Client: Housing NSW (HNSW)
Services: Information systems architecture, consulting
Project value: $70,000
Housing NSW needed a simpler way to manage their data. They needed a collection approach that met their requirements, including meeting reporting obligations for multiple government authorities. At the same time, the approach had to be workable for community housing providers (CHPs) on the ground.
These drivers were part of a larger picture: a sector-wide shift towards more adaptable data reporting, using unit record data. The previous approach was to generate aggregate reports. It shifted the analysis burden to the CHPS, and limited the flexibility of analysis once the data had been collected. With aggregate reporting, for example, HNSW could report on:
- how many children were in community housing
- how many occupants were of non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB)
- what properties were providing long-term community housing
Where aggregate reporting falls short, however, is in responding to more detailed interrogation: for example, how many children from NESBs are in crisis accommodation?
As Government shifted towards attaching funding to individual consumers, rather than block funding to providers, HNSW knew they needed a better way of tracking services.
The status quo also caused logistical headaches for HNSW staff, with the potential for duplicated reporting. HNSW originally collected aggregate data for its own needs, which it also passed on to AIHW. However COAG (Council of Australian Governments) was now calling for AIHW to gather unit record data, to support more granular tracking and reporting.
As a result, HNSW had two options:
- Collect its own aggregate data and unit record data from CHPs (highly resource intensive), or
- Find a way of satisfying its own requirements and those of AIHW with the one collection
Our task was to help HNSW find a way of streamlining the reporting by answering the question: could the one dataset serve two purposes, and could CHPs implement this new unified approach?
We’d already worked directly with AIHW to explore the value in moving to national consistent unit record data collection, so we brought that experience to bear on the problem.
The Community Housing Providers were on the front line of collecting data, so improving data quality at the source would bring major positive change. First, though, we needed to get the CHPs on board.
The complexity of the CHP sector posed a challenge. Some CHPs managed thousands of properties and used their own sophisticated tenancy and property management systems. Other CHPSs were local charities staffed mainly by volunteers, and only managed a few properties. We needed an approach that could work at both ends of the spectrum.
We managed the sector’s diversity with a two-tiered engagement plan:
1) For the larger CHPs, we conducted a sample of on-site interviews, targeted through advice from HNSW
2) For the remainder, we conducted phone interviews, supported by an online survey.
We also contacted major technology service providers for the sector to find out what processes their systems would support.
Turning to the data itself, we reverse-engineered the aggregate data to determine: could one collection serve two purposes? Could the AIHW’s unit record data collection also yield the required aggregate reporting that HNSW needed?
Out of our research, we demonstrated that one unit record data collection could meet all HNSW’s reporting obligations. A ‘collect once, use many times’ model was viable.
We demonstrated that, with the right systems and standards, CHPs could provide valid, quality data instantly, and in return receive ranked performance and sector metrics within hours or days. Providers could give more detailed accounts of who needed their services, and gain a more flexible way to acquit funds for the help that they gave.
We also demonstrated that data extraction could be done with minimal effort. Authorised administrators could extract data remotely and securely, easing the administration burden on smaller CHPs.
However, our work also surfaced some basic shortcomings of definitions. Most importantly, defining ‘which organisations are considered community housing providers’, and ‘what types of housing services do they provide?’ Answering these questions was necessary before any more advanced data collection methods could be implemented with confidence.
On the strength of our work for HNSW, we were engaged to consult to the National Regulatory System for Community Housing (NRSCH). The NRSCH also took the HNSW experience as the foundation for introducing registration categories to the community housing sector across Australia, for more structured and transparent reporting.