Wrong way road sign

Using data to examine local issues: Not too proud to say I’m wrong

By Richard Collins 8 September 2020 3 minute read

This guest blog by Richard Collins of Sortified was originally published on Sortified’s website on 21 August 2020. This blog shares details of our recent data work with Sortified, which helped them to gather evidence of local needs in Greater Lincolnshire in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Sortified is a social enterprise which aims to ‘work with people to make things better’. For more on NPC’s Covid-19 data work for charities and funders, take a look at our interactive data dashboard which shows the people and places that have been most affected by Covid-19. To discuss how our data can help your charity, get in touch with us.

It’s not often that I find myself proved wrong. I like to pride myself on picking up knowledge and understanding subjects before discussing them, and being able to point to evidence to back up what I say. However, the world is in constant change, especially at the moment as we transition from the ‘old world’ to a new one influenced by Covid-19. The pandemic has led to considerable changes to how we act and interact with each other, how we work, how we travel, and how we live our lives. It has also had a considerable impact on people, communities and places.

Throughout the pandemic, we here at Sortified have been discussing and examining the impact of Covid-19 and we thought that there was likely to be changes to needs and the issues within our communities. We were really lucky that Lincolnshire Community Foundation shared our thoughts, and commissioned us to look at how Covid-19 had impacted on communities across Greater Lincolnshire, and what that meant for funding crisis response and recovery across the community sector.

A bespoke data set

While we have considerable experience with the community and the social economic sector in Greater Lincolnshire, we wanted to develop an evidence based ‘Community Recovery Strategy’. We did this by undertaking engagement activity with people across the area to hear views and experiences, and by gathering information from community organisations and infrastructure groups. We also looked at tranches of data from other people around economic impact. This information gave us some understanding of what was happening locally and on third party views.

However, we wanted a firmer evidence base to examine local issues, so we commissioned NPC to develop us a bespoke data set which examined needs and issues at a hyper local level. The clever folk at NPC built us a huge database that can be analysed and interrogated, but which looked at information based on pre-covid needs, the current position, and future needs. The finished article is an amazing resource, which will enable us to examine the needs and issues in all the places around Greater Lincolnshire, all through a Covid-19 lens.

Putting the three evidence bases together (engagement, third party data, and the NPC data set) enabled us to identify the key priority areas of need in Greater Lincolnshire, and we shared this with Lincolnshire Community Foundation so they can target their funding (and that of other funders) accordingly.

I was wrong

So, how was I proved wrong? Well, prior to this piece of work I thought I knew my patch of the country pretty well. I could tell you where all the areas of need were, what the needs in each area were, and what to target. All this from years of working in the area as a Statutory Commissioner, and now as a Community Commissioner. However, having now seen the data, it turns out I was wrong.

I think we all have seen that Covid-19 has changed everything, so of course my views could be wrong as local needs have changed. It turns out though that the pre-covid data also showed that my perceptions and assumptions were wrong. My views on where needs were in Greater Lincolnshire had been incorrect, and as a result I had been aiming support at some of the wrong places, and not supporting places where need really was.

So, how could I be wrong? In retrospect, I can look back and examine where those assumptions came from. Much of it is from what other people have told me. Colleagues and other ‘experts’ would highlight certain areas and issues. Other community organisations would tell me where they were witnessing needs and seeing issues. People and communities would tell us about needs they were seeing, or experiencing. Through this I developed a set of ‘evidence’ and ‘strategies’ that I came to believe were true. But they weren’t, they were perceptions.

All is not lost though. The places I assumed had needs and issues did have needs, and our new data set shows this to be true. They just didn’t have the most need (sometimes not by a long shot). These places still need support, but if we have to prioritise, then I may need to look at my preconceptions again.

The issue then is, if I was wrong, who else is? I got these assumptions and perceptions from somewhere, so other people must share these views, these unconscious biases. My guess is that this is an issue for a lot of people, particularly community practitioners. It’s not going to be a Lincolnshire only issue either. Having had a few conversations with folk around the country, it is obvious that we haven’t taken a data-based or evidence led approach, or where we have it isn’t based on recent findings. This means that in lots of places we are getting it wrong, and we need to re-evaluate so that funding is aimed appropriately. And this won’t be just a ‘place’ thing either. As a sector, our preconceptions of need have been shown to be out of kilter with actual need, just look at the issues around funding BAME led organisations, as highlighted by #CharitySoWhite.

So, what is the moral of this piece, and the learning to be had? My view is that we should all check our assumptions, don’t presume what you think is correct, and check the evidence. It may be that you made a mistake, your knowledge is now out of date, and that you need to make changes. It’s not easy to hold your hand up to this, but lets check our facts, build our evidence bases, share our learning, and make sure that what we are doing has the most social impact possible.

If you need support with community commissioning, local strategies, or social business support, then get in touch with Sortified.

Data can help challenge your preconceptions and build your evidence base. In order to have the most impact, we must ensure that our 'evidence’ and ‘strategies’ are not merely perceptions. New @NPCthinks guest blog: Click To Tweet