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Community insights projects

Author: Alex Leslie, Julie Thiery

Supporting collaboration between VCS staff and council data experts

During the Covid-19 crisis, councils and Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations have collaborated with transparency and pace not commonly seen before to provide vital support services to those in need. In recent months, these valuable partnerships also highlighted the barriers to more effective, cross-agency working.

How can we overcome the data sharing challenges between councils and the VCS that stop organisations being able to find and provide residents the right support when they need it?

Community insights projects

From Covid-19’s first wave, many local authorities and those in the VCS have recognised the importance of new agile ways of working. Bringing the organisations in our local places together, we can combine strengths, skills and capacity to address shared ‘blind spots’ in our communities by planning, interpreting and responding as one. The challenge now lies in sustaining this shift.

Working with a partnership of London Borough of Camden and Central Bedfordshire Council, alongside LOTI and the GLA, local VCS and data experts in these areas, we’ve co-designed the concept of community insights projects as a way to build new relationships and bring the power of qualitative and quantitative data together.

Community insights projects bring together VCS staff and council data experts to explore how different types of quantitative and qualitative data can be used to deliver better support to residents during the pandemic and beyond.

Community insights projects are one way to make sure we take forward what’s worked well and what hasn’t around data and information sharing. This new approach to solving local problems allows organisations to cooperate more closely, finding the value within the data each holds. The initiative is about everyone giving and getting in return, with resident lives at the centre.

The next few months provide a unique window of opportunity to make progress. Our friends at Camden and Central Bedfordshire, supported by LOTI, will be testing community insights projects as a core part of the joint Covid-19 response between councils and the VCS. For Camden, this means establishing a new way of working, and for Central Bedfordshire, it represents the next evolution of existing relationships.

Building stronger relationships

Working towards improving relationships between councils and the local VCS is essential, and it’s the staff and volunteers who have the data skills and knowledge to make it happen in the coming months.

Coming together through community insights projects will lay a strong foundation, helping each organisation to value the other’s differences. The community brings their knowledge of residents and the challenges on the ground, while council data and legal experts provide the guidance required to create real action to solve those issues.

The process includes an independent facilitator who’s familiar with building teams and exploring data, and who can make sure each organisation compliments the other. This role will help guide the programme, getting the most out of the data and expertise while impartially supporting trust building in these relationships.

Combine strengths and building trust

As part of their Covid-19 response, both councils have been working increasingly closely with the local VCS to support their residents. Community insights projects are helping shift their focus further to add more value to these relationships by combining their different strengths.

By collaborating and increasing their capacity, we can address shared ‘blind spot’ issues in the community, such as hidden domestic violence, food poverty and finding employment for young people now out of school. As these are some of the urgent issues faced by residents across the country that Covid-19 will impact negatively, combining efforts through the use of data will help find innovative solutions.

Strong insights require good quantitive and qualitative data to resolve challenges, helping us see the bigger picture in a resident’s life. Community insights projects are about teamwork, council staff can support with quantitative data while the VCS are experts in qualitative. Both organisations have an important role to play in supporting one another and solving these challenges.

Focusing on projects around these sorts of social issues creates meaning, helping to mobilise stronger partnerships based on trust. Combining individual strengths will allow our places to interpret and respond as one, that continually adapts to support residents.

How to get involved

We’ve already seen enthusiasm and input in Camden and Central Bedfordshire from the VCS and council staff. The next step is to put this idea into practice, taking a practical approach to implementation. We’ve created a user guide and concept outline to support any local area that wants to try community insight projects.

We believe our frontline community members and local authority staff hold the answers to supporting our communities. Working together pragmatically, utilising data and building relationships based on trust is the best way to combine their efforts. As we look to the next few months, and recovery, our councils and volunteer community groups that work together can shape our places for the better.

Community Insights Projects

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Alex Leslie


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