Raiders of the Lost Data
How can Charities benefit from using and providing Open Data?
Nominet Trust is offering 10 Charities a day of a data analyst’s time to experiment with using open data: here I explain why, via an only slightly tortuous cinematic analogy....
Interest in open data has been growing for a few years now, long enough for its death to have been both predicted and declared. Charities in England and Wales are all already on the Open Data map, via the Charity Commission’s public register. The Commission is working to allow more flexible access to this information, while initiatives such as opencharities are exposing both the potential and current limitations of the register as a rich, malleable data source.
Beyond this, the few examples of Charities who have so far focussed the blinding sunlight of open data through a lens of relevance onto a map of possibility have highlighted a variety of hidden treasures for their organisations. Conversations with pioneers and enthusiasts over the past few weeks have thrown up examples where Charities have improved their fundraising activities, raised the quality of performance data, informed future plans, held the State (and themselves) to account and identified potential partnerships. You can see more details of these examples in a discussion paper I’ve put together – with substantial contributions from the aforementioned pioneers and enthusiasts....
This is, one would hope, just the beginning: the huge diversity and reach of Charities can and should be brought to bear in this context. The more Charities who start to be both users and suppliers of open data (as part of becoming more effective users of data in general), the greater the collective impact: on the performance, reputation and sustainability of Charities themselves, and on the wider landscape of open data.
If a Charity has so far declined to jump onto the open data train, it could well be due to some combination of “lacks”: resources, awareness or skills, for a start. There may also be a reasonable element of fear of the unknown: if we pull the lid off this thing, will we achieve instant enlightenment, or will our organisation’s face melt in the cruel, hot wind of exposure? For those of us who wish to make the case, we have to acknowledge the unpredictable consequences of open data, in order to demonstrate whether the potential benefits stack up favourably against the risks.
To support the sector in taking some constructive steps in an open direction, Nominet Trust are working with Big Lottery Fund and NCVO to plan an event early in 2012, which will inform leaders from Charities as yet ‘unopened’ how they can make a start (and why they should want to). In preparation, we are making this offer of a ‘data day’ as a means of grounding the discussion in practical examples, with quantifiable benefits balanced against the practical challenges.
So if you’re a Charity who could use the services of an intrepid data-wrangler* to unearth the priceless artefacts hidden in the catacombs of your spreadsheets and databases, please get in touch.
* Wide-brimmed hat and whip available on request.