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calendar15 January 2021

Author: Martin Cowles

What’s data got to do with it?

What’s data got to do with it?

Data. It’s the word on everyone’s lips at the moment – and we can thank the pandemic for that.

‘When are things going to get better?’

This is the question people up and down the country have been asking, well, since the first lockdown began back in March 2020. Now, several months later, people with previously no interest in any kind of data at all are turning to daily statistics and poring over complex graphs for the answer.

But using data to answer questions and make decisions is nothing new. Although it’s been thrust into the spotlight this year, businesses have been using data to gain a competitive edge for years, with much success.

For charities like CAP, however, it can be harder to find the money or skills needed to invest into this area. Potentially useful information quickly becomes a meaningless fog of numbers and spreadsheets. And while a typical for-profit organisation may find it easy to convert their customers to rows on a spreadsheet, for us in the third sector, every piece of data represents something much more valuable and complex: a living, breathing family in desperate need of help.

At CAP, data is critical to us being able to help people.

From knowing the amount of people accessing our service, to the detailed nuances of a client’s case that may change the advice we give to them, every piece of information makes an impact on how we do things here at CAP.

That’s why we were absolutely overjoyed to be introduced to DataKind UK last year. They have partnered with us to help us learn how we can use our data better, with the primary aim being that we‘re able to help our clients with maximum effectiveness.

What is DataKind?

DataKind is a charity that helps charities. Since being founded in the UK in 2013, they have worked with over 80 different organisations to help create sustainable change in their sector, by showing them how to build their skills and capacity, and handle their data responsibly. DataKind has been held up as an example of best practice by Government ministers, and they were named as one of Fast Company's 10 most innovative nonprofits in 2017.

DataKind also connects the charities they work with with an incredible community of data scientists who are willing to volunteer their time for free! This really is an incredible gift and means charities like CAP have a chance to access some of the very same expertise and insight that big-business organisations do.

Taking a ‘Data Dive’

We were thrilled to be accepted on a ‘Data Dive’ in November this year – a two-day DataKind event with around 30 top data scientists all working together to help find innovative ways for CAP to solve some of their biggest challenges.

We particularly focused on our debt service because we know that if we’re going to play our part in helping people get back on their feet after the pandemic, we need and want to be much more efficient so we can help more people through the local Church.

The ‘dive’ was a whirlwind weekend, exploring:

  • How to identify clients who might require a higher level of support when they first contact us
  • How to predict what advice a client might need from us - and how we can provide that advice quicker
  • How we can more effectively motivate and encourage clients to continue in their journey towards complete debt freedom

The volunteers from Datakind left me for dust pretty quickly! They were soon deep in discussions about different ways of approaching our data (anonymised information from around 20,000 CAP clients over the past five years). Our CAP staff team were vital in sharing much needed context and debt counselling expertise. By the end of the weekend we were exhausted, but it was really great to see how data science, when used effectively, can multiply the impact of the hard work carried out every day by our incredible caseworkers at head office.

It’s an exciting end to the year for us data analysts at CAP. We’ve still got a lot of questions, but I’m confident that whatever challenges we might face on behalf of our clients in the future, we can do it with the huge benefit that data and data science can bring.

Martin Cowles
Senior Project Manager – Research, Development and Innovation team


To find out more about DataKind, hop on over to their website.

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