by Ben Atchison, Data4Good
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) opened their doors in 1970 in Redfern as the first Aboriginal Legal Service in Australia and the first free legal assistance service in Australia. Today, the ALS is made up of over 230 staff across 24 offices throughout NSW and ACT.
ALS is a proud Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, with its limited resources primarily dedicated to providing legal services to the Aboriginal community. Additionally, ALS has a strong focus on policy and law reform work, ensuring that Aboriginal voices are heard and respected when it comes to laws and government policies that impact Aboriginal communities.
An important part of this advocacy work is to use the data gathered from ALS’ experience to highlight outliers and trends of concern. For example, are some police command areas using stop & search powers more than others; are minor offences being directed to diversion programs rather than resulting in charges; are indigenous people more likely to be refused bail for certain offences?
In order to analyse these and other questions, it is important that the data captured in ALS’ systems is as accurate as possible to ensure confidence in any conclusions reached. Anecdotally it was known that there were gaps in offence data recorded, and that incorrect categories are applied, largely due to time poor staff being responsible for the data capture and entry. What was not well understood was how big an issue this was and how best to emphasise to front-line staff the importance of capturing this data as accurately as possible for subsequent use.
Data4Good (D4G) and ALS worked together to determine a two-pronged approach to the issue:
1. Profile the data
The team methodically worked through key data sets such as Clients, Contacts and Matters to build up a profile of the current data held in the system. This data was broken down by attributes including Gender, Estimated Age, Disability Status, Priority Client Status, Service Type, Service Postcode and Outcome, allowing multiple views of the data to identify and target data quality gaps of concern.
In some instances, changes to the data capture process and IT system are required and in others education of particular users is of benefit.
2. Visualise and explore
Utilising the data profiling work, ALS was able to define data quality metrics to show monthly incoming data and how it is tracking against expectation.
D4G built a Power BI dashboard to visualise the profile and quality of data across Civil, Criminal and Family Law matters. This visual and interactive dashboard encourages users to become familiar with the baseline of what ‘normal’ looks like and to explore and question why data may vary across office locations.
ALS now has the ability to proactively manage incoming data quality. With metrics broken down by office location, ALS is able to actively support specific staff who may not be familiar with the meaning or importance of data requiring accurate capture.
ALS has a visual overview of data quality, allowing a wider audience to understand the main data themes and whether data capture is improving. This has already been used to clean up existing data and tighten the data collection process.
ALS is better able to build familiarity and confidence in what the numbers should be based on past trends and incoming data.
As a result of these efforts, ALS is better placed to use its data to support the important advocacy work done with respect to laws and government policies affecting Aboriginal communities.
“A big thank you to Ben Atchison, Varun Lele and Valdis Strazds for volunteering their expertise and time, and to ALS’ Trent Shepherd and Suzanne Slegers for their guidance and allowing Data4Good to be involved.”
– the Data4Good team
“The Aboriginal Legal Service has been providing legal services to the communities of NSW and ACT for 50 years in 2021. In 2019 the service began a project to update and centralise the data collection and management to create an organisational wide standard. The project goals are to ensure we meet our legal and funding obligations. Having control and knowledge of the data allows the ALS to understand how we are operating, plan for future needs and meeting contractual funding obligations. With the assistance of Data4Good we were able to audit our current data quality, identifying pain areas and how we can improve. From there, working together as a team we were able to develop data quality dashboards so we can monitor data in real time across our offices and practice areas. These dashboards will allow us to identify issues and organisational training requirements for the organisation into the future. Data4Good and their team, went above and beyond anything we expected and we are grateful for their assistance.”
– Trent Shepherd, Data Manager, ALS (NSW/ACT) Ltd.
About the Author
Ben Atchison | Linkedin
Program Manager | Delivery Lead | Data and Analytics Professional
Ben is a Delivery Lead at Altis Consulting and brings integrity to matching services with client needs and overseeing the successful delivery of projects. With 20 years of experience in the data industry, he specialises in agile project delivery, information strategy and roadmaps, data modelling and visualisation. Ben really enjoys understanding and enabling the use of data to create tangible outcomes and benefits for the people and organisations he works with.