Pauline Roche: “Data, the new oil” in the charity sector

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Pauline Roche, from RnR Organisation a social enterprise that works for the digital transformation of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, said that despite the hype in the last three years: “[Charities] are still not even early adopters of open data to some extent, it’s just not that well-known in the sector. But having said that there are people that are starting to get it.”


The OD Barameter shows that the UK has been leading the way in government open data since 2013, when it started, to now


According to Barometer’s research data,  the UK has led the way in government open data since 2013, when it started, until today. It has since accelerated from a gesture of transparency to a data revolution as more and more countries join the open data movement.


As a result, other sectors have also started discussing the potential of open data, so is it here to stay? 


Putting aside the fact that the word ‘data’ intimidates many individuals, one common misunderstanding is that data that anyone can access and use is essentially an information ‘give-away’, an edge to the competition.


Pauline Roche explained why this is simply not the case: “[Once] you mix with people that use data for good, you start to understand that data sharing helps everyone.” It also has many other advantages that are often overlooked.


Some of the biggest pros to open data in the charity sector includes:


  • Transparency which translates into trust.
  • A charity sector capable of evolving by bringing various, previously separated, charities’ data together. 
  • The opportunity for outside sources, such as the media, to analyse and accurately write about the charity to a broader audience.
  • It encourages the public to contribute further as they can see where their effort and money goes.
  • It can motivate employees through methods such as weekly newsletters visualising the latest accomplishments.
  • … and perhaps one of the most interesting: visualising your data to over-subscribed funding organisations in an accurate and brief overview.



There are several ways to use data. An obvious, and well-practised use is to analyse and learn where you need to improve and make changes, what works and what doesn’t work. However there is also another use for data that moves beyond closed, office doors – which is to visualise it, perhaps in the process even simplify or compress it.


By visualising data, charities can show everyone facts that they otherwise would not have understood or be willing to analyse. It can show them how a charity has been successful, how much progress it is making and where it plans to improve. This encourages others to contribute, donate and better understand an organisation that they can see is moving forward, or at least trying to.





A tweet from the VCSSCamp unconference co-organised by Pauline Roche and Paul Webster that brings charities and non-profit organisations together to discuss the sector, online tools and data



At the previous VCSSCamp event for charities and non-profit organisations it was pointed out that visualising data helps improve the decision making process of funding organisations. It allows funders to digest a complete picture of the charity, accurately, in the short space of time they have to read through the thousands of applications they receive.


This was further reinforced by a quote from Peter Wanless, then-CEO of the Big Lottery Fund,  who was quoted in the Guardian (in 2013): 


“We are a massively oversubscribed fund, we are operating in a much tighter funding environment, so evidence is absolutely essential if the BLF is to move beyond random acts of kindness and to convince ourselves – and others – that we’re learning from what went before.”


For Pauline data is indispensable, it helps: “To answer the big questions, and the small questions.” So it becomes a question of where to start?



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