and was made possible by funding Our Community receives from Equity Trustees. 

According to research conducted by InfoXchange, we already know that not for profits dramatically underspend on ICT compared to other industries at between 3 to 5 per cent of operating budget. Further, 23 per cent of not for profits surveyed reported that the primary concern for ICT development is budget constraint. 

This is the inevitable result of government funding no longer supporting ICT, data capture, measurement, evaluation and reporting, yet expecting these to be done with less resourcing being available for not for profits overall. 

Next steps

As a sector we need more initiatives such as the data collaboration we’ve been involved in with Our Community. This is a key part of building not for profit capacity and capability. It enables not for profits to be smarter with data use, tell the story around the impact we are creating and also highlight how we can better serve our most vulnerable clients. 

Another key initiative is developing better sectoral knowledge of data, systems, outcomes measurement and innovation. I am looking forward to further workshops and opportunities to collaborate within the sector and to learn from change enablers such as Our Community and their Innovation Lab. 

I am also grateful we have organisations like SIMNA Ltd, running regular webinars on impact measurement, further enabling our sector to be better every day. 

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a for-purpose executive leader, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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