Friday 10 March 2017

Hearts and minds

Blogging on work time cos this is work. Because I write to work out what I think and this is work thinking. (Well 5 minutes of it but...)

So I've been tasked with two things. One, provide a management dashboard which provides two level of analysis, top level easy to consume and something a bit more granular but nevertheless useful.

Yep, non data nerds, exit over there ->.

Rest of you. Hi. This is sort of a week notes thing, which I said I'd do a bit ago and didn't but also some thinking out loud.

I work for a mental health charity in Lancashire. Across 5 main sites and quite a few satellite sites which constitute a 6th, essentially, we provide two main arms of service and thus two main sources of data. We have Women at Risk - the criminal justice work with offenders, ex-offenders and low level offenders, then we have the IAPT provision side of things. Both focus on mental health, with a healthy side order of employment, housing, health, advocacy etc support.

We currently work only with women. A big focus of our work is how gender swerves the delivery, care, approach and attitude where it intersects with mental health, health and the criminal justice system. This is why I work there. I believe in what we do very much.

Because of this belief, data isn't just data to me. When I was dealing with bin rounds and other environmental stuff at Blackburn Council, I have to admit that I did sometimes lose sight of the fact there were actual people behind the house numbers. But at 55,000 addresses and counting, there are only so many stories you can tell about a missed bin or an unfilled grit bin. This is different.

There is a sense inside me that I owe something to each of the women we help to tell their story somehow, in numbers even if not in words. We couldn't actually tell 3000 stories, for a start, peoples attention would have wandered, and so this is why numbers are useful - they allow us to comprehend difficult and large without needing a tea break every 5 minutes.

So that's the why.

How. How do you rig a management dashboard which reminds everyone reading it what we are doing and why?

Weirdly, I am coming to understand that language matters. So, what do we want to tell people. Recovery rates, well that's useful - it's a key indicator of our effectiveness for heavens sake. Except under a heading of Recovery rates, I see x percentage of people entered our service at y level of depression or anxiety and exited at z level and what it does it tell me?

It's just some numbers. So is it that in the same way we accidentally other people by the language we use (and this is a fantastic blog post on the affect language can have on people, it is not an imaginary thing) perhaps we accidentally reduce people to nothing more than numbers by the language we use. So instead of Recovery rates - people who got back on their feet. People we helped feel better. People we got back into the world. People who regained themselves. All the same thing, all the same actual numbers but the terminology is so much more...positive, somehow.

So that's my proposal for the management dashboard which is going in front of Ops and our CEX. To be human, to make the numbers human, to be different in the way we refer to people than our partnerships, because we are different in the way we are with our clients than our partnerships are - through necessity, or through freedom.

The next thing I need to think about is visualising this data, as my boss wants something 'interesting' to go in front of the Board.

So I got to thinking - the one member of the Board I've met, she got the people thing. She said she loved to hear about the successes, that what we achieve and how we achieve it is phenomenal - and I don't disagree. But how do I show her, and the other members of the board how phenomenal our team actually is?

Again, I feel like the key to this is language, but also pictorial. That somehow there must be a way to represent who we are as an organisation, a culture which frankly if we could bottle it, we'd make millions from - I mean we're so start up it hurts and we're not even a start up for heavens sake...

Perhaps that's the thing. In refusing to be just like everyone else in the way we do our business, in the way we conduct ourselves, loudly and proudly different but screamingly effective - perhaps that's the key to explaining what we've achieved and how we've achieved it?

So what would a start up do? Start from nothing. No assumptions. No 'we've always done it this way'. No 'should', or 'can't'. Just... an empty A3 piece of paper with no expectations and no preconceptions.

When I come back from leave next week this is what I am going to do. Sit with the figures and the numbers, the achievements and the stories, and a blank piece of A3 people and just doodle. Be creative. Permit myself to not be a numbers person, just for a second, and indulge the bit of me that creates knitting patterns, that draws and colours and spins and photographs and stares entranced at rain falling through the light of a lamppost.

Data analysts are normally binary. I am not. Time to use that, and think differently and embrace the differently.

(If anyone wants to share their dashboards or Board presentations with me, I'd super love that - but can you do it in a fortnight when I've yanked all the crazy ideas out of my head first? I don't want to be influenced by anyone else, just for a bit. And I will of course be back processing this the entirety of next week while having fun relaxing in warm waster and turning into a prune, because that is just how I roll)

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