Emerging from the data quagmire
Data Orchard are supporting The Cart Shed on a 12 month journey to transform how the charity manages their data and impact.
Following our initial work in quarter 1, we’ve immersed ourselves in the organisation’s measures, data and processes. It’s a quagmire…
We’ve found: 75 data sets, 57 forms, 30,000 documents and files (including 3,000 photos), and 4 different tools used for measuring outcomes. And, it turns out, although 45% of staff time is spent working with data, it’s been nobody’s job to manage all this.
First steps into the cloud
The first thing CEO Katie Eastaugh does is assign staff to new roles to manage digital tools and systems. We research a range of secure cloud file sharing systems and start planning a migration of all the organisation’s files and documents to a platform that can be centrally accessed and managed.
Mapping data journeys and designing a data dashboard
Next, based on our data audit, we run a workshop with The Cart Shed team to map their data journeys. How, when and where is the data being collected (and from whom)? Where is it stored? How does it get analysed and used? Where does it end up?
Data Journeys Workshop
The session reveals areas of duplication, opportunities to merge, and delete (hooray). It also shows how complex, challenging, and frustrating data can be.
Whilst some of the data The Cart Shed collects is for their own needs (contact details, health conditions, risk factors etc), many funders have specific measuring tools and data requirements that have no practical use ‘on the ground’. This means staff have to complete multiple data forms with each participant (all paper based because of their working environment), many of them demanding identical or similar information. This can be a soulless and dehumanising experience for both staff and vulnerable participants.
Much of this data never gets analysed or used but sits in folders in filing cabinets. Some gets transferred onto spreadsheets which reveal inconsistent or confusing results for individuals’ health journeys depending on which tool is used. For example the two charts below represent the monitoring wellbeing data for two participants using two tools: SF36 for social, physical and mental health; and Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well Being scale.
Additionally, whilst the information staff gather (at the request of funders) has the potential to be a valuable contribution to local/national data sets, the reality is, most don’t ask for the data to be sent back to them… and so it goes nowhere, feels pointless, and represents a huge waste of effort.
From data disempowered to data empowered
The Cart Shed is not unusual among small charities in experiencing data as a burden, primarily driven by external legal, funder and commissioner requirements. To move on from this disempowered position they need to ‘own’ their data and work out what data is meaningful and useful to them.
To help make this happen, we facilitated a session where the charity’s trustees and staff thought about what questions they wanted to use their data to answer. Together we spent time designing an imaginary data dashboard around how they might see the answers. It was a fascinating exercise in bringing together different perspectives, and building an understanding of different data needs in different roles. (It’s telling that the marketing staff and therapists who work with clients stole the pens from the finance people so they couldn’t dominate the dashboard!)
How do we feel about it at this stage?
Well it certainly feels like we’re emerging from the quagmire. Much progress has already been made though there’s still a long way to go.
We always knew it was an ambitious project, one aiming to address all aspects of data: infrastructure, systems impact drive, people and policies. However, we’re conscious the project has revealed a complex set of issues for The Cart Shed, plus some unexpected costs, not just in assigning staff to new roles but also in purchasing and upgrading software and hardware (the fundraising efforts continue!).
Katie says, ‘It has shaken us up and challenged what we do, who we work with and why – shining a light into inefficient and even potentially dangerous systems.’ But she’s choosing to trust in the process. ‘We have faith that it’s all going to be worthwhile,’ she says.
From the quagmire to the cloud
And so onwards into Quarter 3, when we’ll support The Cart Shed to move from the quagmire to the cloud, adopting its first CRM system, a refreshed theory of change, and new outcomes measures. Plus somewhere in there, a well-deserved Christmas break.
We’re full of new years resolutions and we’re sure it’s all going to work out beautifully for The Cart Shed. Watch this space!
Find out more
Do you want your organisation to become more data savvy?
Organisations of all sizes can benefit from taking ownership of their data story. If your organisation is interested in becoming more data savvy, do get in touch with us at Data Orchard for a no-obligation chat.