Plugging the Data Gap

As a largely digital project, the issue of data has been a key consideration in many of our conversations and plans for #HelpAndKindness. We are hoping that our project will help to fill in the picture where data is hard to gather, and difficult to measure.

We know and understand that data can lead to knowledge, insights and understanding, and also to bias, surveillance and corruption.

Every decision we make about the data that we collect and share goes through a process of evaluation and challenge to ensure not only that we are compliant with legal requirements for data handling, but are also managing that data in an ethical and beneficial way that improves and safeguards the service we provide to the community.

Several issues in particular have influenced our thinking.

Firstly, we are acutely aware that many third-sector organisations are required to provide assessments to prove their impact to their funding providers, or to provide needs assessment as part of any funding bid they prepare.  Managing this analysis and reporting requirement is a specialist skill that requires considerable effort and time to deliver.  As we began to explore the information that would be contained within #HelpAndKindness, it became clear that we might be able to assist with some of this analysis and reporting.  When we discussed this with other county-wide agencies, it became clear that this aspect of #HelpAndKindness could be very useful to support providers. We also see that this could help smaller organisations thinking about their impact assessment and measure of the value of their services to the community.  By aggregating this effort into #HelpAndKindness we hope it will become easier to show the value and importance of the work that is being done, and drive the case for sustaining it. We believe that #HelpAndKindness will be able to shed light on service delivery across Dorset, and also help to identify areas of need, both by location, and by theme. It may even be possible to support specific research activities into needs and service provision in the county, and measure the influence and impact of care modalities and interventions like social prescribing.

Secondly, we understand that there are big data gaps in all sorts of service provision. These gaps often lead to people and their needs being overlooked, or to the development of erroneous or biased service responses, and as a result the opportunities for transformative interventions can be missed because the data is absent from the assessment of needs or impact.

We are hoping to be able to use subtle and sensitive means for capturing some of this hard-to-reach data. In particular we are concerned to make the language of #HelpAndKindness as simple and human as possible. We want to avoid the kind of jargon that can lead to misunderstandings, or alienation. We want people to find a welcome at #HelpAndKindness, and find themselves reflected and addressed in the information we provide. This is not an easy ambition to achieve, but we believe that the project will have the greatest possible meaning and impact if we can continually challenge ourselves to try and reach this target.

A key component to this aspect of #HelpAndKindness will be an invitation to people to comment on the project, letting us know whether it is useful, and pointing out the areas where we are in need of development. 

We are also exploring how we can gather appropriate demographic information to support the impact assessment of the project as a whole, and of the mapping of needs across the county. If we can achieve this then we can use it to see what kinds of people are using #HelpAndKindness, and cross reference their areas of interest and need with location and demographic data. We believe that this kind of analysis will not only ensure the relevance of #HelpAndKindness but could provide compelling evidence for the development of new services to meet the county’s needs.

Finally, we are exploring the relationship between #HelpAndKindness and the open-data movement. There are many sets of open data available already, some of which we hope to use within the #HelpAndKindness project, but we can also see the opportunity for sharing some of the data gathered by the project in an open-data format too. The principles behind open-data sharing in the community coincide with our values; generating the best services for as many people as possible through the clear understanding of needs and provision.

Our responsibility is clear. The use of data in #HelpAndKindness is a deliberate and careful exercise. It is done with a deep respect for those that provide the data, and conscious awareness of the personal and political implications of its use. Our data practice will be informed and guided by our commitment to support and serve to the community, and be thoughtfully, sensitively and consciously inclusive of all those who live and work in the county.