The UK government is committed to opening up a wide range of data to the public – and now there is a growing movement for charities here do the same. But while many see its potential, few feel they have the confidence or know-how to participate. Fear not: the Open Data Challenge is designed to help organisations take their first step.

The Challenge came into being as part of preparation for a session I am running with colleagues at a forthcoming event on Unlocking the Potential of Open Data. We want to show what charities who are already using open data are doing, and how others might learn from it.

There is already a lots of data about voluntary sector in the public domain (eg, see Open Charities or NCVO’s Voluntary Sector Datastore). But there is very little on how and what charities are actually doing which is accessible.

A new website VCS Open hosts a directory of charities who have posted Open Data to their websites, and a showcase of ‘Opened’ data – data that has been ‘hacked’ or analysed to yield useful insights. There is also a list of resources to help novices to get started and create their own open page on their website.

I understand that Open Data is a low priority for most organisations, if it’s on their radar at all. But as Ed Anderton from Nominet Trust recently wrote, we need to reach a ‘critical mass’ of charities so the benefits for the sector can be clearly seen. That’s where the Open Data Challenge comes in.

The Challenge is an easy way for charities to open up a crumb of their data and quickly see interesting results. It asks charities to enter their charity number and the number of people or organisations they have worked with in the financial year ending 2011. That’s it.

Charities can dip their toe in the Open Data waters and see the results without any commitment. A spreadsheet of the entries is available on the website for Open Data enthusiasts out there to do something exciting with and post the results on the website. 

We aim to show how the insight gained from sharing even a tiny piece of data can yield benefit and make the case for sharing more data – and herald an increase in transparency, potential improvements in service delivery and more scope for collaboration.

So what are you waiting for? It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s just the beginning. Click here to open your data now.

Sarah Parker is Managing Director of Lamplight Database Systems which works with voluntary sector organisations across the UK with a case management database system. She writes on Open Data and Data Standards for Lasa Knowledgebase and maintains VCS Open. Follow Sarah on Twitter @Lamplightdb

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