Which public datasets are most useful for funders?
In our Data Champions programme, we bring funders together to collaborate and learn how to grow a data culture in their organisations. In this blog, we share insights from the group about public datasets, including which are the most useful and how to get the most from them.
There are many datasets out there that are relevant to grantmaking, from data about demographics, to geography, to funding flows. Using data from external sources can help funders save time and money, and better target their grants to where they can have the best impact.
During our online discussion on 13 January 2021, we asked the funders in our current Data Champions cohort to share their tips and experiences of working with public datasets.
Funders’ tips on using public datasets
💡 Start simple
Start by getting familiar with one or two public datasets, and tap into any expertise available in your organisation for support. As you become more confident with using those datasets, you can gradually introduce other datasets. You don’t need to tackle them all at once!
❓ Be clear of your question and purpose
Datasets can be overwhelming, so make sure you’ve identified the question you are trying to answer before exploring one. Also, ensure the dataset you’ve chosen is appropriate to your question, and be open to the possibility that your findings may not support your assumptions. If you find something surprising, it’s useful to know what you’ll do to address that in terms of checking or amending your own data.
📅 Check the date
Make sure you have the most recent version of the dataset, or the version that aligns with the other data sources that you’re using to answer your question.
📈 Understand the data
Take time to understand the data you’re looking at – including the metrics, the metadata, the methodology and the geographical area the data covers. If things aren’t clear then ask the source that maintains the dataset for help, and let them know if you’ve faced barriers. Giving constructive feedback can help the creator see ways they could improve it.
‘Read the data as to what it says, not what you want it to say.’
– Clare Davies, Community Foundation Wales, and 360Giving Data Champion
🔎 How reliable is the source?
Check the validity and authority of the dataset source – is it reliable? Also, be aware of limitations that may exist, such as data lags or something to do with the methodology of the data collection.
👁️ Be aware of biases
Think critically about the dataset to understand if there might be biases at play. Think about who paid for the data to be collected, if the data is trying to convey a message, and how robust the data is – eg is the sample big enough? If possible, compare the data against other sources.
🐾 Keep a trail
When downloading or using the data in documents be sure to cite the source, including a website link and the date of when the data was taken. This will enable others – or yourself in the future – to access the original source and work more with that dataset. It’ll also help the people you share your insights with to understand the context and trustworthiness of the data.
Useful public datasets from our Data Champions
The following datasets were raised by the funders in our Data Champions cohort as ones they used frequently. Listed alphabetically, they each include a brief description and why funders find them useful.
British Red Cross Covid-19 Vulnerability Index
- This index helps identify the most vulnerable people in the UK whose needs aren’t being met yet. The index consists of: clinical vulnerability, other health/wellbeing needs, economic/financial vulnerability, social vulnerability (including physical/geographical isolation).
- “Useful for targeting our grantmaking”
- A database, API and web app that provides public information on the activities, locations and finances of the 168,000 charities that are registered in England and Wales.
Data and resources for responses to COVID-19, OCSI
- OCSI has produced a table that links to data pages of the websites of various organisations that have published data and resources to support response to COVID-19. This includes data on the incidence and prevalence of the condition, geographic and demographic patterns, socio-economic impacts, presence of vulnerable groups and responses and actions.
- A tool for finding non-profit organisations. It contains information about 647,683 charities, government bodies and other nonprofits, gathering data from 20 official sources.
Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), GOV.UK
- Statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on relative deprivation in small areas in England.
- “This is useful for eligibility and targeting grant making, and for seeing where we are reaching versus need.”
- There’s also an interactive map version
Local Insight, OCSI
- Local Insight gives you data and analysis for your communities and services, with up-to-date open data matched to the areas you work in.
- “It consolidates data from many sources on one platform with mapping functionality. You can also add your own datasets.”
London Community Response Survey, Greater London Authority
- A dataset presenting results of a weekly questionnaire sent to a cohort of frontline civil society organisations from April 2020. The results are being used alongside a range of other pieces of intelligence to inform the pan-London response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- “Good for tracking changing needs over the course of the pandemic and to find out the general picture of need in the region.”
London Poverty Profile, Trust for London
- London’s Poverty Profile provides evidence on and insight into poverty and inequality in London.
- “Helpful for understanding what the need level is in London.”
- This relates both current and terminated postcodes to a range of current statutory geographies via ‘best-fit’ allocation from the 2011 Census Output Areas. It supports the production of area-based statistics from postcoded data.
- “This can be really useful for pasting a lot of datasets together.”
- A service provided by the Office for National Statistics to give you free access to detailed and up-to-date UK labour market statistics from official sources.
- Official UK statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels.
PHE Fingertips datasets, Public Health England
- A rich source of indicators across a range of health and wellbeing themes designed to support Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and commissioning to improve health and wellbeing, and reduce inequalities.
- “Useful for anything related to health and wellbeing.”
Registered charities, Charity Commission for England & Wales
- A list of charities that have registered with the Charity Commission in the UK.
- “Useful for financial benchmarking, performing due diligence checks on new organisations, and analysing diversity.”
- Use this guide from NCVO to set up your own database using the Charity Commission register.
- A full list of all charities on the Scottish Charity Register.
- “Useful for looking up a charity’s status, accounts, website, contact info etc.”
- A digital research hub that brings together the latest and best available data on small charities in the UK.
Wales Index of Multiple Deprivation, Welsh Government
- This index is designed to identify the small areas of Wales that are the most deprived.
- “It is useful to support our Wales regional teams to contextualise our funding.”
- Open, standardised data published by UK grantmakers about who, what and where they fund.
- “This is helpful to see who else is funding our grantees, comparing funder activity in a specific area and mapping the funding sector to contextualise our cold spots.”
How can you work more effectively with public datasets?
Datasets from outside your own organisation can be an invaluable resource to help you collect your own data, and also check your own findings and assumptions. Which of these tips or datasets could help you work more effectively with public datasets? Are there any you use that are missing?
In our next blog, we’ll share insights from our Data Champions workshop on Responsible Data. And in case you missed it, you can catch up on our previous blog on data workflows and data collection for more insights from the Data Champions programme.
If you have any feedback or have found this blog useful, we’d love to know! We also welcome ideas for blogs and other content from our community. Drop us an email with your feedback or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.