Category: Open Data

Be Bold. Measuring Impact #NCPIgnites


Yesterday I attended the New Philanthropy Capital Conference “Burning Issues and Being Bold” It was a day focusing on measuring and evaluating projects, demonstrating impact – it was right up our street. Unfortunately I was only able to attend for the morning.

However even though I was only there for half the day and I still woke this morning with my brain whirring from the conversations that took place, so much so I’m not sure I have yet processed it all, but as I sit here mulling it all over, sound bites from the speakers keep turning over in my head.

This is mush in my brain and so I’m starting to dump some of it here to try and make sense of what I am thinking.

Boldness in times of change

The first session was a panel discussion, called Boldness in times of change with Mike Adamson, Chief Exec of the British Red Cross, Anni Rowland Campbell Director of Inerscitcia and David Robinson OBE, Leading thinker in community , early action and social investment, and it was chaired by Iona Berry head of Charities at the NPC

  • Mike talked of being bold, and how being bold wasn’t just one large step, but a series of small steps – and that includes moving away from superficial evidence and towards more impactful reporting – that would give a collective voice to report “truth to power”.
  • Anni about the “unprecedented period of change” we find ourselves, and that we need to embrace technology, but remain human.
  • David Robinson said the Voluntary Sector has to plan for change and it has to think urgently, inventively and boldly and that they need to work to protect 2 key things:
    1. The needs of the Service Users.
    2. Embracing Experience – this means protecting the people with knowledge on the face of cuts.

“We are data heavy and insight light”

David also said something that stuck with me and followed me through the rest of the day;

We are data heavy and insight light” – We measure what the government and funding bodies want us to measure, but we should be reporting on where our value is and what we want to achieve.

This really struck a note as it is something we’ve been encouraging with the user of our Impact Assessment App. It’s not just numbers, it’s also the stories – the insight. Use your relationships with your clients to measure the impact of the work you do, trust the voice of your clients to tell your story – what are you achieving and use those voices and experiences to action change.

Learning from others

The next session was a keynote speech from Tom Loosemore, Director of Digital Service, Co-operative Group – ” Learning from others”

Tom had a lot to say it was really inspiring listening to him, but the take away points for me were:

  • Slow down, take a step back and have a think it’s a slow revolution. Don’t be passive, Get excited and make things happen – We have it within our power to restart the world again.
  • We have an obligation to build a better future, using the tools and capabilities of the (digital) revolution.
  • Don’t just strategise, Do, Build, Work, Observe & Iterate, Listen and Iterate, Observe and iterate again.
  • What are we learning? Understand the need of your service users. Work with them, don’t write a strategy for them.
  • Report on what matters.
  • Use digital to: Get better at what you do & deliver your purpose in different ways.

“Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

Tom also used a couple of amusing, but simple descriptions to describe some of  the pit falls that the voluntary sector can come up against and what to be aware of. You can sum it up with “Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

  • Hippo – Highest paid person’s opinion – avoid this! You can beat the hippo, if you have a strong voice. Often “paid workers” will try and impose their will on volunteers ad community orgs. This doesn’t have to be the case, speak up, be heard, keep the hippo on a leash.
  • Snails – are the people that hold you back, that fail to innovate, that are negative and don’t try to see the bigger picture. Beware the snails, know when they are likely to raise their heads.
  • Boiling Frog – the org/group that is stuck in a boiling pot getting left behind and slowly dying while not even realizing, the group stuck in their ways, failing to move with the times. Move forwards and embrace change. Take the people around you along for the ride. Don’t be the boiling frog.

A view from Whitehall

Following on from Tom was Lord Bob Kerslake – former head of the Civil Service, He gave a talk that touched on the government’s view of the Voluntary sector.

He said elected members often had a default embedded view of the community / voluntary sector, which differs dependent on their party, he said broadly speaking they are:

Tory: Left leaning & Inefficient
Lab: “Why are they doing our job”

However he also said the gov need us more than we need them – we need to stand up and be strong, government respect that, even if they don’t like it. We can use out collective voice to effect change/

Local government relationships are important to CVS, co production and radical change are needed And he recongnised that there needed to be “Show don’t tell” system to demonstrate innovation and impact.

Looking ahead in measurement and evaluation

After the break we went to the first (and my only) break out session – this was all about looking ahead in measurement. They opened the session be saying that this was for cutting edge practices.  That digital has changed both the pace and quantity of data being collected the we need think about how we are using this data.

