Building a data ecosystem in a low tech envronment

An Open Data Camp session on helping charities and other low tech bodies create data ecosystem stories improve their impact, led by Pauline Roche.

Liveblogging: prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated in the coming days.

Over 80% of charities in this country operate on tiny budgets – often under £10,000 per annum. There are some similarities with, say, libraries, or arts bodies. There are resources out there for them – like 360giving – but they may not know about them, or have the confidence to use them.

Datakind offers a number of resources. They recently worked with the GLA, to help understand the number of refugees and migrants in London. There isn’t good data out there on that. But charities tend to know where they are – so could they provide that information. So they asked – and it would be fair to say that they weren’t keen on the idea. They said that, if they were going to do this, they needed support in working out what to collect, and how. And the GLA was willing to help take that on.

Many of the charities had no idea of the data already available that they could use, nor how data could help their own work. They paired up data experts with subject experts to figure out what was needed, and how to deliver that data.

An open data initiative in Uganda wanted to present statistics to a population without technology. So they wanted to print the data out on sheets and pin them on the wall of the town hall. But he didn’t have access to a printer – or data analysis skills. He was connected with people in neighbouring areas who were able to support him, via a mutual acquaintance. Some people are happy to help out without it ending up as a consultancy contract.

Creating a data skills mindset

Open Data Camp attendees

CAST provides a data fellowship, that people from small charities can go on. They built their first bit of tech off the back of it – but it didn’t quite meet their needs. Small organisation struggle with iteration. A lost work’s week is a big cost for them. They need help understanding the necessity of this. But then, they hit a point where the technology wasn’t able to serve their needs, and they felt bad about that, even though it wasn’t their case. A lot of technology breaks at edge cases.

Even social media can be a challenge for small organisations. It often comes down to what the chief executive says you can use. There are a number of bodies now helping out – but again, they often don’t understand tech. The same goes for funders. There a very few who will fund technology projects.

The ONS is working towards ways of bringing connected data together – for example, all the data they have about homelessness, without having to go to 10 different departments. They want to make the data more discoverable, available and usable. They can build tools to de this – a complex and ambitious project – but they don’t necessarily know the questions the charities actually want answered. If they can understand what people need, they can build it. What is the job the data needs to do – or help do?

Understanding what to ask for – and when to ask for it – is a huge challenge for many organisations of this size. This is an absence of basic technology skills and the awareness to know what might be out there. It’s also important to make it clear when the data isn’t out there, so they don’t waste time searching for it – or get demoralised by their “failure” to find it.

Accessibility of data skills

In full flow

Public libraries no longer have quite the same grip on the availability of data that they did in the pre-internet age. Could datasets become items in a library catalogue? But how often do people use those catalogues?

Are there more options for getting volunteers for organisations that have skills that the organisation doesn’t – tech or digital skills, for example? The danger of this is that they have someone doing it for two years, they leave – and there’s a gap that the charity had no ability to fill. The ONS have been doing digital Fridays, where their staff go and work with organisations like libraries to show them the skills they need.

The sticks? The funders and grants bodies need to ensure that charities include some data in your bids for funding.
The carrots? The fun bit – hackathons, and other fun projects on the people’s own turf.

People don’t go into the charity sector to analyse data – so you need to find a way of making the benefits tangible to them.

Different funders have different requirement for what the impact will be. And that’s contrasted with organisation that are managing only 20 minutes ahead. Many of them are on ancient version of Windows, or don’t have the time or capacity to change. Annual funding does not lead to good decision making. A phone and a laptop can improve people’s productivity by 20% – but nobody will fund that.

[Session Notes]

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