Viewfinder 19 - Increased awareness of open data in the voluntary and community sector

Thanks to all of our members who completed the Viewfinder 19 survey. We are delighted to have such a good response rate of 17.7%.

Viewfinder is a NICVA survey which focuses on issues affecting the voluntary and community sector. The survey is distributed to NICVA members four times a year. The second Viewfinder of 2016 focused on the awareness and use of open data in the voluntary and community sector. The survey was circulated to NICVA members from the 19th April to 6th May 2016. 

Key Findings

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone (subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike). It is a way of providing access to information in a format that is useful for researchers, journalists developers and voluntary and community organisaitons, as well as any other members of the public who would like to analyse the contents of the information themselves. By providing data in this format organisations are enabling people to analyse information more thoroughly and creating more informed decision making.

There has been an open data movement in Northern Ireland over the past 18 months. With the launch of Detail Data, ODI Belfast, the Open Data Strategy and OpenDataNI, an increasing number of organisations in the voluntary and community sector have become aware of open data. This viewfinder supports this view reporting that the number of NICVA members aware of open data has increased, rising from 40% in 2015 to 47.3% in 2016, of which over a quarter (27.9%) feel that they are sufficiently informed about how open data can by used by the sector and 24.4% by their organisation.

Just over one-third of organisations reported that they use open data of which the most common sources were the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service (NINIS) (69%), Office of National Statistics (ONS) (51.7%) and Detail Data Portal (34.5%).

Organisations were asked to what extent they believe open data will influence the way that voluntary and community organisations undertake some of their functions. Figure 1 below illustrates the responses


Base: 182 (multiple choice)

Over two-thirds of respondents believe that open data will affect five of the above key areas by at least some extent. This includes campaigning (73%), lobbying (72%), evaluating need (70.3%) making data driven decisions (67%) and in the development and/or amendment of services. 

Open data is often seen as the main answer to political and government transparency. Many government departments and local councils/authorities across the UK and Ireland have made open data a key priority to drive transparency, accountability and improvements in public services. This survey asked participants if they feel that open data will make the Northern Ireland government more accountable and the results are displayed in the Figure 2.


Base: 182

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63.2%) believe that open data will to at least some extent make government more accountable. The Northern Ireland Open Data Strategy is just over one year old, and some departments and councils in Northern Ireland have yet to start releasing data by default. Only 3.3% believe that open data will have no impact whatsoever on government accountability while 17.6% are unsure what impact open data will have.



Organisations were asked if they have ever made a request for public sector data. Only 6.6% of respondents stated that they had.

Table 1: Has your organisation made a request for data to be made available

Not sure2212.1

Base: 182

Viewfinder 19 sought to examine what sources organisations are requesting data from. It is clear that organisations go directly to government departments and local councils. This is unsurprising as the OpenDataNI portal was launched as recently as December 2015 and the open data team at the Department of Finance is currently in the process of publicising and promoting awareness of the portal. 

Table 2: If yes, who did you make the requests through?




Directly to government departments



Directly to councils






Open Data NI



Open Government Network 



Pre-election Zero Suicide Campaign with all Assembly Parties 



Base: 12 (multiple responses)

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