Open data in action: a 10 minute proof of how it can benefit charities

25 August 2011

This guest blog come from Matt Parker, Founder and Director of Lamplight Database Systems Ltd., which provides affordable database products for the UK voluntary sector. He is also an open data enthusiast and campaigns for better data standards in charities. We like it so much that we thought we’d share it.

Yesterday, I read Iona Joy’s blog on this site about the problems hospices are having fundraising, particularly those in poorer areas. As a trustee of a youth club in one such area I can relate to the issues. And as a data geek, I know just what is needed.

One of the lines that stuck out was Iona’s wish for a future where service provision can be mapped against social need: “One day, I hope, a donor could click on a map and see the areas needing more investment”, she wrote.

Following this lament were two links: one to an IMD map (Indices of Multiple Deprivation) and one to Help the Hospice’s directory, with the suggestion we look at one and then the other.

So here we are, let’s have them mashed up! First of all, we need an easy to use IMD map – not the static graphic on the neighbourhood statistics site. A quick search took me to this Guardian page featuring the work of Alasdair Rae, an academic at the University of Sheffield. He’s prepared a useful map of the IMD using Google Fusion.

Next step is the Hospice data: Help the Hospices’ site has a directory of hospices displayed on a Google map and listed in a table.

Unfortunately, there’s 73 pages and the table listing doesn’t include geographical data. Were this more than just a proof of concept I’d contact them and ask for a table with the data in. As it is, I just browsed to the first four pages of the listing and copied the javascript that adds the markers in the right place – so we’ve only got the first 40 on the map below. But if Help the Hospices want to put their directory in a nice Google table and open it up it’d be easy to map them all… There’s no registered charity numbers easily accessible either, but if they were available we could also mash up some financial data from the Charity Commission if we really wanted to.


(Unfortunately, for technical reasons we’re not able to put the interactive version on this blog)

Conclusion? This shows how open data can be used to solve problems and gain insights, and, I believe, contribute to a more effective charitable sector. All it takes is a bit of imagination and a little technical know-how.

And if the data are available, it need not take much time – it’s taken longer to write this blog than to create the map. If Help the Hospices (and others!) want to make their data #opendata this sort of thing would be even easier and more comprehensive.

You can read Matt’s original blog post here.