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Learning Through Data

Sue Goddard, the Programme Support Officer for the Changing Futures Sussex recently attended the Learning Through Data Conference held on 6th March 2024 at The Abbey Community and Conference Centre, Westminster. Here are her reflections on the day...

This was a networking and learning event and I wasn’t expecting the day to be as interesting as it was. The first presentation was Richard Lewis from MEAM – Making Every Adult Matter - The MEAM Approach Network - MEAM explained that data shouldn’t be scary, secretive, or inaccessible, and how it is a key part of securing the legacy of Changing Futures and why everyone should be interested in it.

We looked at data in the work that we do – how do we share and use data effectively to make people’s journeys easier?  We recognised that data comes in many forms, whether it’s from the internet, and how it’s the substance of people’s lives.

We also looked at how we use data for influencing systems, how we can collect data through multiple needs audits for example which we can collate and organise to establish how many people have been helped by the Changing Futures programme.

We then used flipcharts to demonstrate what data meant to us and where we see it in our work/life, drawing maps to show where data crops up in our jobs or lives.

This prompted some creative drawings and very interesting discussions amongst the participants. Examples of where data can be found included social media, television, club cards, CCTV, cookies (not the edible kind!), face to face interviews.  It was felt that data meant information in analysable forms which enable us to evaluate whether our clients have been helped/improved through the Changing Futures programme.

The next exercise was to look at what we meant by data and why is it important for Multiple Disadvantage?  “Organised information that has some meaningful value” -

•       Things that we might call “facts” or “evidence”

•       Things that we can count or measure (“quantitative”)

•       Things that tell us more detail or qualities about something or someone (“qualitative”)

•       Can be collected systematically or can be informal and ad hoc

•       Information which helps inform decisions or tell us more about something.


"Measure what you value, otherwise we end up valuing what we measure"


Data is important because we need to make decisions from the data we have, how many people are using the service, why are they using it, was it successful and if not why?  We also need to know the impact of what we are doing, and data is not always collected in a person-centred fashion.  Collecting data shouldn’t just be about demonstrating that we are doing our jobs or to cover our backs.


We often think of “data” as “neutral” and “unbiased” – but this rational understanding often collides with our biased cognitive processes, affecting both how we collect data and analyse it.

Then we had an example of how the same data can be perceived by different people – unconscious bias if you will, for example what animal do you see here?  A duck or a rabbit?


We must collate the right data about a person for eligibility & accessibility, accountability, planning, commissioning, and evaluation.


How we can we collect, share and use data better to enable people to get better support? 


We explored what data is (or isn’t) collected by different parts of the system, identify duplication / opportunities to share data.


Afterwards we had a group discussion about barriers related to using data more effectively, as well as keeping the person at the centre of any discussions around data.


We discussed what data (or types of data) are usually collected about people experiencing multiple disadvantage? What data is usually shared? What data could help more effective work and do the job better?

Jenny Ewels from DLUHC presented on Opportunities for Sharing Learning

·         Changing Futures Monthly Newsletter

·         Monthly Learning Community of Practice

·         Changing Futures Evaluation Webinar

·         National Lottery Website

·         National Disadvantage Summit 2024


Lunch gave us an opportunity to sign up to About Us | Mighty Networks which is a community platform designed to give you content, engagement, and inspiration all in one place.  Essentially, all platforms in one app.

In the afternoon we looked at Data for influencing systems – How do we use data to learn and change systems? We had a presentation from CFE about system indicators, learning and measuring change in systems. What data/evidence do we need to change our local system? What should we be measuring to show progress on our system change?

We were encouraged to share challenges or barriers around our data usage and collection that we were experiencing. There were interesting discussions about different approaches such as focussed case studies, journey mapping, and the challenges with clients with mental health issues. 

Evaluating System Change

“Systems change aims to bring about lasting change by altering underlying structures and supporting mechanisms which make the system operate in a particular way. These can include policies, routines, relationships, resources, power structures and values.” 

Systems change: A guide to what it is and how to do it, Rob Abercrombie, Ellen Harries, and Rachel Wharton, Lankelly Chase and New Philanthropy Capital, June 2015 p. 9.


In summary, data, in its many forms isn't a magic bullet, but it's a powerful tool in the fight against multiple disadvantage. I learnt that by using data ethically, inclusively, and strategically, we can learn about what works and doesn’t work for our those with multiple disadvantage and we can target interventions where they'll have the most impact.

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