mobile phone taking a photo of food

Eat your data, it’s good for you!

By Suzanne Jacob OBE 4 October 2018

SafeLives had a founding belief in the simple power of bringing together data + practice + voice. We felt, and still feel, that this combination can change the world.

Part of carrying out our vision was a programme called ‘Shared Insights Shared Outcomes’, or more affectionately, SISO. The plan for SISO was that it would create an incredibly strong, seamless flow between; 1. the experience of the human being, 2. those providing direct support to them, and, 3. the people who could influence their experience through funding, policy making and other strategic change.

Then the plan hit reality. The reality of the world when we started the work, and also of the world as it has evolved in the nine years since.

Challenges from the outset:

  • People’s capability wasn’t what we thought. Not just practitioners but also commissioners, funders and policy-makers had very low levels of familiarity with data, particularly numerical. It’s human nature to reject things we aren’t good at, and they did.
  • People’s appetite wasn’t as we thought. On the frontline everyone has a low threshold for anything which isn’t intuitive and working with the grain of their day. So, if you’re a frontline specialist, you don’t want to use two systems. If we provide something nationally but you have a bespoke system locally, the two can fall out of step, making it difficult to coordinate.
  • People were looking to us for analysis. But we had a labour-intensive model of providing data—so labour intensive that we struggled to deliver trend analysis and thematic reporting. Response to local concerns or nationally prevalent issues would have been the vital value-add on top of raw data.

Over time:

  • The role of commissioners has become more important but also more diffuse and demanding. Commissioners have their own agenda in terms of political positioning or local drivers, and want bespoke reporting tailored to their specific areas of interest
  • Tech should have made our work faster and more agile, but we hadn’t lifted our eyes to the horizon, and made the case to funders, which would allow us to improve our use of tech and make the user experience better
  • Our understanding of user voice, within this and all of our work, has become much richer and more meaningful.

So, we went through a bit of a pain barrier. We realised our model was a bit like the campaigns which have been running now for years, telling us all ‘Eat your greens!’ ‘Have five a day!’ ‘Stop eating chips!’—all the while our national body mass keeps rising.

Because those campaigns are tugging on our sleeves trying to get us to stop doing things we like and feel comfortable with, or start doing things that are a bit serious and worthy, they fail. And we had had too.

So we’ve evolved;

  • Users were having to work too hard to understand what we were telling them. So we simplified our reports.
  • The system through which we delivered Insights had been built hodge-podge over time, so we talked to a funder and asked for their help to radically streamline it.
  • We’ve created more space for our highly skilled research team to do what they’re best placed to do – analysis. That has led to exciting innovations such as our SpotLights reports.

Our embrace of tech for good, including agile ways of designing, testing and iterating changes, has helped us engage with survivors in a radically democratic way. It allows them to tell their story in exactly the way they want, and then amplifies their voices and creates feedback loops to assure them that this voice has value and is getting straight to decision makers.

So no more ‘Eat your greens!’ or even ‘Eat your data!’ No more hoping that telling people what’s good for them will be persuasive in their busy lives. Raw data ain’t for everyone. It can be a bit indigestible. But served up the right way—well that can change the world.

Suzanne will be speaking at next weeks NPC Ignites. To hear from her, and other leading figures changing the charity sector, book now!