How much can data tell us? - United St Saviour’s Charity

In our latest issue of Trust & Foundation News, we spoke to members about the kinds of data they use and what it can help them to achieve, as well as some of its risks and limitations.

The fifth article in this series comes from Sarah Thurman, Head of Community Investments, United St Saviour’s Charity.

Data provides us with evidence of need to inform where we should put our resources, evidence of impact, and opportunities for strategic grant-making.

Research we have commissioned includes a study into the impact of Universal Credit locally. The quantitative and qualitative research looks at population groups most affected, gaps in local services, and the most effective means of supporting claimants.

When the research is concluded we will use it to inform where we put our resources to best effect, and where others put theirs. It will also be used to influence the implementation and support around Universal Credit across the voluntary sector, local authority and the Department for Work and Pensions locally. We plan to carry out more data collection and research to enable us to have greater impact and influence in our area of benefit.

We linked up one of our grantees, Latin Elephant, with the London School of Economics Cities programme, and together they conducted research into the social value generated by migrant businesses around the Elephant & Castle. This demonstrated how small local businesses form part of the local ecosystem and how we should think about supporting them.

We use a range of data when deciding our programmes and making decisions about what to fund. This includes Office for National Statistics, Trust for London's Poverty profile, Joint Strategic Needs Assessments, and specific national reports and research that interest us such as child poverty. But the ‘softer’ more qualitative data we tend to draw locally.

Our impact framework uses numbers and stories to assess the difference our funding makes. But we don’t ask grantees to generate additional data that they wouldn’t normally be collecting; we consider this too onerous for organisations increasingly struggling with core costs and administration.

We have just completed a review of our small grants programme over the past three years and concluded that it is not desirable to get small organisations to provide data and do evaluations, and we do not expect them to. As a place-based funder we have a much more in-depth relationship with all our partners than just giving them money. Instead we go along and talk to them, and get really rich information on an ongoing basis. Often it is anecdotal, stories really, but they can tell us as much as big data. Meeting people is a better way of seeing what is going on than an impact report. The medium-sized organisations we fund – with income of £2 or £3 million – are normally good in their collection of data and impact.

The flip side to that is that stories are not validated or triangulated, and not always representative of the bigger picture. So it is always worth checking that the issues coming up are valid.

We also get good data from applications. There are often real nuggets that people have found either from their own research or from very specific studies around an issue such as domestic violence that I might not know about. It’s a really good source of information and one we are increasingly using to inform our own data banks.

Our purpose is community investment and we consider this more than just grant-making. For example, this week I went to a Universal Credit network group of 45 practitioners across the borough. It is critical to be able do that, as these occasions are when you see and understand the local issues and challenges. I couldn’t get that from any national report.

It is frustrating that much of the data we rely on is out of date. I am still dependent for a lot of things on census data from 2011. But the situation in Southwark has changed so rapidly since then, it’s such a fluid borough that the data becomes almost irrelevant. For example, we know that there are very large numbers of the Latin American community in Southwark, and maybe 10-20% of our funds are going to organisations working with them, but the census data doesn’t capture anything on that group. Similarly, we are funding a couple of organisations working with refugees and asylum-seekers and people without recourse to public funds, but accurate stats aren’t there so we have literally no idea of numbers – it is all anecdotal. Hence why we increasingly depend on our local knowledge and discussions with local organisations.

Sarah Thurman
Head of Community Investments
United St Saviour’s Charity


Other articles in this series

How much can data tell us? - Walcot Foundation 
How much can data tell us? - Friends Provident Foundation 
How much can data tell us? - Paul Hamlyn Foundation 
How much can data tell us? - Corra Foundation 
How much can data tell us? - Co-op Foundation 
How much can data tell us? - Ada Lovelace Institute 

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