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Understanding your data: One way to build back better?

By Peter O'Flynn 23 July 2020 4 minute read

Lockdown has been very strange and very scary for charities, yet many have adapted tremendously well during this time. As we emerge from lockdown, new questions present themselves, such as how can we build back better?

Building back better is first and foremost an internal process that we—charities, civil society organisations and funders—must all engage with. Covid-19 has forced many of us to reassess and change our approach to tackling society’s biggest issues.

Change is complicated. But it’s also an opportunity for you to look again at how you do things. If you’re thinking about how your charity should adapt to help people in the new normal, then your organisation’s culture towards data—from collection, to monitoring and analysis—is a good place to start.

In many ways, NPC’s interactive Covid-19 data dashboard is a new avenue of exploration for us. We adapted our work on data and created our dashboard to enable charities and funders to compare the places that are suffering the most from Covid-19 and to analyse underlying factors—such as age, health, ethnicity, and charity density—which put areas at risk.

There is no one infallible approach to understanding the intrinsic knowledge that data can unlock. Every organisation is different. However, there are some key questions you can ask yourself to better understand where you could improve you data work.

Questions to ask yourself

A good place to start is with the data you regularly collect in order to understand, measure and monitor your services. Using your data, which of these questions can you answer?

  1. Are you reaching your intended service users (and how may they have changed because of Covid-19)? Evidence from our data dashboard work with Turn2Us and Buttle UK, demonstrates how much of the new demand for services has come from demographics who may previously have never needed charity—such as people with mortgages. Are you reaching these people?
  1. How effective has your service been in continuing to engage with your target service users? For instance, how have people responded to digital service delivery? Does the data show sessions have had more of less attendance?
  1. Are you getting good feedback data from your target service users? What impact (positive and negative) did lockdown have on service delivery? What has worked for beneficiaries? What hasn’t?
  1. Is your service still having its intended change on individuals? Has the service helped address people’s needs, such as positive outcomes in the short term? Have there been any unexpected outcomes?
  1. Have you generated a positive impact? Have you made a long-term difference for the individuals, families and communities you’re working with?

Regular readers of the NPC blog may have spotted that I have used our five types of data framework here. If you find that you don’t have the data to answer the above questions, you may want to think about the steps you can take to improve your data approach.

Improving your data approach

If the above questions highlighted a few issues, you may want to make changes to your approach. Issues vary, but common examples include data being there but hard to interpret and there being variations in the quality of your data.

Quick wins—such as cleaning data or making data more user friendly—can go a long way and can enable you to start using your data to your advantage. One way to make your data more user friendly is to put it in a more useable format. For example, our interactive Covid-19 data dashboard. This is a new innovation for NPC which we will continue to develop, and it is an example of how we are trying to build back better.

Here are a few further tips on how you can improve your data approach:

  1. Build a better dataset. This is a dataset that does not contain missing or aberrant values; it has a logical structure; it is used by different teams within your organisation. As mentioned above, beneficiary data is a good starting point.
  1. Understand your data cycle. More specifically, understand how data is collected, arranged, processed, analysed, retained and shared. Mapping or visualising this cycle can help untangle messy data and streamline your processes.
  1. Build a summary. A creative approach to summarising your data can help you to convey complex outcomes and routes to impact, both internally and externally. Consider using a combination of tables, charts, infographics and case studies. Turn your data into summary information which your target audience can understand.

Focusing on the right questions

With the right data approach in place, using good quality and structured data can become the norm. We know that data alone is not the silver bullet for building back better, but what it can do is help ensure our focus is on the right questions as we look to a future beyond the Covid-19 crisis.

To discuss ways that NPC can work with you to improve the quality and integrity of your data collection; please speak to Peter O’Flynn, Senior Consultant, and Rosario Piazza, Data Principal, at NPC.


Data can help ensure that our focus is on the right questions as we look to a future beyond Covid-19. Here's how to improve your approach to data Click To Tweet