The data journey
In this blog series, participants in the 360Giving Data Journey share their learning and experience.
Gary Beharrell is an experienced grants manager covering the East Midlands area for the Lloyds Bank Foundation. He is on the board of trustees for the Association of Charitable Foundations and holds other volunteer and trustee roles in his local community.
Here’s what Gary found
Following discussions around funding locally and how the financial climate is affecting the voluntary sector, I saw the Data Journey as an opportunity to explore the impact of current policies and public funding cuts. My aim was to identify certain regional trends and their impact on independent funding.
My initial question was: “What are the changes in independent funding by geographic area (East Midlands local authorities) compared to changes in grant expenditure to the voluntary sector of that local authority over the past 5 years?”
Framing the question
After trying to get some initial information it soon became clear that the question was too broad, covering a region with 46 local authorities and trying to see all funding to the voluntary and charity sector in that region. After consideration, I refined the question to something more manageable: “What are the changes in independent grant funding in Leicestershire compared to changes in grant expenditure to the voluntary sector of Leicestershire over the past 5 years?”
Freedom of Information!
Getting responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests was not easy. This undoubtedly became my biggest challenge and a cause of frustration. Several authorities used the ‘cost limit’ of 3.5 days to justify not providing the information; and when it did come it came in many different formats, many of which were not useable.
As the data arrived in many different formats this meant it took time to get it all into one spreadsheet. Cleaning the data to ensure consistency and to weed out anomalies (e.g. grants that were made to private companies) also took time despite the different tools available to do this. The data could also be confusing, with geographic overlaps especially in two tier authorities (e.g. counties & local authorities) and the information only containing organisation addresses but not the location of the beneficiaries of the funding.
After considerable work I did manage to get an understanding of historical funding patterns in Leicestershire based on information from Leicestershire County Council – who were very helpful. Whilst it is only one example and possibly limited in that respect, my findings did show that whilst there has been a % drop in county council grants, the % increase in independent funding hasn’t matched this reduction.
What has been much more of a result has been the Data Journey itself. It has been a personal exercise in understanding and being specific about my questions and refining them when needed.
I did get a result but with a very limited overview. To do more requires much more work (and more time) than I have. It also needs some further work around framing the question. Clearly some further work is also needed around Freedom of Information and the commitment of local authorities to provide open data rather than PDF documents. I am pleased to report this journey has sparked a discussion among other funders operating in the East Midlands – so the journey continues!