Knowledge is power – how unions can use data

Data  – and how unions make use of it – is one of those fundamental issues.  A building block for effective organising, a key ingredient in servicing members,  an integral part of a union’s sustainable culture. And smart use of data has never been more important than over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

So the publication of a major new survey on unions and data from Unions21 is timely, important and also the subject of a special UnionDues episode.

Report author, Tom Hunt, Deputy  Director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI)walks us through the key findings – how unions define data, what it’s used for, and why best practice in this area amounts to significant cultural change for individual unions and the trade union movement as a whole.

Changing union culture

It’s that impact on union culture which is most radical and alluring.  Effective use of data means changing the way decisions are made,  brings clarity to accountability and breaks down the silo-based structures that beset many unions (like all membership based organisations).

It’s no surprise that Tom labels this transformation as “Unions 2.0” which is characterised by an open, collaborative, sharing culture.

One of the best things about this well-written and very accessible report is the use of case studies to demonstrate in practical terms the difference that effective use of data can make. Two of these studies, and their lead officers, are featured on the pod.

Case studies from Forsa and Community

Linda Kelly  is  Director of Training and development for Ireland’s second largest union, Forsa. She describes how the union came to the conclusion that a data-driven evaluation of training was needed,  and  the radical reworking of the union’s offer to members that resulted.  The enthusiastic take-up of the revamped training package has been a great validation of this approach.  
Melantha Chittenden is Head of Comms and Media for the Community Union.  She describes how Community came to the conclusion that a Digital Working Group was  needed,  and how an analysis of visits to the union website was instrumental in changing how the union looked at decision making and resource allocation.

Other unions contributing their case studies to the report are Aslef, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, Prospect, FDA, the Society of Radiographers, National Education UnionBritish Medical Association and Danish finance union Finansforbundet.  There is also a  playful but invaluable section illustrating how data-driven decision-making can be applied  in a range of hypothetical scenarios.*

The work of the BMA and CSP has featured on previous episodes of UnionDues – click on the links to listen (or listen again!).  And a hat-tip to the Royal College of Nursing who have recently recruited Katy Gooblar into a senior data role, and thus follow the CSP and Unison in becoming the third union to appoint to such a role.

An important contribution

For my money, this is an important contribution to the debate on what do we mean by “data” and how we can make best practical use of it.  You can download a copy of the full report from the Union’s 21 website.

As ever, you can contact the show on email at uniondues@mnakes-you-think.com or tweet us @DuesUnion we would love to hear your views on anything that’s discussed on the show we’ve or any thing or anybody you think we should feature in future episodes.  And we would be very grateful for your support in terms of a rating or review on the podcast platform of your choice.

Finally, the origins of those two catchphrases from the pod – “Knowledge is power” was apparently first used by Sir Francis Bacon in 1597, but was popularised by Reg Holdsworth (played by Ken Morley) in the Coronation Street soap opera.  And “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” was coined by management consultant and writer Peter Drucker

Access this and all episodes at bit.ly/DuesUnion.

UnionDues is part of the Labor Radio Podcast Network of over 100 union and labor-related shows, all accessible via the network’s portal. And don’t forget our new series, UnionDays, coming soon.

Thanks for reading, listening, sharing, rating, and reviewing!

*I think I can put union names against a number of these,  but Tom Hunt is adamant that it’s not possible to do so.

Featured image credit – Markus Spiske/Unspalsh

Not that sort of picket.......

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