LawWorks Clinics Network InfoExchange on Data Collection: challenges and opportunities

The September LawWorks Clinics InfoExchange brought together clinic co-ordinators to examine and learn about the challenges and opportunities presented by data collection. The discussion covered how LawWorks collects and shares data, how to collect data from remote clinics, supporting clinics to collect equalities and demographic information, and how clinics can participate in outcomes monitoring.

Data collection for 2020 will no doubt be affected by the impact of Covid-19, and the switch to remote service provision will bring challenges to collecting data for many clinics. This InfoExchange provided an opportunity for clinic coordinators to share what they believe are the main challenges of data collection from this period, and to hear about how LawWorks can support clinics to gather and make use of data.

James Sandbach, LawWorks' Director of Policy and External Affairs, introduced the topic by giving an overview of the data collected by LawWorks from two surveys that are sent to clinics and coordinators each year. The data gathered has a variety of uses; from developing an evidence base for clinics and access to justice, through to being used in policy submissions and published in the annual Clinics Network Report. Data collection is an evolving process and James explained how LawWorks has moved to a process of collecting statistics annually in January, using fewer questions and data points. To support clinics with their data collection LawWorks have made available a monitoring spreadsheet template and template diversity form on the LawWorks website that can be downloaded and used by clinics. 

LawWorks is keen to get feedback on ways in which we can improve our data collection process, particularly in the light of Covid-19. LawWorks sends out two surveys each year, the first being a survey to collect statistical data from the clinic, and the second is a survey for coordinators that collects qualitative and quantitative data. LawWorks is keen to increase the response rate of both of these surveys, and coordinators are asked to consider if they would prefer it if the two surveys were combined into one. 

Throughout the coronavirus period it is clear that there are new challenges arising when it comes to data collection. The starting point for gathering and analysing data from this period will be to look at what data is available, followed up with a gap analysis to highlight areas where more data is needed. A key area for further consideration and discussion is information about equalities and demographic data. It is acknowledged that this can be a sensitive area to get information on. The 2019 LawWorks Clinics Network survey results had gaps in this data and LawWorks is actively seeking ideas from clinics to identify the barriers to collecting this information and how they could be overcome.

The final focus of this presentation moved on to outcomes monitoring and looked at the LawWorks Better Information Project, which ran from 2016 - 2018. LawWorks is looking to run another, similar project and would welcome clinic coordinators' input and involvement.

Shiva Riahi, Head of Projects at UCL Centre for Access to Justice, gave a presentation about data collection, looking at the different types of data collected at four stages of the client journey.

Shiva highlighted that it is important to be mindful of GDPR when collecting data, however, it should not be seen as a barrier to collecting data, but rather an opportunity to understand what is being collected, why it is wanted and how it is to be stored. Using the practices at the Integrated Legal Advice Clinic at UCL as an example, Shiva explained that they limit where data is stored by using Advice Pro and hold certain information in a dedicated spreadsheet. Obtaining client consent to hold their data is a two step process; at initial enquiry and intake stages. Shiva explained that data collection is important as it helps to:

  • Understand the service users and the community it covers.
  • Monitor for trends
  • Understand the effect of the service
  • Plan for the future

The presentation finished with Shiva sharing some findings from research that she recently conducted across law school clinics. The responses indicated that many clinics don’t measure impact, citing a lack of time and capacity as barriers. Shiva also explored definitions of impact measurement, which can be thought of as ‘the difference that an organisation makes’ although it is worth noting that the definition of social impact is a contested concept in academia. When gathering information on outcomes Shiva stressed that it is useful to reflect on what the organisation is trying to achieve and to develop a strategic approach to data collection.

James Sandbach concluded the session by encouraging clinics to get in contact and share feedback and suggestions about how LawWorks could help them make data collection easier.




Type of Resource

Date of publication

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Date last reviewed

Thursday, September 10, 2020