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17 August 2020

Most days since 23 March, when we first went into lockdown following a growing number of cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, I’ve tuned in at 1pm like most New Zealanders wondering “What do the numbers look like today?  Are there more people with the virus? Are the new cases coming from community transmission or at the border? Have more people succumbed to this disease? What are the transmission numbers in my community?  Who is being affected now and what was the route of transmission? How are we doing in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world?”

Like never before numbers matter – the data impacts us all. And knowing not just the numbers but the story behind the data provides us with a greater sense of insight and as much certainty as we can have in these uncertain times.  We find out about what the risks are to us personally, our community, the people we love. We understand more about the spread of this disease, how it differentially impacts different groups – our elders, those who already have vulnerable health, the businesses and sectors most reliant on New Zealand having open borders and open doors to maintain profits and employment. Now more than ever, we need good reliable information that joins the dots and helps us make sense of the situation we find ourselves in here in New Zealand, and also across the planet.

These ponderings about numbers and how they can enhance our understanding and inform what we do is just as relevant to our work in the social sector. As community groups we traditionally have seen ourselves as primarily about people, and the causes or issues our groups have been set up to ameliorate – whether it’s family violence, food poverty, homelessness, lack of opportunities for our young people, our concern for the environment, the need for appropriate services for people diagnosed with a particular health condition or disability … or any one of the diverse and far-reaching issues we are working to improve.   But numbers and data can be incredibly powerful when used to help make visible some of the things that previously have not been evident.  Good data can support our intuition about the need for services or gaps in what’s available. Data can prove what we’re doing well, where we could make improvements and it can shine a light on different groups that we are not serving as well as we think.

Numbers do matter. Those of us who work in the social sector are renowned for our skills in working with people, but may be a bit hesitant or even wary of numbers. But we don’t need to be.  Here at the Community Insights Lab (CIL) we have the skills and resources to support your organisation to help get a grip on what your numbers can tell you.  Come talk to us – our job at the CIL is to support you to see how the information you hold can be better harnessed to provide insight, and help join the dots to find ways to do even more in our communities to improve outcomes for the people we work with.