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How can charities use data to help communities during Covid-19?

21 April 2020

“This time shines a light on the work of our sector”, says Citizens Advice’s Minesh Patel, and data is one of the most powerful tools we have to use this spotlight for good.

Data is everywhere right now – it always has been of course, but with everything that is going on with Covid-19 it has become more prevalent than ever. Numbers, figures, stats, they have all become a part of our daily lives. From government and health advisor briefings to debates about whether we have the right information and what it’s actually telling us – data is undoubtedly playing a major role in helping us make sense of what is going on.

What do we mean? Well data can help us understand what our communities are going through and channel that into our organisational priorities. That’s why data collaboratives are calling for a data-driven pandemic response across sectors – from pandemic modelling and using data in tracking disease spread and social distancing’s impact to calls for needs analysis for people and communities like the National Emergencies Trust asking for data and expertise.

The need for data right now

NFP Synergy polled a thousand people (pre- and post-lockdown) to find out what the public wants from the sector right now. They’ve released the full dataset and interactive dashboard so you can explore what’s most relevant for your audience. Shockingly, people are worried. Three in four people chose the Covid-19 outbreak as one of their most concerning issues. They’re worried about physical and mental health, financial security and climate change. More than half of us (65%) are personally very anxious, 35% are worried about jobs and our livelihoods and 14% of us aren’t confident we’ll stay well during the outbreak.

Platypus Digital’s data on how charities are responding to Covid-19 shows fundraising and service delivery have been hit hard and now charities are reforecasting, prioritising virtual events and engagement and running emergency appeals online. For example, Shelter launched their emergency appeal explaining it will cost “£56.95 per month, per expert adviser for the software we need to answer the increasing number of urgent calls and online queries.” They’ve further evidenced this need with the sharp rise in calls for their helpline, beyond the usual 3,300 weekly unique callers. They’ve proven impact stating “61% of people who sought help with their financial situation saw an improvement” and they’ve contextualised this with societal data relating to private renting and zero-hour contract figures.

How are charities using data to respond to Covid-19?

Data can be used by anyone, at any scale. Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA) are urgently seeking £5,000 to add to their emergency fund which would mean being able to continue to support the 14 families in their refuge. They share regular fundraising updates and thanks to data their digital fundraising links to tangible results: £17 could fund an hour of emergency online advice or £75 could pay for basic living costs for a family of three.

LAWA is also one of 40+ specialist services and organisations in the Step Up Migrant Women campaign who jointly wrote to the Home Secretary calling for the establishment of emergency measures to support migrant women experiencing domestic abuse. This includes stopping data-sharing between statutory services – including the police and healthcare services – and the Home Office. The letter to the Home Office states, “In the context of this health emergency the government must put victims’ safety before immigration enforcement,” showing data ethics must be central in charity’s responses.

Using the data long-term

Increasingly charity communicators and campaigners are using data to inform their work in new ways. From tracking audience recognition of groups at risk and data storytelling during emergency appeals to playing a central role in policymaking. Charities are taking insights from data and tailoring messaging and services to meet community needs. In a response this urgent, we’re using data to get it right.

For instance, the Citizens Advice website recently experienced a historic peak of 2.4 million views in a week. They’ve had 9 million visits over the last month. Hundreds of thousands of people are using their content daily to try and work out what Covid-19 might mean for them and the team there have made live traffic and searches from the site publicly available.

They have a data team who manage all the sources, web traffic and beyond – pulling in data from their advice line, consumer service, and 280+ local offices. They’ve put tags in for Covid-19 so they know which data is related.

This data shows how people’s concerns have changed, from how to get compensation for cancelled flights to getting sick pay or redundancy and furlough during self-isolation. And along the way the team have shared further insight into how the web analytics translate to what people need, like creating a page called “what happens if you can’t pay your bills because of Covid-19” which almost immediately became the number one page on the site. As Minesh Patel, Principal Policy Manager, explains:

“Charities are seeing the day-to-day impact of coronavirus on the people they support. Our data is a really powerful tool to highlight people’s concerns and the problems they’re facing, and how these are changing over time.”

Citizens Advice’s data serves multiple audiences and it’s getting cut through and pick up thanks to them using it strategically – in press releases, blogs and Twitter, to their sharing of the data as things progress through individual spokespeople’s networks.

At the moment overall traffic number data is being used by Citizens Advice to demonstrate the scale of the number of people needing advice right now, but further analysis can be bespoke to individual audiences and useful for pinpointing intersections of concern as well as building a strong national picture of need. Long-term it can be utilised to bring nuance and speak to the interests of different audiences, whether that’s government or press or any other stakeholder or influencer.

Clearly the power of data is far reaching and no doubt will be invaluable in helping us communicate the very real needs of our beneficiaries in the weeks and months ahead – something we can all agree is more vital now than ever.

Photo: Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Stacey Kelly-Maher

digital projects officer, CharityComms

Stacey is CharityComms' former digital projects officer. She previously worked in digital for the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH). When not attached to technology, she consults on mental health research, policy and campaigning.