The impact of COVID-19 within our borough highlighted the importance of data more than ever .
In the months following the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the team at Citizens Advice Lewisham, which we fondly refer to as CAL, began to consider how best to adapt our current service model, in line with our core value of using data to inform our service approach, to meet the changing needs of Lewisham residents. With the Hub closed, no immediate possibility of face-to-face meetings and everyone including ourselves having to adapt to new ways of communicating, there was one looming question: was everyone still able to get the help they needed?
While CAL’S Advice Line continued to provide access to support during the lockdown, we wanted to ensure that the most vulnerable people with the greatest need were actively targeted and weren’t facing barriers to access. This led to us wanting to better understand the data we already had about our clients and what the rest of the community was seeing. To do that, we needed help and it came in the shape of DataKind UK.
Data, data everywhere
Over a period of eight weeks, the DataKind UK team, Dulcie, Suzy, Giselle, and Nicole; along with their amazing volunteers Anna, Will, Natan, Antonio, and Shreya, all worked with us to review aspects of our service design. Based on our initial assumptions around accessibility, they helped us to focus on two key questions: Where are the vulnerability hotspots? And where should CAL locate outreach services to improve access for the most vulnerable people in Lewisham? Once we knew what we were looking for, it was time for the exciting stuff.
We spent many a fun evening collating and preparing data from multiple sources for analysis, and this culminated in an online, weekend-long DataDive on the 26th and 27th of September 2020, involving the CAL team, Data Ambassadors and dozens of volunteer data analysts.
At the end of the weekend, we were able to use the data to support and dispute several hypotheses centered around our key questions.
What happened next?
The insights from our eight weeks of work with DataKind UK have helped to develop a foundation for other projects, namely our Community Labs series – a programme of virtual sessions designed for mutual dialogue between decision-makers and advice providers within Lewisham who are trying to make sense of the rapidly changing environment and respond to new and emerging needs.
The conversations from these sessions and our DataDive findings were presented to the Mayor of Lewisham and other information and advice, organisations within the borough, in what we hope will be the beginning of a collaborative approach towards addressing the issues caused by the pandemic and working more effectively together for the most vulnerable across Lewisham.
Not only has working with DataKind UK helped us achieve this, it has also encouraged us to think through our approach to data. Their recommendations on how we can enhance data management in the future, which include data training sessions for staff, assigning a Data Officer, and acquiring a data management and visualization tool, will help us in aligning our services to the constant changes within the economy and Lewisham’s landscape in the coming years.