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Enhancing Data Skills for Social Good

The social sector has within it an enormous number of passionate committed people, who everyday put their skills, energy and the limited resources available to them, to work, to enable positive changes for individuals, whānau, communities and the causes they care so much about.

And within this group of social sector workers is one particularly courageous bunch of people – those who have put their hand up at some point to take on the role of leadership in their organisation. It’s a tough gig – the demands are often immense, resources scarce and expectations of making a difference in the community through the work of your organisation, high.

As a new manager of a social service agency,  one of the first things I had to get my head around moving in to the role, was the endless reporting requirements we had – reporting (weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually) to three different government agencies with whom we had service agreements, monthly reporting to a board and then annual reporting required under the Charities Act.  And for each of these I was reporting on different things – our numbers, some narrative – in a different way for each stakeholder.

And like many new managers in the social sector, I didn’t come to the role with a management degree or a numbers background – I was a practitioner, who had gotten into the work because I wanted to make a difference, to work with people, to feel like the work I did was meaningful (for me) and hopefully to the people and communities I was working alongside.

So, I stumbled around for a little while, drew on the skills I did have, looked at what my predecessor had previously done and tried to work it out for myself. One of the scary things was however, that things had moved on since I did my formal training and the skill set I was bringing to the new role, didn’t fully match the new requirements of me.

One of the things I did do early on, was to seek out some basic training to help me to make sense of the data we were collecting so I could have faith in the numbers we were regularly sending through to our funders.  As a manager, you have got to get that stuff right, because your agency reputation relies on reporting reliable, accurate numbers about how your agency has delivered.

Reporting was one part of the equation. But I have always also been drawn to making sense of things and thinking about the big picture. And in many ways the data I reported on, didn’t answer any of the meaningful big questions I had. I needed to do more with all the data we were collecting from clients that our team was routinely entering into our database – to answer questions about our impact, the gaps, whether the reality of what we were doing was truly reflecting our vision and meeting the needs of our community.

So, I went off and found a basic Excel course (run out of the Katikati Community Centre), that enabled me to brush up on my skills that had for the most part been self-taught. Through this short course, taught over five sessions, I was gently guided through the process of how to clean, filter and sort our data and how to use basic pivot tables to analyse and organise the information we held about the people we were working with and the services we were providing.  The course gave me invaluable new skills to start creating insights from our data and it wasn’t even that hard (despite my initial fears).

During October at SociaLink we have been running that same Excel course for managers and administrators – anyone in local organisations who has to analyse and report on data.  And my hope in supporting the sector to build their skills to work with data, is that as a sector we will get stronger at creating evidence-informed insights about what we are doing well, what we could do better and the opportunities in front of us.

This first course is a start. But here at the CIL we are keen to find out what other kinds of support we can offer.  We ask that you complete our short survey about data insight skills (it will only take 3 minutes) to let us know about the sorts of programmes, courses and one-to-one support CIL could make available.   Click up the link here to participate:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/B9X2WJM

Thanks in advance for your participation. The CIL is here to support your organisation to make better sense of data you hold or access.  Get in touch and we can talk about how we can do just that.

Child Poverty Action group launched

A new group has been launched to tackle child poverty in the Western Bay of Plenty.

A Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) for the region was launched today in Tauranga with support from SociaLink, the Western Bay’s umbrella group for social service providers and community organisations. About 20 people attended, largely from social service agencies.

CPAG works to eliminate child poverty in New Zealand through research, education and advocacy. It has over 4000 members and supporters across the country, including academics, doctors, teachers, health workers, community workers and others concerned about the high numbers of children living in low income families.

Executive member of CPAG for Western Bay of Plenty, Alan Johnson, says while child poverty could be eliminated completely in a country like New Zealand, too many children don’t have the basics.

“CPAG speaks out on behalf of the tens of thousands of children in New Zealand whose meagre standard of living compromises their health, education and well-being,” he said.

CPAG has regional networks in Whāngarei, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson and Dunedin. It is funded by grants from charitable trusts and donations and receives no public funding.

It provides research about the causes and effects of poverty on children and their families, and informs the public, policy makers, media and politicians of policy changes needed to reduce child poverty.

“We are building a group of people here to advocate for children’s rights and child poverty in the Western Bay,” Johnson said. Well-organised direct activism could make a difference, he said, describing a protest in Auckland where 1000 people arrived to sleep in their cars to protest the lack of housing.

“Because of the demographic and relative wealth here, children’s issues are often overlooked, but we have unidentified poverty in this area. It’s one of the most serious issues facing New Zealand.

