During the COVID-19 crisis, local authorities and the voluntary and community sector (VCS) have collaborated to provide vital support services to those in need, demonstrating the value of partnerships. Progress was made in the first months of the pandemic as VCS and councils put data at the centre of the emergency response. These organisations now need to plan for how to address the longer term impacts of COVID-19 on local communities.
Working with Camden Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, LOTI and the Greater London Authority, we looked at how to overcome data sharing challenges as they continue to provide residents with the right support.
As a remote multidisciplinary team, we ran interviews, desk research and workshops with staff from both councils and local VCS organisations. This research ranged from one person groups through to national organisations. We carefully designed a project approach that could deliver valuable findings in tight timelines, whilst maintaining respect for people's context as they navigated the ongoing pandemic.
Our research focused on exploring how two different regions approached the shared need for effective local data exchange. Exploring their collective reflections helped us identify common themes informed by a range of different perspectives and contexts.
We summarised three opportunity areas taken from emerging themes common to both regions.
Shared understanding from data
Creating the conditions for more direct connections and meaningful relationships between data experts and VCS staff could create new possibilities for data sharing and use in a way technology alone can’t. Through collaboration, councils and the VCS can interpret data together, not simply share it with one another.
Reframe what data can be
Move beyond using data to delegate tasks and share referrals, making space to collectively explore how combining quantitative and qualitative information can be used to answer complex questions. Providing clear explanations about how data is used to make decisions as part of the COVID-19 response can create the opportunity for the VCS to improve processes.
Scale small solutions for big gains
Identifying data sharing processes and solutions which could save time or lower the difficulty of recurring tasks. Rather than pursuing wholescale new systems and technology.
Community insights projects
Our opportunity areas provided the basis for us to develop ideas for a potential solution with VCS and council staff. The concept of Community Insights Projects was selected from several ideas by the project stakeholders for its potential to advance data sharing in the next phase of the COVID-19 response.
Community insights projects are founded on the idea that by purposefully creating the conditions for VCS and councils to come together and think creatively about shared problems, they can make progress against all three opportunity areas:
- forging new relationships between staff who can turn data into impact
- reframing the way data is used and exploring new ways to release it
- working through real projects to swiftly create new insights and value to benefit residents