Articles Making our clients’ data count

Making our clients’ data count

Last month the Alliance’s Senior Research Officer Emma Taylor-Collins was invited to speak about evidence at a Citizens Advice Research & Campaigns Forum in Bristol.  The event, focusing on using evidence to influence policy, brought together staff and volunteers from across Wales, South West England and from head office.  We were impressed with how Citizens Advice makes evidence relevant to the whole organisation, supporting volunteers who work with clients on a daily basis to help collect valuable data which is then used to influence policy.  We asked Clare Bull, Senior Campaigns Officer at Citizens Advice, to tell us more about the organisation’s approach to data and evidence.

Citizens Advice provides free, confidential, impartial advice to help people overcome their problems. In 2016/17 we helped 2.7 million people face to face, over the phone and on web chat with thousands of issues from housing and employment to consumer rights. But what happens afterwards?

What do we do with all the data we collect on the problems that people face?

While our advice helps people to find a way forward, our advocacy work helps tackle the root causes of these issues.

To do this we collect data about the people we help and the advice that they need. You can find a lot of this data publicly available in our advice trends dashboards. This data is used by national, regional and local government as well as other organisations interested in social policy.

Using our data to inform and influence

As well as publishing the dashboards we regularly meet with civil servants, Ministers and MPs to share what we know about the impact of policies and our recommendations for how we can reduce detriment for our clients. We are unique in that we can do this as a national organisation, but importantly we can also do this on a local level.

Our network of around 300 local offices share their own data with local authorities, regional government and their local MPs. They are uniquely placed to spot trends in data, and extract qualitative information – such as client stories – about the impact of policy on constituents. In the last 12 months local Citizens Advice have run local campaigns on issues such as council tax debt collection and energy efficiency in the private rented sector, as well as meeting with local benefits delivery centres to improve practice.

Making sure we continue to have impact

My role at Citizens Advice is to support local Citizens Advice with their own campaigns. I offer training and workshops, and provide materials and guides that might be useful. Crucially, I make sure that the vital work of our local offices is always central to our national policy and campaigning work.

One of the challenges of being a large organisation is making sure that each local Citizens Advice knows what’s happening to the data they collect and to communicate the policy change it helps us achieve. It’s critical that all staff and volunteers understand the value of the data they collect each day to make sure we continue to have impact. Last year alone it helped us:

● Reduce waiting time for claimants of Universal Credit from 6 to 5 weeks
● Secure a free helpline for Universal Credit Claimants
● Work towards getting rid of letting agent fees
● Ensure refunds for broadband outages
● Introduce a new redress scheme for renters
● Ensure better consumer protections for people in care homes
● Introduce a monthly bill cap for mobile customers.

As a huge network we come together twice a year to talk about our evidence, why we are collecting it, and how we are using it to improve the lives of the people we advise. Each time we meet I am reminded of the dogged determination and passion of our staff and volunteers to make sure that we don’t only offer advice, but that we make sure we always share our data in a way that delivers results for our clients.

Have you been able to make evidence relevant to your whole organisation, from head office to volunteers?  We would love to hear about your experiences,  please contact us at alliance.4usefulevidence@nesta.org.uk.

Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence.