You’ve heard it said numerous times before and so have I, that one of the key strengths of the VCS is it supports people within communities and in doing so understands their requirements and is able to describe gaps in provision or priority activities which need to be undertaken. This role of the VCS and the collection of intelligence from the community is mostly taken as a given, and so you would have thought commissioners would be lined up outside VCOs in an orderly queue waiting to devour this information and feed it through the commissioning cycle. However, they are not, so we must conclude that the information is being used in a limited way or not being used at all.
The collection of this intelligence is often done routinely by VCS organisations either as part of contractual obligations, on a voluntary basis to focus activities, or influence their offer to the public, and as a by-product of working with people on a daily basis. Organisations such as MVDA also have regular discussions with VCOs about a wide range of issues which ultimately contribute to our understanding of support services in Middlesbrough. So …… how do we then make better use of this intelligence?
What is Community Intelligence?
MVDA has been conducting a self-directed piece of work in an attempt to better understand what information local VCOs collect, the methods of data/information collection, what this information is used for and whether this currently influences commissioning decisions.
There is no official definition for community intelligence and is a local term. Here at MVDA we use a simplified description of community intelligence -
Data + information + analysis = (community) intelligence
This is: data (statistics and other numerical evidence) + information (which includes reviews, evaluations and case studies etc.) + analysis (applying reasoning and critical thinking to inform hypothesis and proposed actions).
Commissioning for real outcomes
MVDA has worked with its commissioning partners over recent years to ensure that the commissioning process (or cycle as it is known) results in real outcomes being achieved for the people of Middlesbrough. Both Middlesbrough Council and MVDA believe that the input of the VCS into the commissioning cycle is important and that VCOs are in a unique position to add essential community intelligence to the understanding of needs. Indeed the Commissioning Team from Middlesbrough Council is due to meet up with MVDA staff to review and re-draft local framework for voluntary and community sector engagement in commissioning. To support this review we at MVDA would like to identify what practice around information gathering is taking place within VCOs and, to consider how MVDA can usefully use this intelligence (community intelligence) so that it contributes to commissioning in a meaningful way.
The purpose of this two fold approach (working with commissions and VCOs) will contribute to MVDA’s understanding of the wider commissioning roles of statutory agencies and work with them to provide community intelligence in an accessible and useable form. It is also important to note that the main vehicle for Commissioning in Middlesbrough - the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) - is currently undergoing a review led by Middlesbrough Council.
What do we know now?
We know that local VCOs collect a range of information about those who use their services or support. VCOs may also hold anecdotal evidence or intelligence about either their own services or services in general. This will not form part of any official statistics but will be part of the overall intelligence which a VCO will use to influence the targeting of resources and/or services.
MVDA itself collects intelligence and in the past, it has used case studies to describe how it impacts upon services and individuals within Middlesbrough. It also has a wider role being the main infrastructure organisation and has the role of influencing changes in policies and to improve services through partnership and representation of the VCS. In this role MVDA is informed of anecdotal evidence from organisations through various formal and informal channels.
The roles of VCOs and MVDA are interrelated as one informs the other, for example, MVDA can facilitate VCOs input into the JSNA and can use data collected by itself to roll out good practice. It can pick up on insights and themes which can be used as intelligence and can support better connectivity both internally and externally.
So …..where do we go from here?
We at MVDA would like to improve the quality of information being provided for commissioning by emphasising the importance of community intelligence. It will also be a vital role to reach the most isolated/disconnected groups and connect these groups into the process. MVDA therefore needs to understand how to collect this intelligence, what platforms or databases it can use and how it can bring this intelligence together with its own intelligence collection. We can also help organisations to work together to share common data and how to use this intelligence to facilitate change.
The time appears right to widen this work to the whole of the VCS with the current review of the JSNA and the continued importance of the commissioning cycle. The information which VCOs collect needs to influence commissioning decisions and can potentially highlight where resources need to be targeted towards either the VCS in general or specific voluntary sector organisations.
When JSNA’s were first introduced some ten years ago MVDA considered their meaning for the VCS and organisations such as My Sisters Place began to work with the Public Health Department to provide information on domestic violence. This proved very successful for highlighting both the issue and those VCOs working in this field. We would now like to expand this and need your input to help us develop an understanding of what community intelligence we could gather from VCOs, to inform better understanding of the needs of your users and communities.
Help us understand what we could gather with this short survey
We would be grateful if you could take a few moments to complete the following short survey. It maybe that you do not consider your information relevant or important, but it is specifically this grassroots information which holds the richness of what communities require and which needs to be analysed.
In February 2007 Craig joined the Planning & Partnership team with a focus on Health & Social Care. He left MVDA in 2010 and re-joined us in August 2014 as Strategic Development Officer. He is currently acting as the partnership manager for both the Middlesbrough Carers Partnership and Middlesbrough Mental Health Partnership as well as leading MVDA’s work around VCS intelligence and supporting the Health and Wellbeing VCS Forum.