Doing Data Differently in South Ayrshire
Dawn Parker, our Corporate Parenting Lead Officer, tells her experiences working on the early stages of the Promise Data Map— and on the benefits that it's brought
I do not think of myself as a 'data' person. My position within the council is a strong mix of strategy and practice. Data is a useful tool, but it's something I've often left to the 'experts' - the data analysts - for the most part.
So when the open call came to be part of The Promise Data Map, we volunteered to be a part of it. What did we have to lose? From my perspective, we only had something to learn. We had a good bit of humility about it. We knew it wouldn't be tidy. But we hoped the learning would be useful.
The benefits have been tremendous.
Making space to connect
As part of the exploratory phase of The Promise Data Map , my colleague Danielle and I worked closely with staff from Wallscope and the Fraser of Allander Institute . Together they led incredibly in-depth discussions with teams from all throughout South Ayrshire Council - a whole range of partners, even commissioned services. It was a massive exercise, and one we would never have had the capacity to do internally.
These conversations allowed us to really think about the vastness of the connections we have with our young people and their families. Without those kind of cross-cutting conversations, we were never going to be able to use the data and information we have for genuine learning. And without that learning and understanding we would be stuck where we are, using data for statements and snapshots - short term moments instead of genuine insights.
I was really impressed by the quality and expertise of our colleagues from the Data Map project. They asked prodding questions, which meant I myself had to ask myself a lot of questions. It made me wonder what was preventing sharing information proactively internally, and made me really start to examine this really complex ball of knotted up spaghetti that is our data system.
What made us ready to take on this work
When I think back on why we were ready to take on this work, I immediately think of our Champions Board activity, and that whole ethos around participation. It's really shifted the culture here, which meant I think we were ready for the insights we gained from being involved with the Data Map. There's always been a bit of implicit thinking about whether we are asking the questions and collecting the information that really matters to children and families, and this project has continued to help us push in that direction.
That said, all of this work is happening with the backdrop of the broader work to keep the promise. Even within our own organization, it's not meant consistent changes everywhere. It's been incremental change. There's no silver bullet, and we should all know that by now. But the process behind this, that's what's been so important. And engaging in that process means that we will have data that's more meaningful and helps us learn and make improvements. We're not there yet, and it will take more resource before we can bring everyone along with us. But we're already seeing huge benefits.
The difference this process has made
Having this better understanding of our own internal data, the vastness, the complexity - it has made me more confident to start those conversations instead of waiting to get the information from the 'experts'. I've become much more of the expert on the intersections and how all these different pieces of information need to fit together and talk to each other. That's made me better able to push and challenge - for example, to challenge colleagues that use SEEMIS, both within schools and within CLD/Youthwork, to join up a bit more and cross-reference their data. That's something else to know, that even having the same system or having systems that talk to each other isn't enough - that people have to actively cross-reference the data!
This process has really enabled us to refine our corporate parenting data set. But we also have a better understanding that it's not just about what we are asking, it's how we are asking it, which has had clear impacts in terms of what data we collect. For example, one key area we've made changes in has been better understanding our community and participation work. We used to ask young people who came along to services if they were care experienced - not a mandatory question, but for anyone willing to share. We started thinking about how complex that category actually is, and how we might be able to unpack that more. Now we ask specific questions: 'Have you ever lived with foster carers? Have you lived with other family members who aren't your parents?' And so we're getting a better picture of how these young people see themselves, as well as their participation in universal services.
I'm more confident in pushing those boundaries, because I have a much better - and more optimistic - understanding of what's possible when it comes to data. The scale of it can be daunting, but having seen what's possible so far I'm no longer phased by that. I know that, if we put in the work, we can create a system that lets us collect and share better data and information, which can then help us do better for our children and families.
You can read more about the Promise here.