The NCVO annual conference took place last week and there was a fantastic session about open data and what it means for the voluntary sector. I’m still digesting everything that was covered but something inside is telling me it could be huge for how organisations operate, but not without the right support and information.
There are two elements to this discussion we need to be considering; the opening up of our own organisational data and making use of data that’s available from Government, local authorities and other organisations.
What could charities do with open data?
It’s almost impossible to know the limits to what organisations could do with open data, but David Kane gave a lot of food for thought in his presentation:
One of the things that David said was that open data could help charities by:
- Informing lobbying and campaigning - Demonstrate how an issue is affecting people by mapping information that exists on need, services etc.
- Improving services - Ask for feedback on services using post code details to map your service locations.
- Demonstrating impact – Match the services you are delivering and their impact with known information about need.
What skills/ support do voluntary organisation need to make the most of using open data?
But in all of this we need to think about how practical it is for small voluntary and community groups to make the most of open data. Are the technical skills out there in the sector?
I think David summed it up really nicely in his presentation by saying that, yes, there is a need for specific technical skills to make the most of open data BUT the tools we would use are free and there are lots of people out there who want to make a difference, have the skills and are connected by social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Some of the information and skills I think groups need are:
- An understanding of why Government is releasing its data – link to the transparency and accountability agenda.
- Some sense of what might happen around this in the future, whether it’s likely to be a requirement for organisations to release their own data.
- Dedicated time looking at organisational strategy to get to a clear understanding of what they need to prove need, demonstrate impact and/ or campaign more effectively.
- Knowing how to access the data, where to store it, and the implications for data protection.
- An overview understanding of how different websites or websites plus data can talk to each other.
- Practical experience of using APIs, playing with Google maps etc.
What about organisations releasing their own data?
Rich Watts has been very articulate in describing his organisation’s thinking when releasing their data so I won’t bother repeating it here.
I think there is a real benefit for organisations having the conversation now about opening up their data, as Rich alluded to in the session it’s almost certainly going to become a requirement for organisations in the not too distant future, either as a condition of registering with the Charity Commission or as a requirement when receiving public funding.
So what next?
There are already people on the forefront of testing what can be done with open data; visualisation, mapping etc so my own view is what we really need now are real life voluntary sector examples.
Some of this – I hope – will come out of the Open Data Campaigning Camp in a couple of weeks but we also need people giving it a go, perhaps as part of a structured pilot that involves using some of the open data “recipes” and tools on the Voluntary Sector Datastore.
NCVO is looking to run its own voluntary sector hack day, which is a great start. I can’t wait to be involved and see what emerges.