It’s a new concept for many voluntary organisations, but combining your data with that which is publicly available can improve your research, intelligence and planning.
Open data, big data, raw data: if you only have a vague idea of what these are or how they are relevant to your organisation, then you're not alone.
As the Open Data and Charities report from the Nominet Trust puts it, "The understanding,
use and publishing of open data within the third sector is still very much in its infancy. Many
organisations are unaware of the open government data resources that are now available to them."
The report concludes that better use of open data – namely the statistical information held by
local and central government, multilateral institutions, private firms and NGOs – could help
just about any voluntary organisation improve its research, intelligence and planning capacity.
Your own internal data may give you a reasonably clear idea of what your organisation is doing; combining it with other, bigger datasets can yield more and better information.
For example, Gloucester Voluntary Service linked its own dataset of volunteers with local authority data on bus routes to work out who could get to which volunteering opportunity without needing their own transport.
Displaying the locations of organisations and services geographically can help highlight clusters of activity as well as gaps. We do this for our directory of local voluntary groups
Even if you do not find a dataset to match with, simply using the tools of open data can bring benefits. Sharing a report or fundraising application with colleagues through Google docs means no more version control or emailing attachments back and forth.
Sources of open data
Surreyi provides free online access to demographic, health, economic and Census datasets, some of which can be downloaded;
OpenlyLocal provides information on over £14bn of UK council spending;
Meanwhile, tools to compile or collate data are freely available too, such as
The Open Definition
“A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike."