The National Council of Social Service (NCSS), a Singapore government statutory board responsible for about 400 Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) highlighted the importance of leveraging data to produce powerful insights that can help social policy makers and practitioners improve social services.
NCSS and its manpower development arm, the Social Service Institute, gathered 400 social policy practitioners from 80 member VWOs last week to discuss practical frameworks, methodologies and tools that collect, manage and analyse data.
NCSS believes that its member VWOs can employ data meaningfully to identify emerging and unmet social needs, and design or improve social service programmes.
Using The School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) project as an example, NCSS showed how data can be mined and analysed to optimise fund and benefit needy families.
SPMF is a charity that provides school pocket money to children and youth from low-income families. For SPMF to extend assistance to clients effectively, its fund disbursement policies and eligibility criteria are jointly reviewed by NCSS and SPMF regularly.
1. Keeping social initiatives current
NCSS monitors trends in the community through surveys to ensure SPMF remains current and relevant. In 2013, NCSS conducted a survey with schools to better understand the after-school activities and the patterns of expenses of students.
The survey findings were revealing - compared to 2009, students stayed back in schools on more days and longer, and hence, spent more on food and transport.
NCSS subsequently increased the monthly quantum assistance accordingly to dispense more pocket money to the students and their families. Secondary school students now receive $90 every month, an almost two-fold jump from $50 in 2000. The amount of pocket money given to needy students monthly has been steadily increasing over the years to keep pace with the rising cost of living and basic needs.
2. Monitor impact of social projects
In addition, NCSS analyses data from SPMF’s disbursing agencies to track how the fund is helping the clients. NCSS uses the electronic Case Management System it developed to draw aggregate information on clients. NCSS uses the demographic, educational and financial information of beneficiaries and their families to gain insights on the profile, risks and needs of low-income families with school going children and youth.
Safeguards are put in place to ensure client confidentiality and the NCSS can only draw on aggregate information for decision-making, analyses, planning and projections.
“VWOs should capitalise on advances in technology and use smart data tools to synthesise and make sense of the deluge of information that they have access to. Such tools can help uncover connections and reveal patterns that can help solve a social problem, meet a social need or even spark a transformative innovation that can improve the lives of vulnerable populations,” urges Tina Hung (pictured), NCSS’s Deputy CEO and Group Director for Service Planning and Development.
3. Effective reporting of social impact
The use of data can also effectively communicate social services’ impact to funders and donors. Communicating social impact is important as funders and donors are increasingly seeking assurance that their contributions are put to worthy and effective uses.
NCSS published the first impact report for the Tote Board Social Service Fund (TBSSF) this year where the social impact of the Fund achieved between Financial Year (FY) 2010 and FY2012 is clearly articulated.
In the three years, the Tote Board injected $160.3 million in 1,127 social service programmes and new initiatives, including research and pilot projects across four key sectors: families in need, children and youth, persons with disabilities and eldercare, to benefit over 285,000 individuals and families.
The impact report revealed that funds amounting to a total of $39.4 million by TBSSF in FY2010 increased to $64.8 million in FY2012. The increase of 65% in funding resulted in an additional 121 social service programmes receiving support from TBSSF, and a total of 104,000 individuals benefiting from the funded programmes in FY2012.
In part due to the unequivocal demonstration of the social outcomes, the Tote Board has pledged $301.9 million to TBSSF for FY2013 to FY2015, the largest amount NCSS has received from them this far.