Data tells the stories that we just can’t see

For the last ten months, I’ve been coordinating, on a part-time basis, a program that provides advocacy services, for seniors. I also do a bit of the advocacy work, myself. The program operates out of a vibrant local community centre and serves seniors in five municipalities, including Victoria and Saanich.

(Aside – as a veteran mediator, I find many overlaps between advoocacy and mediation; active listening, problem solving, assessing options, being intentional – doing no harm!)

When I started with the program, I certainly knew the diverse types of issues faced by seniors; “I can’t afford to stay in this place because my rent is going up”,  “Where can I get low-cost dental work done?”, “I need help dealing with the local health authority”, “Is there a government subsidy for …”, etc. Yet, there are some things I didn’t know, hadn’t previously articulated, and that the program has revealed to me.

Data patterns

The program sees experienced volunteer advocates interacting with clients (seniors). From these client interactions, services are provided, and a range of data points are collected.

As the data piles up, and are synthesized, patterns emerge; many of the clients have multiple issues, the vast majority of the client’s challenges have a financial component (money rules our world), the “system” is a bear to deal with, gaps in social services for seniors (and others, for sure) are numerous,…

With the data analysis, one sees the forest, and not just the trees.

I was prompted to write a bit about my recent advocacy experiences, after watching this COVID-related 1.3 minute video clip; data analysis at a whole different level:

How to build on the data we collect?

Once the data patterns become visible, then what?  What should the responsible service agency do? Here are three strategies I adhere to. These strategies can be adapated to many different scenarios:

  1. Seek to fill in the gaps. This mostly applies at the organization level, yet its all about expanding the continuum of options and choices. Apply The Law of Requisite Variety (aka, Ashby’s Law, the first law of cybernetics – I’ve been a fan of cybernetics, for decades). It posits that in complex systems (e.g., your typical social service system), for that system to function properly, healthily, the variety of supply (e.g., housing options) must be as great as the variety of demand (“what can I get for $1200/month?”).
  2. Build bridges. There are way-too-many public bodies, private service deliverers, and nonprofit service agencies, for one elderly woman in her 80’s, living alone, on a marginal fixed income, and without any family support, to process on her own. To effect better service delivery on a large scale, smart collaboration is needed, between organizations, between practitioners (e.g., community of practice), and last but not least between practitioner and client.
  3. Tell a story that shows the way. Stories change us. Connect the data dots in ways that communicate, and motivate, constructive actions and “positive” outcomes. We can all do this. Choose your narrative. From the Prime Minister on down.

Stay well, everyone.

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