Working with Camden’s charity partners to develop insight around early data collaboration ideas.
In this guest blog post, the team from the Data Sharing with the VCS #LocalDigitalC19Challenge funded project shares an update on their progress since their September blog post.
In our last blog post, we set out the work we’d done so far to identify opportunities for Camden Council and their local Voluntary and Community Sector to collaborate on data to support the Camden Food Mission. At that stage, we had developed a long list of propositions which we were seeking to test with VCS Partners. We have now tested these propositions with VCS organisations and we’re using their feedback to design our first prototypes.
In this blog post, we’re setting out the findings from the user research which might be helpful to others working with VCS organisations in a similar way. We also describe the two opportunity areas we’re developing prototypes for.
Undertaking our first user research
We are committed for this work to be user needs led and so we undertook our first user research at the end of September and early October with six VCS organisations. We are making available our full user research here so that other Local Authorities can learn from our discussions.
This was also an opportunity for us to learn more about the organisations who had been involved in the provision of emergency food aid to Camden residents. We decided to start to understand the needs of this group first as we already had good connections with them in terms of data sharing, although we recognised that there are other actors in the delivery of the Camden Food Mission whose needs would be important to understand.
We learnt that these organisations provide a range of services to local residents — from space to hold youth clubs, adult literacy services to laundries.
The main points we learned from the user research were that these organisations have two main use cases for data:
1) Collecting and monitoring data
Participants talked about the work they and their team do to collect data (e.g. demographic data) from people using the Community centres in order to report back to funders. All funders appeared to ask for these organisations to collect data in this way.
2) Using data in funding applications
Participants also talked about using data, such as demographic / income profiles of the areas they served, in funding applications to demonstrate the need in their communities.
We also heard from participants in the research that data doesn’t primarily drive planning or strategy for these organisations. This was perhaps a surprise for some of the team, in that we had expected there to be greater use of data to plan and deliver services, but fits with our growing understanding that most VCS organisations are at an early stage of data maturity.
Honest feedback about the current Camden offer
As part of our interviews with users we also asked for feedback on the Camden data offer, which had been developed with VCS organisations in mind. We showed them the current Camden Insights website to get their feedback.
On the whole, they saw the benefit in Camden providing data specifically for them to use — in particular they saw that it was useful to get data from Camden which they could use in funding applications for services. However, there were a number of improvements to the user experience (UX) and content of the current website which would make their life easier as well as different datasets which might be more useful.
Testing propositions and more honest feedback!
In the previous stage we had developed some initial propositions for work on the basis of the analysis of the current ecosystem and through experience of previous work. We put these propositions to the participants. A proposition is an idea for a data product or service. It’s a high-level description of the product which relates it to the user who will use it, and the specific need that the user has for it.
The propositions we put to our VCS partners ranged from high-level ideas to share personal-level data between services, to creating a tool to measure the impact of interventions, and publishing a data audit of data that related to the Food Mission.
On the whole we found that none of the propositions that we had developed were seen as high-priority by participants and they were mostly worried that they would create more burden of data collection for them!
However what we did hear in these discussions was the importance of clarity about how the data that the VCS are already collecting for the council is used and to understand how it has an impact on strategy and delivery. On the basis of these two insights we have identified two areas for the development of prototypes.
Two prototype opportunities
Having digested the feedback from users to the propositions, we spent some time exploring ideas to develop further. Through a process of brainstorming and sketching we settled on two key areas to develop through the rest of the project:
1. Making it clear how we use data already collected so that we gain the trust of the VCS
The main insight we got from the research was the importance of using, and BEING SEEN to use, the data which the council already collects from the VCS. In many cases it seemed that it felt like data was collected by the sector and then “left in a drawer”.
Some of the hesitation that we felt from the VCS in these interviews seems to come from a concern about a lack of transparency about why data is currently collected by the Council. By making it clearer how data is used, we hypothesise that in the long run we will build the trust to be able to collaborate more deeply with the VCS on data sharing.
We are also aware of the on-going development of the delivery plan for the Camden Food Mission and the work that internal colleagues are undertaking to do this. We have identified this as an opportunity to use data — to develop a data product for colleagues to help inform strategy for the Food Mission and monitor its delivery.
Making such a tool more accessible could also have other benefits in terms of helping other organisations and community groups to act independently to support the Food Mission without needing coordination or encouragement by the Council itself.
2. Straightforward data for funding applications
The second opportunity that we’ve identified is to provide a more straightforward data offer that allows VCS organisations to incorporate council collected data into their applications for funding.
Building on the feedback we got on the current Camden Insights website we are looking to prototype a website that is specifically focused on providing VCS organisations with a simple way of finding data useful to their funding applications that is collected by Camden Council. As part of this development we are also looking to explore the types of data held by the Council that the VCS would find helpful.
By making this process super simple, we hope that VCS organisations are able to produce stronger applications for funding and therefore provide more effective services that will support the Camden Food Mission in the longer term.
Stay in touch with the project
In our next blog post we will talk about how we are going about developing these ideas using a product framework. As before, if anyone is interested in collaborating with us in the development of these products or in distilling our insights in terms of working with the VCS please do get in touch.
If you’re interested in this work and would like to keep in touch with its development please do get in touch with one of the team: