Open Data and the Impact on Grant Funding

Robbie Best, Communications Officer - BCT

Open Data is an increasingly large part of the funding landscape here in Northern Ireland. Building ChangesTrust's Robbie Best has been out and about to find out more...

I’ve spent a lot of time over last couple of weeks talking and thinking about Data. Not being what you would call a details person, the prospect of this could’ve easily filled me with dread if it wasn’t for the fact I was doing it with the team over at NICVA and their ODI (Open Data Institute) Belfast and Detail Data projects.

These two projects are trying to lead the Northern Ireland Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector on bringing the benefits of open data to Northern Ireland.

I have written about the Detail Data project before, and am on record as saying I think it is one of the most interesting and potentially vital projects in the NI VCSE, so I’ll use this blog to talk a little bit about the ODI Belfast project, its potential impact and how I see it overlapping with the Trust’s work.

The ODI Belfast project is an offshoot of the Open Data Institutes work in the rest of the UK and is setting out an ambitious programme of work around data and how it can be used here in NI.

In terms of how this applies to the NI VCSE, one of the key areas of data they’re looking at it grant data and this is what a group of funders from the sector, as well as representatives from the Department for Social Development (DSD), met at NICVA to discuss.

As well as grant data, they’re also interested in organisational data, evaluation & research, outcomes & impacts and data around programme development and service delivery, but going into the detail around those particular areas is for a different day.

A key question was how we could get all this data into a useable format for funders to be able to design impactful grants and programmes around.

The answer seems to be in standardisation – a sector-wide agreed format by which we all report and publish into a central database.

Whilst this is all very exciting, alarm bells were going off in the room as regards data protection, resourcing issues and the age-old worry about this giving those who subscribe to ‘us and them’ politics in NI another stick to beat each other with.

These are all very valid concerns and there certainly is a sizable piece of work to do around convincing the funders and grantees of the mutual benefits of this kind of approach to data and data lead design.

It can definitely be seen as an investment in the sector, with resources going into data, time and energy can be saved elsewhere. Without having to do so much back office, we can spend more time with grantees – who are making a real difference on the ground.

A great idea that was mentioned was DSD’s Grant Passport – a collection of all the paperwork every group has to submit as part of their application (constitution, memorandum of understanding, list of committee etc).

Would it not be great if the NI VCSE could implement such a system which would save grantees and funders endless hours of paperwork, leaving us all with more time to do what we are here to do – serve communities.

In terms of how it fits in with the Trust’s work, I was really encouraged to hear so many of our themes come up time and time again.

Essentially, harnessing the power of open data is about impact. In a sector where budgets are tight and we’re all trying to do more with less, we need to make sure every grant is doing the best it can for the people it has been designed to help.

This kind of sector-wide initiative can only happen with collaboration – funders at the very top level working together.

As well as this, we need to see this as a social innovation, and as such we need to see buy in across sectors. Could the public sector share the data it holds with us? Can we learn from and harness the expertise within the private sector to develop user friendly applications for this data?

The NI VCSE is only just starting to get to grips with Open Data and its implications for all we do. It’s an exciting time and I think we at the Trust can help the sector embrace it.

Robbie Best is Communications Officer with the Building Change Trust. You can follow them on Twitter at @Robbie_BCT and @ChangeTrust. For more information on the Trust please visit – buildingchangetrust.org

The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.

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