Why Data: The Importance of Systematizing Data Capture

14 October 2020
Research Innovation

Sophie Otiende  | Regional Operations Manager - Africa, Liberty Shared
Ayesha Lissanevitch  | VCMS Director, Liberty Shared

Without reliable data and evidence, whether qualitative or quantitative, it is difficult for organizations and the global community to understand the extent of the trafficking problem, and to therefore build a strong foundation of effective measures to combat human trafficking and modern slavery. Since civil society organizations (CSO) are often the frontline responders to survivors of trafficking, it is imperative that they are equipped with the tools and training to capture actionable data that can be used by the anti-trafficking community to improve care, prevent trauma and hold perpetrators accountable. Unfortunately, many CSOs lack the resources and capacity to streamline data collection and to analyse data. To address this lacuna, Liberty Shared designed and developed the Victim Case Management System (VCMS) in 2013 with the objective of building infrastructure to support civil society to streamline case data record-keeping.

Challenges to Data Collection & Analysis

The VCMS creation stems out of Liberty Shared’s commitment to ameliorate the following challenges voiced by CSOs globally:

  1. Access to information – Client records are often paper-based or stored in multiple places, making it difficult to gain insight into a case quickly. It also limits the number of people that have access to or can be accountable for working on a specific case. As case management is a collaborative process, having an array of case files, stored in various locations not only causes delay in the case management processes but limits collaboration among case workers and across organizations, in turn affecting the level of care provided to a survivor.
  2. Loss of information – The lack of a central accessible repository for data means that organizations are reliant on staff for recalling client information. Additionally, high staff turnover exacerbates the data loss problem, with information getting lost or misplaced as staff members leave an organization or due to poor handover.
  3. Re-traumatization of survivors – Survivors often have to retell or repeat their stories when met by changing staff members, who are not privy or have access to the initial data collected. Having to relive moments of hardship and trauma is antithetical to what an anti-trafficking organization strives towards.
  4. Use of information and reporting – Building reports and running analytics can be time consuming and cumbersome without proper mechanisms in place to collect and organize data , preventing organizations from effectively using data to make informed decisions and actions.
  5. Lack of standardization of human trafficking data – Data collection is very individualistic and varies based on the needs of every organization. This is problematic as data fields do not always overlap, making collaborative efforts very tedious. The impacts are seen in both reporting and the general understanding of the problem, creating many information gaps.

Given these challenges, without standardized tools like the Victim Case Management System (VCMS), it is difficult to improve: (i) provision of case services; (ii) access to justice; (iii) investigation and prosecution; (iv) management and operational performance review; (v) grant and donor reporting; (vi) monitoring and evaluation (M&E); (vii) policy initiatives and review; and (vii) research.

The Victim Case Management System (VCMS)

Through working directly with frontline NGO partners, Liberty Shared is now able to share this tool that works within the realities of the NGO operating environment, retaining consistency in what kind of information is being captured, while also offering flexibility to cater to a wide range of partner needs regardless of location or work focus. The VCMS can be customized for NGOs around the world in multiple languages. Additionally, our partnership with Salesforce is an integral part of ensuring data security and ongoing sustainability—two crucial factors that all CSOs consider when selecting a case management system. While many organizations have opted for bespoke systems, the heavy operational and management costs that come as a key concern are mitigated. Organizations, regardless of their size and scope, are therefore now able to afford and utilize a streamlined system where they can maintain and keep comprehensive records.

Partner feedback has been an integral part of the VCMS build. Over the years, the VCMS team has been in constant communication with partners to better understand their needs, using partner feedback to make key changes in the user experience (UX). For example, in July 2020 we launched the VCMS Lite interface, which is a mobile-friendly interface that is significantly simpler than the VCMS Full but with offline functionality. Because organizations often face low connectivity in the field, case workers are unable to practice good record-keeping. VCMS Lite resolves this challenge by allowing frontline workers to capture data fields while offline which automatically sync to the full system when connected to the internet. While the VCMS can be credited for solving many key challenges, there are eight benefits that partners appreciate most:

  1. Accessibility – The VCMS uses cloud-based technology, making records accessible at any time from any location. VCMS Lite further enhances VCMS capacity by adding offline functionality.
  2. Collaboration – The VCMS facilitates access and gives frontline workers the ability to work on the same records, thereby increasing collaboration.
  3. Survivor-centred and trauma-informed care – Comprehensive data capture and an ethical record-keeping process ensures that survivors do not have to retell their stories. Care can therefore be tracked from beginning to end.
  4. Development of best practice and evidence – The VCMS allows data and interventions to be tracked and analysed over a period of time.
  5. Standardization of data practices within the movement – The platform encourages partners to use standardized fields and similar case management processes.
  6. Community and Accountability – Because the system encourages users to work together, cases can be shared across organizations. This helps build a more informed community and makes organizations and users more accountable.
  7. Thorough reporting – Templates make reporting easier, and more frequent in-depth reporting helps to better identify and explain trends.
  8. Offline functionality – Important for organizations that work where internet networks and electricity could hinder proper recordkeeping.

Beyond just providing NGOs with enterprise-grade tools and technology to improve their current processes, the VCMS programme’s core mission is to support the creation and development of a civil society community that is able to use data prudently and effectively to increase accountability and build service capacity. Fundamentally, without records to provide evidence, neither can perpetrators be held accountable, nor will there be access to justice for survivors of, and populations vulnerable to, human trafficking and modern slavery. For further information on the system please visit www.vcms.app or contact the VCMS team vcms@libertyshared.com.

This article has been prepared by Sophie Otiende and Ayesha Lissanevitch as contributors to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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