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Data is King

photo of Trevor McGlincheyTrevor McGlinchey, Executive Officer
New Zealand  Council of  Christian Social Services (NZCCSS)

The need for government funded social services providers to have effective data collection methods has never been stronger.  Government contracted organisations must demonstrate they are recruiting the ‘right’ clients, delivering the ‘right’ services and achieving the ‘desired outcomes’ or risk losing their funding to organisations with better client data collection and outcome reporting systems.

The Government’s “social investment model” is gaining pace.  Late last year Government hosted the second in in series of hui at parliament. This hui, “Hui Tatauranga, Unleashing the power of data for good” brought together government agencies including The Treasury and Statistics New Zealand, iwi, NGOs, and data systems developers to discuss how data can be used to identify those who are most in need of support.  Those for whom successful early intervention could result in significant future savings for government.  The papers and presentations from this meeting can be found here:

More recently Treasury has released the Characteristics of Children at Risk, where children’s likelihood of “poor future outcomes” has been categorised against four indicators, indicators which are directly linked to the Government’s Better Public Service Targets.  These are

  • Indicator 1 – Having a finding of abuse or neglect
  • Indicator 2 – Being mostly supported by benefits since birth
  • Indicator 3 – Having a parent with a prison or community sentence
  • Indicator 4 – Having a mother with no formal qualifications

The data used to identify the level of risks (and potential government costs) associated with a child who has one or multiple risk indicators is detailed through a series of infographics available here:  There is also an interactive website page where the data is regionalised, and broken down into actual numbers and proportions of children at risk. In this way risk factors, regions and numbers of children including demographic information such as boy, girl, Māori, Pasifika, other can be explored.  This information will inform future thinking about what services are needed where and for whom. You should check this out here;

This data is developed through analysis of multiple data sets held by government.  Data such as benefit access, educational achievement, arrest and sentencing records, and Child Youth and Family information.  While this is big data – anonymised and protected prior to being released to the public – the implications for the protection of peoples’ private information has never been greater.  The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) has been, along with others, calling for a review of New Zealand’s Privacy Laws. See the “NZCCSS Says No to AISA” article in the March 2015 edition of Kete Kupu.   It’s good to see this looks like this has been heard with Bill English stating “… Government will have a conversation with the New Zealand public about the acceptable use of your sensitive information” in his recent address to the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand.

The use of data in this way is of course somewhat problematic. Even The Treasury places caveats on its use noting, “Although these four indicators are associated with poor future outcomes, they may not cause the poor outcomes directly. Instead they may be linked to other things that lead to poor outcomes”.  NZCCSS suggests that another set of indicators could just as easily be used, a set of indicators which would more likely the address the core causes of poor future outcomes than the current set of indicators.  These could include:

  • Having a low income – whether on a benefit or in employment
  • Living in a cold, damp mouldy and/or overcrowded home
  • Going to a low-decile school which does not have sufficient resources to meet your educational needs
  • Having parents with unmet health needs such as mental health and addiction issues

These kinds of indicators would create the need for set of outcomes which meant all New Zealanders were treated as valuable.  Where income whether from employment or benefits was sufficient for people to feel included in the mainstream of society; where there were sufficient, affordable, high quality homes; where low decile schools where highly funded and supported to create a real difference in their students’ learning; and, where the health needs of all New Zealanders were addressed.

This article will be further released in the February 2016 edition of Kete Kupu.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/