The questions we’re trying to answer

Tom C W
6 min readJun 13, 2023

As we wrote about here, we’re just starting out on a project as part of Joseph Rowntree Foundations Insight Infrastructure work.. One of the key elements will be to centre questions from the start, to guide us all and ensure this work is tangible and practical. We’ve written here about why we think question-centred approaches are powerful. But what are the questions we’re trying to answer by doing this specific bit of work and, crucially, what would any answers enable us to do?

Whatever we do, we must create value

We start by recognising that understanding and addressing the many aspects of poverty in the UK is a complex and multi-layered task that no single charity or policy maker can fully accomplish alone. One of the end goals of this work is to help lay the ground for an interconnected network of data sharing, with partners contributing to a collective knowledge bank that helps everyone take action on poverty. For charities especially, every contribution must be balanced with a recognition of the effort required to make this contribution. We must create value for charities and we must reduce friction where possible. But what is this value and what is the friction to sharing data?

We also need to understand what value there is not just for charities but for other parts of the system too. Perhaps this exchange of data will pave the way for innovative and more comprehensive policy making at national or localised levels. Maybe the shared data will facilitate more informed and proactive grant-making, allowing funding to reach where it’s most needed. Maybe, but is that what is wanted and needed?

Developing our questions

As we begin this work, we clearly have a lot of questions ourselves. All questions are valid, but that doesn’t mean they are good questions. We think a good question should be clear, ethical, have the right granularity and, if answered, facilitate action. We’ve laid out our initial questions for this project below, along with the actions we think they will facilitate. As always, we will be following this process for our own questions, as well as those that will harvested through the development of our ‘Question Bank’ — a key output of this work — in the next stage of the project:

An image showing a process we use to work out relevant and important questions. The cycle shows looking at a question, determining what an answer would allow you to do, and thinking about how this aligns with your overall goals, before moving on to prioritising the questions.

Our questions

A question we have… What questions do we aim to answer through this data? And who will be asking those questions?

So that we can…

  • Develop the Question Bank with specificity for different groups of users

A question we have… What questions do charities have that they can’t answer by themselves?

So that we can…

  • Create a Question Bank that can support charities to refine their questions and understand who else might already be asking/answering the same ones
  • Support products or insight that adds value to charities — increasing value proposition.

A question we have… What questions do charities, funders, policy makers have that can only be answered by charity insight?

So that we can…

  • Realise reciprocal value for charities and level out power dynamics of traditionally extractive relationships
  • Create a Question bank

A question we have… What types of question and action chains create a tipping point for engagement with data sharing? i.e. what sells the idea?

So that we can…

  • Support charities to understand the value of sharing data in a way that works for them

A question we have… What do charities want back in return for sharing their data?

So that we can…

  • Design infrastructure or products that give value back to charities

A question we have… What volume of engagement with something enables others to get involved?

So that we can…

  • Determine the minimum number of contributors that would make a ‘product’ viable, and understand how charities respond to each other’s contribution

A question we have… Who do we envisage being primary target audiences, including both users and contributors, as well as wider audiences only interested in insights?

So that we can…

  • Develop action-focused infrastructure for specific audiences creating value for contributors & users

A question we have… Who do we envisage being primary target audiences, including both users and contributors, as well as wider audiences only interested in insights?

So that we can…

  • Develop action-focused infrastructure for specific audiences creating value for contributors & users

A question we have… How do we create the conditions for shifting from solely descriptive data to actionable insight?

So that we can…

  • Develop the infrastructure and support required for charities and others to take action by concentrating the focus and articulation of what’s shared on what can be done

A question we have… How can we best support the sector by streamlining data sharing and consumption processes and tools?

So that we can…

  • Reduce friction in data sharing and to maximise the likelihood of uptake

A question we have… How do we plan to help the sector adopt shared standards and improve data skills and literacy?

So that we can…

  • Determine and define the infrastructure JRF will support/develop AND build partnerships to support or influence other aspects

A question we have… Can we create a series of resources, tools, and training alongside the main data to support the sector’s advancement?

So that we can…

A question we have… What level of governance, formal or informal, will help realise this ambition?

So that we can…

  • Create appropriate, proportionate and practicable governance structures for long term success and continued development

A question we have… How will we ensure that the data is purposeful, respectful, and proportionate?

So that we can…

  • Consider power dynamics and ensure that equity is at the heart of the work
  • Understand the questions people have, what they want to be able to do with an answer, why and how that might affect others

A question we have… Who else is providing infrastructure of this nature (or could)?

So that we can…

  • Create reusable outputs
  • Reduce duplication and wasted resources

How you can help

So, these are our starting questions, but what about yours? Specifically, what are your questions related to poverty in the UK?

Before we delve into the details of how charities can be supported to share their data with others, it is important for us to understand what it is we’re all actually trying to find out about poverty in the UK and for what purpose. This will help us to shape a clear narrative about charities’ insight needs, as well as those from other sectors too. From this platform, we can then unpick the barriers to meeting these needs more tangibly and explore the conditions through which we can overcome them.

This is why we’re starting our work on this project by developing a prototype ‘Question Bank’. Through this, we’re inviting charities, policy makers, academics and other services to tell us what it is they want to know in relation to poverty and its related issues. Furthermore, we want to peg each question in the action or response that an answer enables. Over time, this question bank will enable three broad things to happen:

  1. A central place where we can see all of our different questions alongside each other and the perceived value in answering them;
  2. We can begin to identify similarities in certain questions, group them and form partnerships around answering them;
  3. We have a meaningful starting point for framing, rationalising and prioritising the barriers to data sharing with a view to developing and testing different models in response, which forms the rest of the project.

So, please submit your questions! And share far and wide. If you have any thoughts on this or would like a conversation about the project, then feel free to get in touch.

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Tom C W

Do Good, Be Awesome. Thoughts on startups, social change, awesome things, and possibly running.