A confident, independent life: how data analytics can give a voice to people in the care system

Social care provider Manor Community has been running a project to use data analytics to improve the experience of people in care. Equalities lead Arnie King explains what the project involved – and what happens next

4th January 2022 about a 5 minute read

Manor Community is a medium-sized community provider in the Bristol area, with about 80 staff, offering rehabilitative care to people of working age with learning disabilities or complex mental health problems. We also run a care home for older people.

The programme run by the Health Foundation and Future Care Capital to look into how to strengthen data analytics to improve social care provided an ideal opportunity for us to investigate something we really cared about: what makes communities inaccessible to the people we support. About a third of those accessing care are people of working age, but commissioning to them isn’t as good as it is for other groups.

For our clients, the ability to lead a confident, independent life is very important, but they experience a number of barriers, some of which have increased during the pandemic. We know that digital technology has a role in helping people in the care system to be more connected, and that’s something we’ve been able to develop during the past 18 months when Covid has made people particularly isolated.

The pilot project we’ve run over the past year has looked at how machine learning and advanced analysis tools can strengthen the voices of the clients we support. We’ve spent the year surveying both the people who form our client base and those who care for them. There have been two elements to the process ­– working with clients to identify the most appropriate questions, and then creating and administering a survey that asked those questions.

Our partners in the project are Bristol City Council, Bristol Black Carers, CoProduce Care (a free platform that connects organisations and people in the care sector) and Logan Tod, a not-for-profit data analytics company.

Co-production is crucial

Originally we planned to go to people’s place of residence and carry out the survey in person, but the restrictions of the past year made that impossible, so we’ve used a combination of methods: sending out paper questionnaires to people’s homes and community centres, and making the survey available online. Some respondents complete the survey themselves, while others do it with the help of a carer. All survey responses are anonymous.

As well as collecting essential demographic information about respondents (eg how old they were, their ethnicity whether they lived at home or in residential care), we asked five open-ended questions about the care they received:

  • What could your care provider do to make you feel safer?
  • What would help you to do more things that you want to do,like sports or meeting new people?
  • What would help youchange anything about your care when you like?
  • What would make you feel more cared for?
  • What do you think the council should offer to make care better for you?

The aim of asking these open-ended questions was to test whether they were effective at eliciting the kind of information that would be useful more widely in researching what people in the care system felt would improve their quality of life. Initially, we hoped to complete the pilot by the autumn, but the pandemic slowed the process down a little. We are well on the way to achieving 300 responses by mid-January, however.

When we’ve been to city council meetings and talked about our work, we’ve found that the questions we’ve used are similar to the ones the council itself uses to gather feedback from communities, so that’s given us a lot of confidence that we’re on the right track.

Giving marginalised people a voice

We’ve already started to develop a blueprint of how the tools might be used based on initial findings. Co-production has been very important throughout this process: we’ve had a few dedicated co-production sessions, including interviews in care provider settings, to talk about how change might happen. We’ve also talked to the council about the danger signs they need to be alert to that will show they’re not serving certain groups particularly well.

By late January or February, we hope to have enough completed surveys to be able to carry out an equalities impact analysis, so that we can work out whether people’s views on how care could be improved differs according to variables such as gender, ethnicity and age. We also want to look at whether the survey tool works better for some demographic groups than others. If there are any groups that are under-represented, we will go back and find ways to bring in anyone who hasn’t been involved enough.

The next stage will be to write up the pilot and then think about how to scale up the tools so they can be replicated in different areas and with different groups. We hope to complete this in spring next year.

The project has given us a real chance to make a difference. This is all about making sure that marginalised people in the community have a voice, and enabling councils and care providers to hear those voices and provide services that are relevant to people throughout their lives.