data travelling around the brain

The future of data

By Tracey Gyateng 7 April 2015

NPC’s Data Labs project is gaining momentum—and it’s the turn of the voluntary sector to drive it on.

As a reminder: data labs involve opening up restricted government datasets and providing analysed reports to organisations on the final outcomes for their clients, on issues including re-offending and employment. The impact of these organisations is then compared to a control group.

2013 saw the launch of the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Data Lab, and nearly two years on, the Department for Work and Pensions announced works for a pilot. It’s been a lot of hard work, and there is still more to do, but the support of the sector has been essential in telling us that it is needed. So it’s about time to give you an update of what we have been up to and what’s next.

Justice Data Lab

Over a hundred interventions have now been evaluated by the Justice Data Lab, a third of which have come from the voluntary sector. It is completely free to use the Justice Data Lab, and we have worked hard through our co-ordination of the Justice Data Lab expert panel to ensure that the needs of the sector are represented. The Justice Data Lab started with measuring the percentage of the group which had re-offended, and has now evolved to include even more metrics: the average number of offences committed; the time it takes to first re-offend; and hopefully soon a measure for the severity of the offence. In addition, re-offending data is now being matched with other datasets, and we’re piloting ways to evaluate programmes working with vulnerable offenders (such as substance misusers). However, whilst the service has been well accepted by the mainstream—winning an award from the Royal Statistical Society for ‘statistical excellence in official statistics’—we know that for it to continue, we need organisations to submit their programmes to be evaluated.

Employment data lab on the way

Work is also underway for a pilot employment data lab (the DWP are calling it an ‘analytical service’). The aim of the service is to support charities to measure the impact of their programmes in helping people get in employment. We are looking for five or six charities to take part in helping DWP develop the standards, metrics, and reports a service would bring, some of whom will need to be charities working within the work programme. The rest can work anywhere in the sector. A core requirement for charities to participate is that explicit consent from service users for further research, and for their data to be shared, should have been obtained.

Data privacy, consent and sharing is an area of massive importance which we are currently exploring in detail, so do let me know if you have ideas about this.

Health and education in the pipeline

We have supported the Health and Social Care Information Centre to write a business case for a health analytical service/data lab, which would measure impact on secondary care: A&E, admissions, readmissions, lengths of stay and costs. The report is currently under internal review, so we are waiting to hear the results.

Meanwhile in education, we are putting together the business case for an education data lab that would measure the educational attainment of young people. We’re currently interviewing key stakeholders in preparation for a sector survey.

More to be done

But we know that increasing the availability of services to measure impact is not enough. We need to set the case for how data labs can form an important part of evaluating your service, supporting the qualitative stories and other analyses you have done.

As the importance of data comes increasingly to the forefront, charities need to be clear on collecting consent, protecting privacy and deciding how to share data. Overall, charities need to become more data and digitally aware, in line with those changes which are already transforming the way we live our lives.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this.