Kirsty Marrins: Can a dashboard regain public trust for charities?

Our columnist is keeping a keen eye on Street League's dashboard, a public interactive tool that shows exactly how the charity is doing, good and bad

Kirsty Marrins
Kirsty Marrins

Street League, the UK’s leading sport for employment charity, recently launched its Impact Dashboard to lots of praise and PR from the sector. It’s a public, interactive tool using a live dataset from the past 12 months, which is updated monthly and shows exactly how the charity is doing. As a digital trustee myself, I was intrigued to go beyond the bells and whistles and dig a little deeper, so I spoke to Street League’s chief executive, Matt Stevenson-Dodd, to find out more about how this tool came about, what its purpose is and what’s next.

When I look at the Impact Dashboard itself, I don’t think of "innovation". Dashboards are fairly easy to set up with a little technical know-how. But the Impact Dashboard is indeed innovative because it’s taken seven years for the charity to get to this stage. The first thing you need to know is which data you’re collecting and why, then ensure it’s accurate. Since 2016, the charity has lived by their three golden rules:

  • We will never over-claim what we do.
  • All percentages are backed up by absolute numbers.
  • All outcomes are backed up by auditable evidence.

This dashboard is risky because it’s not about just showing the impact that the charity is making, but also shows when it hasn’t been able to help young people into employment. Not many charities would highlight what could be perceived as a failure.

The Impact Dashboard came about during a board meeting when Stevenson-Dodd and the trustees debated whether the next annual report should talk about only the good outcomes or should include what they hadn’t been able to achieve. It was felt that true transparency was about showing the good and the bad, and not only once a year in a report.

Before embarking on building the dashboard, the charity spoke with its funders to get their feedback. The support was overwhelmingly positive, and funders welcomed the initiative. Clara Govier, head of charities at the People’s Postcode Lottery, says: "We are very supportive of Street League’s innovation in impact reporting. As a funder it is really helpful to be able to see in this level of detail how a charity is progressing throughout the year. Being able to interact with the data and ask our own questions is also a benefit and could help to increase engagement with our players and internally with staff."

As Stevenson-Dodd explains: "Although we’ve been on this journey for seven years, we stepped it up after the closure of Kids Company and the death of Olive Cooke. We knew that public trust in charities was at an all-time low and we needed to play our part in helping to regain that trust. Storytelling is key, but we felt that we needed to start backing up our stories with hard data. We didn’t just want to tell the stories of a handful of young people we have helped, but all of them. This data paints a picture and tells a holistic story."

Rather than just ticking a box when young people go into a job, Street League now looks at other factors such as postcodes, whether these young people are carers, whether they have dependency on alcohol or drugs, and if they stayed in a job for more than six months. All of this not only paints a picture but is helping the charity to spot trends so that it can identify those who might need additional support.

So how has the Impact Dashboard been received?

"Internally, it’s helped to ensure that data is fed into the database on time, that it’s accurate and that it’s started conversations around data and how it can help us achieve our goals," Stevenson-Dodd says. "Externally, we have seen a wave of support from the sector and beyond. In fact, 210 organisations showed their support on Twitter, which was affirmation that this is needed and wanted. Our aim was to start a conversation about transparency in the sector and help build public trust in charities."

In just over one week, the dashboard had 2,279 unique views and almost four minutes spent on the page, which is almost triple the average for its site.

I’m the kind of person that shares my knowledge and helps to upskill people, so I was keen to hear whether Street League was doing anything, practically, to help other organisations understand their data and report it accurately. I was pleased to hear that it had recently held a round-table event with 25 charity chief executives and industry experts to engage on the topic of creating a unified set of impact measurement principles. Not only that, it is taking its golden rules and modifying them primarily for the youth sector. The charity has also published its impact journey, created a video of the Three Golden Rules and will be publishing a roadmap.

In terms of the dashboard itself, Stevenson-Dodd explains that it’s built on Microsoft Power BI, which is part of its Office 365 package, and is powered by an Excel document. It was built in-house – through watching many YouTube tutorial videos – and the additional licences cost less than £300 a year. As a dashboard, it’s totally achievable for any charity to create. What’s complex is the data itself.

Stevenson-Dodd is excited to see what the sector does with the tools that Street League has made public and the conversations it has started. I share his excitement and I’ll be keeping an eye out to see what’s next. Charities absolutely need to be more transparent, and technology can help us build public trust.

Kirsty Marrins is a digital communications consultant and a trustee of the Small Charities Coalition

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