Apropos of nothing, I tweeted a series of thoughts late last week on Open Data and the voluntary sector and thought I’d expand slightly on those thoughts here.
I’m not hopeful at this point in time as to whether the voluntary sector is well-placed to contribute towards the drive to Open Data. It’s well known that generating management information or evidence – of output, of outcome, of impact – is not the strongest trait of the voluntary sector, so the jump to publishing it in an open format feels like running before walking.
Even then, if a voluntary sector organisation can publish its data, various questions arise.
1. Would anyone be interested in a voluntary sector organsiation’s data? Given the fun and games – as well as the novelty – of having public sector data, it seems more likely to me that people will want to play with the public sector data being made available before looking at anything the voluntary sector produces.
2. Would voluntary sector organisations want to provide their data for others to look at? By others, I mean fellow voluntary sector organisations and private sector organisations, both of which represent potential competitors. The drive for public sector organsations to publish their data is transparency: does the same motivation hold for voluntary sector organisations? I’m not sure it does.
3. Similar to the point above, the power relationship between local authorities and voluntary sector organisations could mean that the latter may not be willing to publish their “real” data, since it could reveal either (a) things aren’t going as well as they say, or (b) things are going better than they say when it comes to spend versus grant / service level agreement / contract value, which creates problems in itself.
On the other hand, there’s the potential benefit that voluntary sector organisations can gain from using Open Data made available by public organisations. I think the voluntary sector is ideally placed – as agile, responsive and nimble organisations – to make the most of Open Data provided by the public sector. Sure, there are questions of technical know-how, but these seem relatively easy to overcome given the benefits that could accrue.
(As ever, others got to this far quicker, far better and with far more articulation than me – see, for example, this excellent post from David Kane at NCVO. Some of my points hopefully complement those David makes. Please do leave any comments / thoughts etc. below.)