Five ways my foundation uses data… and a note to self

Guest blog by Debbie Pippard, Director of Programmes, Barrow Cadbury Trust. 

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably data-savvy person – I love a good spreadsheet and, given a quiet half-hour, can even navigate my way around the Office for National Statistics database . But I’ve increasingly realised that the world of data has not only got bigger thanks to the drive towards open data, but also a whole lot easier to understand and use with the wealth of new datasets and tools available to ease analysis and visualisation.

Barrow Cadbury Trust is an independent family foundation, aiming to influence policy and practice through the funding, collation and dissemination of evidence. We work on a small number of social issues: criminal justice, economic justice, racial justice and gender justice. We were among the early group of funders to publish our grants in the 360Giving standard. One of the joys of being in that particular family is getting to see all the weird and wonderful ways in which grantmaking data can be combined with new tools to provide a visual snapshot of the ways in which grants are made and used. A couple of my favourites are CharityBase for its practicality and David Kane’s Chord Diagram for its ability to crunch thousands of funding relationships into a single picture.

Our involvement in 360Giving has made me reflect on how we use data at the Trust. I’ve picked out five ways, though of course there are more.

  1. Firstly, and most obviously, we use data to understand our grantmaking. That data comes from our own database – but like other funders that publish to 360Giving we can start to use the visualisation tools to bring that data to life. Every year I collate information about our grantmaking to present to Trustees. To be honest, it tends to be on the dry side. This year I’m looking forward to showing some interactive visuals to supplement the tables and graphs.
  2. We use data to develop programme approaches. Our migration programme has a strong focus on strategic communications: reaching across silos to have a better conversation about migration and integration. Public polling helps us and our partners understand people’s views and design interventions. Hope Not Hate’s “Fear and Hope” series has helped us track changing public opinion – a good example of how trend data can add to the richness of our understanding of an issue.
  3. Data is essential to plan our work and understand our impact. Take our Transition to Adulthood campaign as an example. Our aim is to persuade policymakers and practitioners to recognise the unique needs, and opportunity for change, presented by young adults in the criminal justice system. We need data about incidents, locations, severity of offences, demographics of offenders and other datasets to prioritise our interventions. And we need to track that data to understand whether the numbers are going in the right direction.
  4. Evaluation, which or course is meaningless without data.
  5. Last, but by no means the least, of my five is understanding how we fit into the funding landscape. For example, 360Giving means we can look at who else is funding projects in Birmingham (it’s interesting to see how Birmingham City Council has been using the data). Until now, we haven’t been able to get an overview of where the funding is going, and where the gaps are. It means we can search for organisations that perhaps we don’t know yet but who can help us add to our evidence base for policy change.

And the note to self? To spend a few of the quiet days of early January getting to grips with some of these new tools. I recently attended the Data4Good conference. It, and 360Giving’s recent Data Visualisation Challenge, has made me realise we are moving toward a post-spreadsheet world – and I no longer need to spend so much time putting together raw data, but can have more fun and communicate my data better with people for whom lines of figures are an anathema.