Better access for more impact: what open data can offer the third sector

Better data access and use for non-profit organisations has the potential to improve the services they offer. In this blog, two partners of OpenGovIntelligence explain their approach to making public data accessible and useful

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Jamie Whyte presenting data on cervical screening, collected by Trafford Council’s Innovation and Intelligence Lab at the ODI Summit 2015. CC BY 2.0, uploaded by the ODI.

By Jamie Whyte, Sarah Roberts and Bill Roberts

As providers of key public services, local authorities don’t exist in isolation. Partners including housing trusts, school alliances, colleges, fire and rescue services and charities are all part of the picture. They all have a need for accessible local data from across the Data Spectrum, in order to grasp the demand for services and how effective they are.

But how does accessing that data, and maximising its value, work in practise?

In Trafford, an open data Innovation and Intelligence Lab has been created as the council’s umbrella body for data. It gathers, shares and publishes public data from across the authority and communicates that data to its partners. Its aim is to maximise the value of the data that exists about Trafford and the surrounding area.

In Summer 2015, the lab gave talks to voluntary and community groups about the huge amount of data that’s available for them to access. Organised by Trafford Council, four workshops dealt with diverse data from ONS employment figures to cervical screen rates, alcohol licensing to OS map data. And at the end of each session, many wanted to know how to get the data, what else there was and how to best exploit it for practical use. The Innovation Lab therefore ran regular Open Data Surgeries, where charitable organisations, non-profit groups and citizens could ask for help in finding the data they needed, using it to target their work and back up applications for grants.

Capturing impact of making open data accessible

One of the programme’s success stories so far comes from BlueSci, a non-profit that supports mental health and wellbeing in Trafford. BlueSci used data that the lab collected and published to support successful applications for over £100k in funding from the Arts Council and Big Lottery. Another comes from community arts organisation Two by Two, who wanted evidence of the impact of a £500 Arts Trail project they had run. The lab built them a report, using OpenStreetMap, Code-Point Open and data that Two byTwo collected about the trail, to demonstrate the project’s reach. As a result, TwobyTwo secured more funding for the Sale Art Zoo project and set up as a social enterprise.

We have also seen benefits emerge for individuals. Since making open data about ethnicity and employment more readily available, we have noticed it has been used by residents in Trafford when applying for equality funding. Last year, over half the applications made had drawn upon data collated and communicated by the lab.

Bringing broader benefits to everyday lives

Improved access to data will bring substantial benefits to the third sector, and so to society. But the potential of better data access and use doesn’t stop there. In 2015, Trafford Council’s Public Health Team asked the lab to collate data for analysis on cervical screening, as rates were dropping. The lab mapped screening rates alongside geographical data to identify areas to target resources. As a result of this, Public Health were able to despatch commissioning supporters to the individual streets, armed with leaflets printed in the languages they knew were spoken in each area. Because of this project, Trafford has seen the greatest increase in screening rates in the North West, and is one of only three authorities to have bucked the trend of declining screening rates overall.

There are still obstacles to overcome in making more data open, so it can be accessed and exploited by organisations for social good. At a time where public sector finances are tight, the need to enable better use of data to help not only the third sector, but local government and public services, is increasingly important.

A good step towards this is Open Government Intelligence. A ‘Horizon 2020’ European project, it aims to help groups in the public sector make better decisions using multidimensional, open statistical data. The project brings together six government organisations with responsibility for service delivery, and six universities and companies specialising in data publishing and analysis.

The UK’s contributing partners are Trafford’s lab and data publishers Swirrl, who will be piloting a project that will look to understand worklessness through data. This will include both direct indicators, such as Jobseekers Allowance Claimants, and supporting factors, such as mental health statistics. Other partner organisations will be piloting projects that facilitate better government data access and use for public services. Driven by the challenges and needs of the government partners, the pilots aim to develop improved methods for data-driven public service provision.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to know more about the Open Government Intelligence Project, subscribe to the newsletter, contact the project, catch up on the project blog or check out its Twitter page.

OpenGovIntelligence has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 693849.

Sarah Roberts is Head of Communications and Bill Roberts is CEO of Swirrl, who help national and local government publish and connect data. Jamie Whyte heads up Trafford Council’s Innovation and Intelligence Lab

If you have ideas or experience in open data that you’d like to share, pitch us a blog or tweet us at @ODIHQ.