Edmonton-based Bissell Centre uses data and analytics to help eliminate poverty in the community

Bissell Centre, an Edmonton-based social agency that offers services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness, is using analytics to understand its clients.

The centre offers more than 20 programs to try and tackle poverty problems within communities, said Maria Savidov, manager, analysis & evaluation. 

“[We offer] anything from housing programs or employment programs, we’ve got a child care program, family support programs for folks with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, just lots and lots of different facets and types of services,” Savidov said.

The centre has been using data to help eliminate poverty in the community in a variety of different ways. It uses analytic findings and communicates it to its leadership. This ensures that the evidence it presents can help pivot and improve programs.

According to Jakob Koziel, senior research analyst, some of the data is used to help “amplify voices of our programs to external stakeholders.”

“So by amplifying voices, what I mean is essentially providing evidence that looks at the impacts of Bissell programming on participants and community members…certain audiences, especially funders and government stakeholders, they really speak in data.”

The data is also used to track and evaluate program participants’ experiences of poverty, Koziel added. 

The primary measurement tool that Bissell Centre uses is the Self Sufficiency Matrix, which the centre has been using since July of 2019. It’s been adapted from LifeWorks and modified to fit the centre’s needs, Koziel said.

“We measure participants in self sufficiency in six different domains: housing, employment, financial wellbeing, support network, mental health, and physical health,” Koziel said. “We check back in with individuals at three, six and nine month intervals to see how those scores changed after participating with the Bissell Centre.”

To help with data and analytics and support their work, SAS and the Bissell Centre teamed up about three years ago. Koziel said SAS has been instrumental in assisting the centre with donations of SAS products that have helped to analyze their data and conduct program evaluations. 

In addition, last year, the centre participated in the SAS Hackathon, where Koziel and his team were able to experiment with higher-end data mining and visual analytics tools. The centre is also participating in this year’s hackathon.

According to Savidov, the participation in the SAS Hackathons has helped embrace new methodologies and technology that SAS has provided to the centre. 

“The official hackathon project is instrumental in our understanding of the impact that our services are having. And it raised very valuable, interesting questions that will set our research agenda for the rest of the year, or maybe for years to come,” she said. 

For this year’s Hackathon, Bissell Centre took a deep dive into their data to analyze factors associated with better housing scores, based on of their findings through the Self Sufficiency Matrix tool. 

As well as collecting data on poverty in communities, Bissell Centre also collects data on opioids.

“We track opioid use and opioid poisonings by having staff complete an Electronic Critical Incident form each time an overdose occurs on Bissell Centre property, or in surrounding communities where a staff member was present at the time of the overdose,” Koziel said.

Staff members at the centre also practice “safety walks,” which involves a walk in the community, while watching for any needles on the ground to ensure safety. Koziel says oftentimes if there is an individual that is experiencing an overdose or opioid poisoning, a staff member can respond to that immediately.

The Electronic Critical Incident form also tracks the date and time and the approximate location of an overdose. It will also track the number of naloxone or narcan sprays administered, and if emergency services were contacted. 

Once the form is completed, the data is stored in a Power BI dashboard which provides descriptive summaries of the overdoses. The dashboard also has regression modelling capabilities to see what individual variables affect overdose incidents.

“This is one of the really shining examples of how we’ve implemented database decisions,” Savidov said. 

She said that in the last couple of years, staff have been able to notice nuances in their data and further look into them if a trend is concerning. 

“It’s really exciting to see more and more staff and management turning to evidence and data to make decisions,” she said. 

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at [email protected]

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