One giant leap forwards

By Ellen Harries 2 April 2013

Today marks the launch of the Justice Data Lab—the Ministry of Justice’s flagship open data initiative. At NPC we welcome the launch with arms wide open, and look forward to the opportunities it will provide for criminal justice charities all over the country. It might mark only a small step for government, but for charities, this is a potentially giant leap forwards.

Historically, obtaining statutory data from government has been an arduous, and sometimes impossible, process. In our Unlocking Offending Data survey, we asked over 230 charities and social enterprises about their need for and attitude to data on reoffending: Half had tried to access data on reoffending, but only a fifth were successful every time. And of those that managed to access the data, 83% felt this had been a hard process.

As Chris Grayling’s Rehabilitation Revolution steams ahead, charities and social enterprises are being asked to demonstrate the impact of their work as part of the new payment by results contracts. In the justice sector, this means providing hard evidence of how your charity’s services actually reduce reoffending.

But to be clear about what works to reduce reoffending those working in criminal justice need access to evidence about which approaches are successful. The Justice Data Lab provides an opportunity to do exactly this. The MoJ holds detailed information on reoffending, and through the Data Lab, charities can now submit data requests for the reoffending rates of the people they work with. This service will comply with data protection laws—only aggregate data will be supplied, nothing on individuals—and is free for a year. Access to this data will enable charities to really get to grips with the impact their service is having. And it will be even more important as the commissioning of services is shaken up over the next few years.

So, this represents a giant leap for charities, and also a big win for NPC. We have been working with the Oak Foundation to promote the open data agenda, and have been supporting the MoJ in developing the Data Lab. We know the Data Lab won’t solve everything, and that measuring reoffending rates provides only a snapshot of the impact criminal justice charities have. But providing charities with access to statutory data so they can prove their worth is a big deal. And charities are already lining up to submit their requests– an important indication of the appetite for this service.

So, these are exciting times for open data, and should this model prove successful other government departments could open their databases in a similarly controlled manner, heralding a new era of impact reporting for the charity sector. This is food for thought at the moment, but watch this space for more work in this area…