By helping to implement new data systems and designing a centralised data repository, we are driving innovation to strengthen the sector well into the future.
One of our greatest strengths is the diversity of the services offered by Victoria’s 47 Community Legal Centres – but this also poses a challenge. Even basic demographic information or service details can be reported in a multitude of ways, and many existing case management systems no longer meet the needs of Community Legal Centres.
In 2021, the Federation took significant steps to help our Community Legal Centre Members improve their systems for collecting and using client and case information. We know how important access to detailed data can be. That’s why we’re developing strategies for using data more effectively within the Victorian community legal sector.
Data in the community legal sector
Community Legal Centres rely on data for many things, including supporting evidence-based advocacy and service design, reporting compliance, and securing funding to meet service demand. But with the breadth, depth, and complexity of the services that centres provide, data can be difficult to collect. Client and case data is confidential, and must be de-identified before it can be shared outside a centre. Additionally, different funding providers ask for different reporting fields and metrics.
Many case management systems currently in place at Community Legal Centres no longer keep pace with the evolving nature of data use and digital technologies. Different systems also collect information in different ways, and it has not been feasible to customise data and drill down easily into areas of interest for the whole sector.
At the Federation, our approach to addressing these issues includes two objectives: improving data capacity within Community Legal Centres by helping staff to collect and use data, and introducing better systems and supporting their implementation by designing a model to collect sector-wide data. These projects will empower both individual and collective advocacy, improve information and knowledge-sharing, and provide pathways for future innovation across Community Legal Centres.
Modernising community legal practice systems
Community Legal Centres have always been at the forefront of innovation when it comes to meeting the needs of the people seeking help. To do this work effectively, systems and processes can be used that better enable and automate work. With funding from the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety, the Federation has developed a project to support over 20 Community Legal Centres to implement modern case management systems aligned with the national dataset.
Modern case management software generally provides a single, secure location for all information relating to a client’s case to:
- empower staff through automation and workflow tools
- enhance compliance by using standardised processes
- integrate with other technological tools.
The project supports participating centres either to implement a modern case management system for the first time, or to make changes to their existing systems so data can be added to the national dataset.
A centralised data repository
Community Legal Centres are incredibly effective collaborators. To enable greater visibility of our sector’s ongoing work and collective successes, we are designing a data model using modern business intelligence tools that will better help us share information.
Evidence is critical for our sector to best address present issues, and to plan for the future. A strong and consistently updated set of data will help Community Legal Centres to spot trends and emerging issues in their communities. The data collected from across the sector will, eventually, provide us with a big picture, state-wide view.
In April 2022, we confirmed that a centralised data repository would be viable and in 2023 we collaborated with data analysis and visualisation experts and the national peak, Community Legal Centres Australia, which is the custodian of the national dataset. Through this kind of repository, we will be able to identify both the most effective service interventions and the most entrenched legal problems in our communities. Just imagine how powerful this information will be in helping us to advocate for a fairer Victoria and to provide better, more targeted services to the community.