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Why Data-driven Collaboration is Essential to Addressing the Opioid Crisis

It is well known that in communities across North America, the use of opioids has reached a level of crisis. Though the crisis started long before COVID-19, the pandemic has increased the need for communities to come together to find solutions to address the growing problem.

In the recent article “Building Cities’ Collaborative Muscle,” the Stanford Social Innovation Review discussed the need for cross-sector solutions to address the growing opioid crisis. According to SSIR, current services are fragmented and communities struggle to understand what types of interventions are most helpful to individuals most at risk. It is also very difficult for funders to determine whether they have allocated resources in the most effective, efficient, and equitable way. In order to build the capacity for communities to collectively address social problems, there must be data-driven collaboration across departments, agencies, and sectors.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has prioritized improving the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data to better meet the behavioral health care needs of individuals, communities, and service providers. Despite community leaders’ recognition for the need for collaboration, they have a difficult time aligning with these funders priorities as they don’t know the best way to build or sustain it. In their article, SSIR discusses how leaders in Calgary, Canada worked to overcome their barriers to collaboration.

In 2018, Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary made addressing the opioid crisis the focus of his third term. He led an effort to bring together public, for-profit, and non-profit providers in the community in order to create a person-centered strategy for addressing mental health and addictions in Calgary. The partnership included The United Way of Calgary and Area, Calgary Homeless Foundation, Alberta Health Services, the police department, and Calgary’s business united tasked with addressing social needs—Calgary Neighborhoods. As the partnership continued worked toward a solution to the city’s crisis, they came across the following barriers:

  • They struggled to determine if their combined portfolio of services was able to reduce opioid deaths and address the systemic issues related to mental health and addiction.

  • It was difficult to determine what types of interventions were most helpful to the individuals most at risk.

  • It was impossible to determine whether the funders had allocated resources in the most effective, efficient, and equitable way.

  • They didn’t agree on how to understand and measure progress and had varying definitions of success, which ranged from improving awareness of the problem to coordinating the delivery of services to improving mental health

In summary, the partners recognized the need to collaborate to drive systemic change, but they did not know the best ways to build and sustain the collaboration. The social-service sector has been discussing the need for data for years, but historically there has been a wide gap between collecting data on the ground and the ability to turn the data into useful insights that drive change throughout the social ecosystem. The community of Calgary specifically lacked the data insights needed to:

  • Hold all participating organizations accountable

  • Define project success

  • Understand and measure progress

  • Make data-driven adjustments to the strategic plan

In order to successfully address the opioid epidemic, communities need organizations who place data-driven decision making at the center of their strategies. Every government and non-profit organization should collect three types of data: what was done (outputs), how well it was done (quality), and how participants are better off (outcomes). They should also be able to share this data easily with other organizations participating in the efforts to address the opioid epidemic in their community. This level of data-driven collaboration helps communities reduce their cost per successful outcome achieved, prioritize those in dire need of services first, and make data-driven adjustments to improve their strategic plan for addressing the opioid crisis.

SureImpact is a data collection and reporting platform that helps organizations seeking to address the opioid epidemic to overcome their barriers to collaboration and establish a data-driven culture. SureImpact connects service providers, government organizations, funders, and other collaborators with real-time insights that show what types of interventions are most helpful to the individuals most at risk, and whether or not funders have allocated resources in the most effective, efficient, and equitable way. We are proud to help our partners working in the mental health and addiction space to collect, measure, and share outcomes data in order to achieve their mission.

To learn more about how SureImpact can help your organization establish an impact-centric culture and truly make a difference in your community, check out our free, on-demand webinar “Proving Your Social Return on Investment.”


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