“For us it’s about public discourse. We need to have the interests and concerns of children locally talked about.”

CPAG’s main concerns were housing, income support and health, he said.

The group will meet again in December to plan the organisation’s first project for the Bay of Plenty.

Electoral Forum on social issues

Four of the major political parties discussed their policies on social issues at a Tauranga election forum this week.

Angie Warren Clark (Labour), Todd Muller (National), Trisha Lawrence (NZ First) and Josh Cole (Green) dealt with rapid-fire questions on how they would deal with everything from mental health and disability to the economy and jobs.

Representatives from the Outdoors Party, TOP and Advance NZ also attended.

The candidates were asked about the three reasons people should vote for them. Warren Clark said not leaving anyone behind, her real-life experience in the social sector and knowing the city.

Muller said he grew up in the city and the government had not understood its historical paradigm change, he would be an effective advocate for the city and his recent personal issues had made him more empathetic.

Lawrence said she had fallen in love with sociology and was driven to be in the area. The “journey of the last 30 years” had not gone well for everyone.

Cole said he was born with autism, and social reforms had put the country in a sticky situation. He had studied sustainable horticulture and was aware the government prioritised the economy over social and environmental issues.

Warren Clark was concerned at the affordability of Tauranga and its underbelly. There were issues with meth and family violence, more social housing was needed and it was the fastest growing but ninth least affordable city.

Muller said the housing system was broken, and needs were constrained by the RMA. Social housing hadn’t worked. There were many jobs available but many who couldn’t find employment.

Cole said the general minimum income NZ First planned would provide $325 a week, with a wealth tax for those worth over $1 million.

Lawrence said a social service accord needed to be created to shift funding to the top of the cliff. There needed to be a joint venture delivering cross party care for children in care.

Warren Clark said the social sector needed to unionise to improve pay parity and ensure a fair deal, and work across all of government to find solutions to poverty.

Muller said he was focused on funding outcomes but there was not a simple solution.

Reducing child poverty would need support for parents and retraining, as social issues didn’t happen in silos, Lawrence said. NZ First would reintroduce the Family Benefit.

Warren Clark said there was much work to do in increasing household income and decreasing the cost of living. Labour had increased the minimum wage, provided the winter energy payment, free targeted training, wage subsidies during Covid-19, increased benefits and paid parental leave but Labour needed more time.

Muller said the nation couldn’t “spend its way out of the economy” and the economy had to be lifted off its knees, stimulating and investing in small businesses. There was an appetite for people to consider cross party ideas, he said.

The candidates answered question from the 40-strong crowd about youth mental health, new jobs, social housing, changing the economic system, funding for the disabled sector and abatement rates for beneficiaries.

Charities learn skills at ‘speed dating’ event

Not-for-profit agencies need to ensure a clear definition between strategic and operational activity, Bay of Plenty social agencies heard this week.

More than 40 agencies attended the ‘speed dating’ event for not-for-profit groups looking for new board members organised by SociaLink, the Western Bay umbrella group for social service providers and community organisations, and  the Institute of Directors’ Bay of Plenty branch.

The panel members were Anchali Anandanayagam, Peter Farmer and Jana Rangooni.

Anandanayagam is on the boards of Women in Film and Television NZ and the Asylum Seekers Support Trust, and chairs the board of Thankyou Payroll. Peter Farmer is a founder of the Farmer Group and is involved with many community organisations. Jana Rangooni is CEO of the Radio Broadcasters Association and on the boards of Paralympics New Zealand and the Advertising Standards Association.

Anandanayagam said lines were often blurred between governance and management in small organisations as they ran lean teams and governance often needed to ‘muck in’ in operational matters.

Rangooni said agencies’ meeting agendas needed to line up and if there was too much operational work appearing in the agendas they had it wrong.

Farmer said there was often a lack of carefully thought through strategic plan for some organisations. If the board hadn’t set a clear pathway to success the whole organisation would lose its focus.

Agencies needed to focus on actions and decisions to “make the boat go faster,” he said.

The work needed to be fun, as agencies usually worked with volunteers, and a good chair could make or break the culture of an organisation.

Boards needed to get expert guidance when needed, have the right skill balance and not be hijacked by staff agendas.

Health and safety was a significant compliance obligation for not-for-profits and it was essential to get the right advice to keep volunteers and others safe.

Most agencies were purpose driven with more stakeholders and passionate volunteers to consider than commercial boards, Anandanayagam said. Many board members had not been on a board before.

Farmer said it was important to get major stakeholders involved and major funding sorted before moving to “cake stalls” and other fundraisers.