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Citizens Advice Manchester is one of the 280 independent charities that make up Citizens Advice’s national network in England & Wales. They offer free, independent, confidential and impartial advice on a range of issues. A team of ten advisors handle around 6,000 calls a month.

Use this Guide when you want to change how your organisation uses data. It has lots of tips about how to get everyone engaged and interested in what data can tell them.

Steps to improving services through better use of data tools

You want to understand what data you collect, how you store it and how you use it. You want to get a sense of how confident different staff are with gathering, using and understanding data.

You can use a tool such as a data maturity audit or a data needs assessment to do this.

At Citizens Advice Manchester, they used Data Orchard’s Data Maturity Matrix to get a good picture of their current use of data.

They were already collecting a lot of data, and wanted to focus on using it more to improve services. That meant more people needed to be able to view it, in ways that they could understand.

Get Data Orchard’s Data Maturity Framework as a pdf.

Data Orchard also have an online tool that is free for small organisations. Try it here.

You need to talk to all your possible stakeholders, from senior leaders to the people who deliver front-line services.

Talk with them about:

  • How comfortable they are with data

  • If they understand how they could use it to make decisions about services

  • What data they need to make decisions but can’t find

  • Any problems they have with data

  • Any worries they have about data

Citizens Advice Manchester connected with the leadership teams first then had conversations across the organisation.

They discovered that sometimes, they needed to collect new data. They also discovered that sometimes they already had the data but it wasn’t in a good format for everyone to use.

They also needed to reassure people that the growing interest in data was not about tracking individual performance.

You need different tools for different stages of the process - and it is important that they all work together.

You will usually want:

  • Data collection methods - often these are forms, but there are lots of other types too.

  • Data storage. This might include spreadsheets, databases or both.

  • A system for reporting. This could be done manually (looking up numbers in spreadsheets), automated (queries in a database) or automated and visual (using data visualisation tools). You can also combine any of these methods.

Choosing the right tool depends on:

  • How complex your data needs are

  • How confident your team are using new software

  • What other software you already use (are you a Microsoft or a Google organisation? Do you already have a CRM or database?)

  • How much data you need to process, and how sensitive that data is

Citizens Advice Manchester wanted their data to be easy to use and understand. Their goal was to encourage people to use the data when planning services. They decided the best solution for them was a dashboard that their technical team would run. Any staff that needed data to make decisions could go to the dashboard to get data visualisations (graphs etc) and reports.

They already used Google tools in the organisation. They chose to combine Google Data Studio (now called Looker), Big Query and Google Sheets. This was free for charities at that time.

Lots of people start out nervous around data. They have worries about the ethics and security of asking people for data. Then they are concerned about the time it takes to track it all. And they’re not always sure they understand what it tells them.

So when you do a data project you need to plan training. You want to train people in:

  • Data protection and ethics - why it is ok to ask people for the data you need if it will make services .

  • The tools you need them to use - remember not everyone in your organisation will need to use all of your data tools.

  • What the reports you have created for them mean, and how they can use them.

  • How individual bias in how you record or analyse data can affect results and cause problems.

At Citizens Advice Manchester, the technical teams learnt from webinars and online guides to the tools they were using. They also created sessions for wider teams explaining what data insights are. These sessions showed what how using data can make a difference to services.

The most important thing was working step by step. Once one team had made improvements to their service using data, other teams began to ask if they could do it too.

Further information

See our other guides focused on working with data or analytics:

We do not have a current contact at the Citizens Advice Manchester team.