Data research can give power to charitable organisations

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Data and results are essential in making sound social and public policy decisions, and so often we are limited to making important decisions based on hunches or anecdotes. The United Ways of New Brunswick are very excited by the implications of this week’s announcement of the partnership between the Government of New Brunswick and UNB’s NBIRDT.

The United Ways work with and invest in local charities who demonstrate measureable impact and progress towards community goals. This level of data and analysis is critical to organizational and program planning as well as delivering impact, but it lacks population level analysis and knowledge.

As a community, we are striving to achieve bold targets to address deeply entrenched social issues; without population level integrated data, we cannot really know if our efforts are amounting to the change we desire, or why they may not be working. Our citizens’ problems do not fit nicely into one box or department, yet that is how our data is currently organized.

NBIRDT provides the best of both worlds: protecting the private nature of data while maintaining the ability to connect data sets in order to help us understand what is working and what is not. This new partnership will enable us to match not only data from many different provincial government departments but also link to the wealth of data available via the federal government. It will help us better respond to people in need.

In true New Brunswick style, Living SJ has brought together community organizations, funders, academics, municipal, and provincial government employees to answer a question: how can we measure and track whether our collective work is having the impact we are trying to achieve?

Data is power. At a very local level, this could mean reaching out to citizens who use the emergency department for unmanaged diabetes 10 times a year and helping them get the proper medication, a meal plan they can afford, and help them join a walking group in their neighbourhood to prevent the next attack.

At a community level, we could analyze the services single parents access and determine which combination equips them best with the skills needed to successfully transition to meaningful work. We could then grow these programs and be intentional about the order in which they are delivered. We cannot analyze or measure this data now, but we will be able to answer similar questions in partnership with NBIRDT.

We owe it to every mother, child, and senior, every citizen to assess whether the supports and programs we offer are effective; to grow what works and stop what does not. This partnership is a pivotal step in having the data we need to make these important decisions.


Submitted by

Wendy MacDermott, United Way of Saint John, Kings, and Charlotte

Debbie McInnis, United Way of Greater Moncton, South Eastern New Brunswick

Jeff Richardson, United Way of Central New Brunswick


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