Creating a ‘Data Lab’

This is an exciting time to be helping organisations access data for impact. The government has set the agenda to open up and encourage use of its datasets, and a number of organisations and initiatives have been established to make data more accessible.

Most funders and not-for-profit providers recognise the importance of measuring the impact of interventions on beneficiaries. Funders increasing require organisations to deliver a specified outcome in return for payment or investment, using mechanisms such as payment by results and social impact bonds. In turn, not-for-profit organisations are exploring ways to evidence the outcomes of their work.

In line with this development, NPC has created the ‘Data Lab’ project, a four-year programme funded by the Oak Foundation through its Housing and Homelessness Programme. The first Data Lab, the Justice Data Lab, was developed by the Ministry of Justice in response to a proposal from NPC and launched in April 2013. It provides organisations working with offenders and ex-offenders with a report of their service users’ re-offending rates compared to a matched comparison group.

The next stage of the project focusses on exploring the suitability for the creation of Data Labs in areas related to homelessness and the prevention of homelessness. NPC’s research into existing datasets and assessments of demand and supply has highlighted employment and benefits, physical health and substance misuse as areas for further exploration with charities and data-holders, including the relevant government departments.

Our work to support the development of the Justice Data Lab highlighted that improving access to government-held data is not enough to ensure that it will be used. And so, a core function of NPC’s work will also be to inspire and engage not-for-profits to measure their impact by highlighting the benefits of such a service, and by engaging funders to send clear messages about the importance of measurement.