Using low code to improve Change Grow Live’s drug and alcohol support services

Profile picture for user gflood By Gary Flood November 26, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
UK’s largest provider of drug and alcohol support services says use of Alteryx software has hugely improve its ‘speed-to-decision’ for service user support

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(Image by Dim Hou from Pixabay )

UK charity Change Grow Live says a rebuild of its data services with low code applications has enabled much more accurate and speedy capture of important information, vital for the care of its often highly vulnerable users. Just one example, says its Director of Information, Jeff Crouch: highly usable insights that once took weeks to derive can now be in the hands of its staff and volunteers in 30 seconds.

With 4,000 full-time staff aided by 1,500 street-level volunteers, Change Grow Live is a not-for-profit organization working across England, Wales and Scotland. The body concentrates on providing support, treatment, and rehabilitation programmes for those with substance misuse problems, crime and lack of opportunity, and is one of the biggest providers of such, with members of the public struggling with abuse issues having a two in three chance of walking either through its physical or virtual doors. 

With roots stretching back to prisoner rehabilitation work in the late 19th century, in 1977 it established a base in Brighton as Crime Reduction Initiatives, and to keep up with the demand for its services in the 1990s, merged with other local organizations, including a domestic violence charity and a residential rehabilitation unit, and hired its first paid members of staff. The organization re-branded to its current name in 2016, and now has a national network of offices in major UK cities such as London, Manchester and Leeds.

Data matters to the organization, Crouch said, because while most charities rely on data to aid monetization and fund-raising, for his Third Sector entity the focus is more on running a more efficient and effective operation to provide better help to the people it wants to work with. 

With more than 100,000 individuals asking every year for structured support for everything from overcoming opioid addictions to escaping domestic violence, there is also a need to be able to deal with data at scale and in a timely way, too.

Keeping people safe during Lockdown

Crouch explained:

We have lots of service users at the moment - we've got 60,000 people we are supporting every single day - and we also have lots of data about those service users. It's a real edge for us that we are able to use data to find out things we didn't know, to work smarter, to understand what impact we can have for the people who walk through our doors that we couldn't have done even a few years ago.

Crouch detailed what that looks like in practice. One in three of its service users in its drug and alcohol services have opiate or heroin use problems, and the main part of the intervention is to offer a substitute such as buprenorphine or methadone. An individual will be given a prescription and will then need to pick up their medication either every day, every week or every two weeks. 

When COVID-19 struck in March 2020, to help stop pharmacies being overwhelmed, a priority was to ensure that people had safe storage for these chemicals so they could keep it at home. Another priority was to make sure that service users had access to the anti-overdose treatment, Naloxone. Crouch said: 

These are the things we're kind of doing anyway, but in the pandemic, they became so much more important. Before COVID-19, only 45% of our service users had Naloxone with them, so we went to daily reporting to make sure that everybody had it - checking the numbers every day, reporting back to our service in Kent that you're only at 50% but Birmingham is up to 62%, go and learn from them.

Change Grow Live believes that it was only able to mount this level of real-time reporting at the levels needed by an IT refresh it conducted five years ago. Up until then, the company had been relying solely on Excel, but in Crouch's phrase "the last drops had been squeezed out of it" and lack of resources meant important questions being asked by his executive time were either hard or even impossible to answer. Crouch added: 

We were delivering 30 different services, and they would send in their data every month. That would have hundreds of thousands of rows, and we were using Excel to bring all those documents together into one, do some very complicated calculations, and then try and present it back using Excel as well as a bit of a dashboard. 

It was also a process that could take a week to bring together, you had to run loads of macros which also took forever, and as we were doing it all manually, we were very prone to errors when putting lots of CSV into the spreadsheet.

‘Game-changing'

To fix the situation, Crouch originally went to market (he was previously Head of Data and Analytics) to seek out a data visualisation tool. However, peers he contacted for advice suggested that low code might be a better way to go, conversations that eventually led to the introduction of the Alteryx system. Its introduction marked a complete change in those complex processes, he stated, as one workflow was built that now collates all those inputs in 30 seconds, within a minute of pressing the play button. He added:

Having a tool that basically did all that and which you can just press ‘play' each time you need to run it every month has been game-changing for us. The fact that we're still using the workflows today, four, five years on, is testament to how successful it's been.

Next steps for low code at the organization include exploration of how much the system could be extended to provide predictive analytics capability. Crouch explained why that matters:

Our service users don't always follow a nice, clear journey of coming in, being referred, assessed, getting some treatments, leaving drug-free and living happily ever after: things happen in their lives, they might drop out of treatments, and unfortunately die. 

If we were able to investigate our data and predict that, given a certain profile, a service user will be more or less likely to drop out treatment earlier, or less or more likely to successfully complete a programme, then we could give that further information to our workers and prioritise service users. Knowing this person's chances would be highly significant for us.

Discussions are also underway with the vendor to see what could be done to digitize a large amount of hand-written case notes, he added.