Community organisations push back on ‘data burden’
In Brighton and Hove a group of local organisations have formed a ‘Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact’ partnership to support organisations in the South East to ‘push back’ against community data burden. In the guest blog below, Mary Darking from the University of Brighton talks about the partnership’s work on ensuring ‘appropriacy, proportionality and dignity’ around monitoring and evaluation.
Mary Darking, University of Brighton
Across the South East of England, voluntary and community organisations have identified a need for support to help face challenges concerning the monitoring and evaluation of their work. As a response, myself and my colleague Carl Walker, together with our Community University Partnership Programme (Cupp) and local infrastructure organisation Community Works formed the ‘Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact’ (MEI) partnership.
Since 2014 the partnership has engaged in a programme of research and knowledge exchange, consulting with 68 VCS organisations and talking to over 100 Service Managers and Chief Executives. We co-produced a cycle of workshops and symposia at which organisations expressed deep concern over the extent to which funder-requested data collection was impacting on the vital interactions they have with citizens in need. Nonetheless, organisations found this case hard to make to funders. One workshop attendee commented:
‘it’s very difficult for the voluntary sector to have this conversation alone, to actually have a range of academics on our side feels really, really helpful because we need to push back a little on monitoring, evaluation and impact and the data burden issue we have is massive.’
Whilst VCS organisations are encouraged to seek out a range of funding streams to support their activities, individual funders specify measurement requirements ‘in silos’ and are not aware how many data requests are therefore being directed at face-to-face interactions with people seeking support. Requirements for ‘100% return rates’ and insistence on ‘before measures’ mean that volunteers and workers can feel pressured into collecting information at times when people are clearly experiencing crisis. At these times, asking people to reflect on or describe their degree of crisis, as part of a bureaucratic process, was viewed as unethical and inappropriate. Yet, groups reported that there was insufficient scope for raising these concerns with funders and negotiating more appropriate data collection strategies.
To progress this dialogue, the MEI partnership wrote a position statement calling for ‘appropriacy, proportionality and dignity’, which has become a marker of ethical community data collection in the City, featuring in its Health and Social Value Framework, the City’s Fairness Commission’s Final Report and supporting Local Authority commissioning from the Third Sector Investment Fund.
In our ongoing work to address community data burden the partnership are beginning to engage with the Voluntary and Community Sector organizations in other regions, funders and commissioner networks and are interested in speaking to VCS infrastructure organisations at national and international levels develop a new dialogue about data practice and community.