Sunday, November 17, 2019

Scottish charity uses data science as force for good

Circle, a charity that works with families

A SCOTTISH charity has made significant progress in utilising data and demonstrating impact, thanks to a partnership with The Data Lab, Scotland’s Innovation Centre for data and artificial intelligence.

Circle, a charity working with families to provide tailored support designed to help children deal with social injustice, poverty and health inequalities, was able to demonstrate its overwhelmingly positive impact by using data science to quantify, for the first time, the rate of improvement among each family it worked with.

The charity provides one-to-one support sessions to individual families affected by drugs and alcohol, imprisonment and other social issues, providing advice and helping them to make and sustain positive lifestyle choices with an end goal of improving the life and prospects of the children within each family.

While undeniably having a positive impact on children and families, Circle had not been able to consistently and uniformly measure the impact of its support sessions, due to extremely high levels of variables affecting one family to the next.

It’s partnership with The Data Lab enabled a data scientist to work with Circle and leverage a broad range of indicators measured on a scale of 1-10, such as supporting the reduction of alcohol or substance use, better budgeting to manage household finances and access appropriate housing, limiting activities which could lead to children’s school exclusion, improving parents’ education and employment prospects, increasing parents’ responsiveness to their children’s emotional needs, and many more.

Analysing data collected over time on these indicators then allowed the charity to identify a benchmarking figure from which to estimate improvement across individual families.

As a result of the counselling sessions, the data showed that on average, each family improved by 0.77 points after every support session, clearly demonstrating the value of the work the charity was undertaking and helping it strengthen its case to secure additional Government, Trust and Foundation funding.

The figure can now also be used to determine how well individual families respond to the support sessions by comparing improvement rates against this benchmark. It’s hoped that the methodology can be applied across more third sector organisations which face similar challenges in quantifying impact due to the nature of their work.

Dr Caterina Constantinescu, data scientist at The Data Lab, said: “We know Circle was doing fantastic work with families across Edinburgh but due to the nature of the sessions, and highly tailored approach, it was historically difficult for the charity to quantify how much of an impact it was having through data science – instead relying more heavily on anecdotal evidence.

“We worked with the team to determine how effective the sessions were for individual families. Moving forward, the charity is now able to analyse sessions in much greater detail, and leverage data science techniques to inform policies and decisions in the future, providing Circle with key stats to use in future funding applications. It’s a great example of using data as a force for good.”

Alex Collop, Project Manager from Circle, said: “The Data Lab has been instrumental in helping us unlock the potential of data science as a means of measuring our impact. We’ve since used the results from the partnership to start planning more activities, for example, advocating with more confidence to policy makers that the duration of support to families be increased as the data analysis clearly demonstrates that this has a beneficial impact on children’s outcomes. This in turn supports Circle to seek future funding and continue to work with and have a positive impact on families across Scotland.”

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