Data about civil society

Our last in person meeting in March 2020 before the pandemic was attending the London CVS Directors Network meeting, facilitated by London Plus and hosted at Hackney CVS.  We had a slot on the agenda and shared our Datawise London delivery so far, including previewing our Power BI dashboard enabling London CVS to see which organisations from their boroughs were accessing the programme and e.g. attending which training courses.

We then intitiated a conversation about better access to and sharing of data about the sector - interested to hear CVS Directors experiences, challenges and any opportunities they could see.  We introduced the idea of working together to develop minimum data sets to describe civil society, further exploring issues that surfaced in a recent data expedition hosted by the GLA looking at the Health of Civil Society in Southwark.  

We got a sense that there was interest in taking this forward and suggested some next steps including identifying where data already exists, focussing efforts where it doesn’t e.g. unregistered charities / community groups, and identifying data sets that could be pooled and compared to show the picture in different geographies and contexts.

Fast forward 18 months and a pandemic which paused this work - we wanted to revisit those conversations and test the appetite for a future collaborative piece of work we could include in our Cornerstone Round 2 Datawise London proposal, if we felt there was buy-in and leadership from the group. 

We knew the importance of being able to access data about civil society really came to the fore during the pandemic both opersationally and strategically, and so it was a good time to both reflect on this and look to the future.  CVSs and local authorities were co-ordinating and connecting crisis response activity in local communities and the GLA and other pan London bodies, along with the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership at a national level, were looking for local insights to better understand the impact and shape their response, both during the pandemic and for future recovery.  Lots of new data was collected with CVS running surveys to understand implications for the sector - how many sector organisations had such negative affects on their finances that they may have to close, for example.

At around this time - we spotted the Data Collective blog on Why we need leadership on data in the voluntary sector, and how you can get involved and got in touch, thinking it would be good to connect our work with this wider piece.


Data about the sector workshop

In September 2021, working with London Plus and the Data Collective we convened a workshop - bringing together 16 London CVS Directors and other nominated staff to revisit the topic. 

We started with a Data User Needs exercise, asking participants to note down the range of uses of data about the sector, in different contexts and from different stakeholder perspectives.

Image of 3 post its from the workshop with user needs statements

We then asked participants to tell us where they currently look for data about the sector and any challenges they faced.  This led on to a discussion about what data CVSs themselves collect and hold and what this is used for.  Ideas and opportunities for improvements were suggested and we came away enthused that there was a will to take collective take steps to improve access to and sharing of data. 

Internal upskilling around data use and analysis, along with awareness raising and support to find and use external open data sets were also raised.

See a full round up of the workshop here.


Next steps

We felt assured there was buy-in across the CVS network to take this forward and so we will be designing a strand of work to include in our Datawise London phase 2 project, continuing to link with ongoing Data Collective work, and confident that motivations and commitment to sector led action is strong. 

Mindful of CVS capacity, we will adopt a 'small steps tangible outcome', iterative approach and seek to include resource to cover future involvement.

In the meantime, we will be following up on the potential opportunity to standardise data collection for State of the Sector reports and explore sharing of this data in more accessible formats, as this was something the group felt could be addressed immeditatley with minimum resource required.

Conversations with our Datawise London partner the HEAR Network have also surfaced data sharing challenges across specialist infrastructure organisations working in London and we will be holding a similar workshop in November to explore this further and connect to our work going forwards.