Gathering and interpreting data to help Citizens Advice in Portsmouth improve support for clients

Citizens Advice Portsmouth (CAP) is part of a network of over 300 independent charities throughout the UK. They give free confidential information and advice to help people with a wide range of issues such as debt management and benefits, housing, employment, immigration and asylum, as well as consumer complaints.

The request

CAP wanted to better understand how their clients prefer to receive the advice they provide (for example face to face, or via telephone, web or video chat, e-mail or even via social media). To put them in a strong position with evidence-based data to plan their services, to understand how their client base compared with the local population and to support future tendering opportunities.

The approach

Roma Chappell was the RSS volunteer assigned to this project and she carried out the initial discussions with Jan Thomas of CAP to scope the project. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions all meetings were carried out by telephone or video conference.
The plan was to carry out several data collection activities, complementing the main purpose of collecting new data about client preferences for receiving advice with data from existing sources. The original proposal was to hold focus groups with a sample of past clients to collect qualitative data. However, this had to be changed to an on-line survey due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. At this stage Marie Cruddas joined the project as an additional volunteer. Regular progress meetings were held throughout the project.

The result

A number of pieces of work were completed and written up into a final report
  • A detailed picture of local demographics from Official Statistics data, to understand the local population and by comparing with the profile of CAP clients to identify any groups they might not be reaching. This was extended to include an analysis of the Index of Multiple Deprivation, using the data for Portsmouth. This provided insights at a small area level about deprivation that may exist even in an otherwise well-off area.
  • Using existing CAP data to create a profile of their recent clients and to see how things had changed during the pandemic eg changes in the nature of advice being sought.
  • Interrogation of the CAP telephone system to analyse calling patterns. 
  • Using the SurveyMonkey package to design and conduct an on-line survey to explore how people would prefer to receive advice; the type of advice they would like and the barriers they have experienced in accessing CA services. The question set was developed jointly with CAP and the data analysed to summarise the range of views, preferred methods of advice delivery, opening times and barriers to using the service.
The results of these data collection and analysis activities, along with options for further data collection activities, were presented by the volunteers to the CAP Board.
Impact and benefits

At Citizens Advice Portsmouth we are very grateful to the RSS for the Statisticians for Society programme and the offer of pro-bono resource, which came at just the right time for us as we were planning a client needs survey to support the planning of a very large tendering exercise.
Roma and Marie advised us on the question wording and sampling frame and carried out local demographic analysis, making comparisons with our client base and drawing conclusions. They also analysed the index of multiple deprivation and provided commentary on our local issues.
The work has provided valuable insight into local knowledge to help us identify groups we might not be reaching and to better understand the survey results. We now have a wealth of evidence to support us going forward.
We would like to thank Roma and Marie for their expertise, ideas, collaboration and for going the extra mile for us.
We have publicised and promoted the RSS Statistics for Society program nationally across Citizens Advice and we have gained a variety of benefits by partaking in this project.
We have gained an understanding of:
  • Local demographics - how our client base compares with the local population and awareness of gaps in coverage
  • Better use of our data to demonstrate our impact - drawing inferences and insights into our data
  • How to design and run a client survey and the considerations
  • Our clients’ needs, for example, how our clients prefer to receive advice and the times at which the advice service should be available
  • Peaks and troughs of phone contact
  • Details of clients who are prepared to work further with us and join a client panel (focus group)
  • Statistics and comments that we can quote in funding bids
  • The increasing impact of digital exclusion on our clients, leading to a digital training project
  • Ideas and insights into how we can improve our service.