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A blog by Debbie Pippard, Director of Programmes, Barrow Cadbury Trust. Originally written for 360 Giving 

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably data-savvy person – I love a good spreadsheet and, given a quiet half-hour, can even navigate my way around the Office for National Statistics database . But I’ve increasingly realised that the world of data has not only got bigger thanks to the drive towards open data, but also a whole lot easier to understand and use with the wealth of new datasets and tools available to ease analysis and visualisation.

Barrow Cadbury Trust is an independent family foundation, aiming to influence policy and practice through the funding, collation and dissemination of evidence. We work on a small number of social issues: criminal justice, economic justice, racial justice and gender justice. We were among the early group of funders to publish our grants in the 360Giving standard. One of the joys of being in that particular family is getting to see all the weird and wonderful ways in which grantmaking data can be combined with new tools to provide a visual snapshot of the ways in which grants are made and used. A couple of my favourites are CharityBase for its practicality and David Kane’s Chord Diagram for its ability to crunch thousands of funding relationships into a single picture.

Our involvement in 360Giving has made me reflect on how we use data at the Trust. I’ve picked out five ways, though of course there are more.

  1. Firstly, and most obviously, we use data to understand our grantmaking. That data comes from our own database – but like other funders that publish to 360Giving we can start to use the visualisation tools to bring that data to life. Every year I collate information about our grantmaking to present to Trustees. To be honest, it tends to be on the dry side. This year I’m looking forward to showing some interactive visuals to supplement the tables and graphs.
  2. We use data to develop programme approaches. Our migration programme has a strong focus on strategic communications: reaching across silos to have a better conversation about migration and integration. Public polling helps us and our partners understand people’s views and design interventions. Hope Not Hate’s “Fear and Hope” series has helped us track changing public opinion – a good example of how trend data can add to the richness of our understanding of an issue.
  3. Data is essential to plan our work and understand our impact. Take our Transition to Adulthood campaign as an example. Our aim is to persuade policymakers and practitioners to recognise the unique needs, and opportunity for change, presented by young adults in the criminal justice system. We need data about incidents, locations, severity of offences, demographics of offenders and other datasets to prioritise our interventions. And we need to track that data to understand whether the numbers are going in the right direction.
  4. Evaluation, which or course is meaningless without data.
  5. Last, but by no means the least, of my five is understanding how we fit into the funding landscape. For example, 360Giving means we can look at who else is funding projects in Birmingham (it’s interesting to see how Birmingham City Council has been using the data). Until now, we haven’t been able to get an overview of where the funding is going, and where the gaps are. It means we can search for organisations that perhaps we don’t know yet but who can help us add to our evidence base for policy change.

And the note to self? To spend a few of the quiet days of early January getting to grips with some of these new tools. I recently attended the Data4Good conference. It, and 360Giving’s recent Data Visualisation Challenge, has made me realise we are moving toward a post-spreadsheet world – and I no longer need to spend so much time putting together raw data, but can have more fun and communicate my data better with people for whom lines of figures are an anathema.

Jamie Evans, Research Associate at the Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol, posted this blog originally on the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute website.  We are very grateful to them for allowing us to cross-share it below.

While the title above may sound ominous, greater sharing of data between financial firms could bring benefits to creditors and consumers alike – especially where customers in vulnerable situations are concerned.

This is something that I and my colleagues at the Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) are exploring in our latest research project, which has kindly been supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

Sharing can be difficult

This may seem counterintuitive but the reason I think this subject is so important is because sharing – on a person-to-person level – is something that can be incredibly difficult to do.

Every day, hundreds, if not thousands, of people face really tough conversations with their creditors. They might need to disclose the death of a loved one, or reveal that they are living with a serious mental health condition which will severely affect their finances.

For many people, sharing such information is draining – no matter how kind, polite and empathetic the person at the other end of the phone line is.

After putting the phone down, the last thing that most people will want to do is to immediately repeat the conversation with one of their other creditors, and then probably another one after that.

Sharing data could be much easier

So rather than having multiple, similar conversations with different creditors – which can be difficult and time-consuming – what if the first creditor that you speak to could simply notify all of the others that you need to deal with?

They needn’t share information about the precise nature of your situation, but they could at least let others know what additional support you might need. This would ensure that all firms that you deal with are in a better position to support you with whatever you’re going through.

In a world of near-instantaneous data transfer, this is theoretically possible – though of course we need to explore the practicalities of doing this and, crucially, need to ask ourselves whether the potential benefits outweigh the costs and possible risks.

How could data sharing work in practice?

The Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service, which allows individuals to report a birth or death to most government organisations in one go, offers one possible example as to what such data sharing could look like from a consumer’s perspective.

A service like this offered by financial firms might go down well, especially when multiple firms have similar processes that are time-consuming and potentially upsetting (for example, when registering a death or Power of Attorney).

In time, such a service could be developed to deal with a wider range of customer circumstances.

Of course, describing how such a scheme would work at the ‘front end’ is one thing; saying how it would work at the ‘back end’ is quite another. There are many practical questions to consider: should organisations share information directly with one another, or should it be shared via a third-party database? If so, who manages this database and how do organisations get access to the data?

Then there is the question of how organisations can align the way they record information to make it suitable for sharing in the first place. Thankfully, on this point, financial firms can learn lessons from the electricity sector, which is currently aligning its ‘needs codes’ to improve sharing of information.

What are the risks of data sharing?

While there are potential benefits to data sharing, there are also risks that need to be carefully managed:

  • Customers could lose control of their data. This control is vital if consumers are to trust the service.
  • Firms could make mistakes if information isn’t recorded in a sufficiently clear, consistent or detailed way.
  • Consumers could be inadvertently excluded from financial services because of their situation.
  • Unscrupulous firms could exploit vulnerable consumers, e.g. by carrying out aggressive marketing or targeting them at certain times.

‘A problem shared is a problem halved’

There are clearly many issues to consider here, from the practicalities and costs to the question of what level of data sharing – if any – consumers would be comfortable with.

We are exploring such issues throughout the course of our research, beginning with a review of the available evidence, possible models, and the legal and regulatory frameworks.

Then, in the spirit of the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, we’ll be engaging with as many experts as we possibly can. This, we hope, will allow us to produce a blueprint for a model of data-sharing that genuinely works both for firms and their customers.