Putting the user at the heart of data

Tris Lumley

Data should help us answer fundamental questions as organisations and as a sector: 

  • What strengths and assets do communities have? 
  • What support and resources do people want and need? 
  • How well do existing services meet those opportunities and needs? 
  • How can services and products be improved? 
  • What gaps remain and who will address them? 
  • How can the people and communities affected use these tools themselves? 

Despite all the progress that’s been made, much of the data collected by charities doesn’t really help answer these key questions. We want to highlight data and analysis that does. Here are two great examples of promising practice: 

  • 60 Decibels helps social businesses, nonprofits, funds and foundations to listen systematically to the people they serve. Building on concepts common in the commercial sector, 60 Decibels helps gather data at scale that is comparable across sectors like financial inclusion and energy services. During the Covid pandemic, this data has helped microfinance providers change their loan conditions or target services geographically, and has helped an energy programme to support both providers and customers to cope with changing financial situations. 
  • Poverty Stoplight is a data collection framework and tool provided by an international movement of organisations, including Signal in the UK, initially developed by Fundacion Paraguya. Its development is brilliantly documented by its creator Martin Burt in the book Who owns Poverty? The Stoplight lets people assess their own household in terms of its strengths and weaknesses, assets and needs. What makes it particularly powerful is its design as a tool to be used by those households to create change themselves—to prioritise areas to develop, to seek out help, or to recognise and capitalise on existing assets. 

These two very different examples share a key ingredientthey focus on establishing what is most important to people as customers, service users and primary constituents, and that’s what they measure. And because that data is relevant and meaningful to those primary stakeholders, it allows those who work with them or for them to make changes, to learn and to improve.  

Shouldn’t all our work with data be like that? We’d love to know what you think in response to these questions, comment below with your thoughts, ideas and what else we should be asking…

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