But from there I will be honest, I lost the pace of the session very quickly. All the talk and slides looked more at quantitative data than qualitative outcomes, it was all KPI and number driven, The scale the speakers were talk about was beyond where we are currently working. Global enterprises with millions of pounds of funding that needed to collect vast amounts of data – and there was lots of talk of data.

Data collection and data analysis, data tools and extrapolation – mainly for outputs and I was lost, It appears that even on the “cutting edge” we were still looking at number crunching –  all I kept thinking was what about the stories and using people’s voice to evidence outcomes – that’s the impact.

Learning from the morning

Overall the morning got me thinking about how we understand impact measurement and broadly speaking how right I think our approaches are.

You can’t report Impact with numbers alone, you can’t really evidence the real difference you are making in people’s lives with graphs and charts, data means nothing without the background story, You need to make people feel, Or as Chip and Dan Heath would put it – you need to motivate the Elephant:


The over arching themes that I took from the day, and what I feel to be true from our own  work are:

Ongoing monitoring

Don’t just wait to the end of a project to demonstrate impact. Real time monitoring and feedback will allow you follow the progress of your work and the journey your clients are on.

Responsive working

By engaging in ongoing measurement and impact reporting it allows you to know if something is working and if it’s not, and allows to to make changes and respond to clients needs

Define and redefine outputs and outcomes

Know your mission and what your are aiming for, but don’t be afraid to redefine it as your work, and your clients experience shape what you do.

Don’t duplicate measurement

Be brave with this one, If a funder asks for something to be measured, find out if they really need it. What measurement are you already doing, get them to fit into your framework, don’t include another set of reporting unnecessarily.

I’m not a service user!

The final thing I didn’t learn yesterday, but I had reconfirmed. I hate the term “service user” over and over this term was used and I really detest it.  I’m not a service user, I’m more than just a number, and so is my community, we’re, people, clients, human beings, and if were really going to be talking impact we should be talking real people, not just statistics.

All new shiny Grantnav or where to find information on where charity grants go.

infromation on grant given by funders in the uk

I’ve been to many an open data event and written about it, used it and encouraged it’s use for years.

Never have I seen a standing ovation for a data project – until Friday.

Grantnav is a tool built on the open data that grant funders are releasing using 360giving standards.  It’s a wonderful thing.  It’s uncomplicated but powerful.

Intrigued? I bet you are.  Before you read on – go there (no login needed) and have a play When you’re done you might also be tempted to stand and applaud the people behind this.

It’s not just the determination and clarity of thinking of the team at 360giving (and the tech team at Open Data Services) that deserves applause; it’s also the willingness of the funders to fund this programme and release their data. The largest are Big Lottery Fund and Esme Fairbairn Foundation, the smallest is Three Guineas Trust.

Today there are 25 funders, who have openly shared 184,483 grants awarded to 124,212 recipients worth a total of £8,540,945,514 – yes £8.5 billion.   Next month it will be more.

So why does this matter to you?


Grantnav for the local community group, charity or social enterprise. 

  • You can search this information by which place and what activity the grants were given to
  • You can see who gives grants for things that matter to you.
  • You can see who else has received grants in areas that interest you
  • You can find partners with shared interest to collaborate
  • You can find evidence of whether your places or areas of interest are being well funded or poorly funded.
  • You can download this information and combine it with other information, or analyse in new ways
  • You can simply have a good nose – satisfy your curiosity

Grantnav for local councils and other public services

  • Publish your grant giving using the 360giving open data standards
  • Combine the data with your own to learn new things about civic activity in your community
  • Analyse how well your area is being served
  • Find partners to work with
  • Find work to celebrate
  • It’s a ready made list of some of your civic organisations
  • You can simply have a good nose – satisfy your curiosity

Grantnav for grant givers 

  • Publish your grant giving using the 360giving open data standards
  • Find gaps in funding
  • Find partners to work with
  • You can simply have a good nose – satisfy your curiosity


  • use the data to provide new services for civic activity
  • You can simply have a good nose – satisfy your curiosity

Enjoy and use and download this data – but remember two things: this work sits on other work – like the amazing  open charities –  and this is just a start.




Bad manners, blockchains, open data, government as a platform and and Birmingham pigs in muck.

Pigs in muck

Image cc leeturner.

Is the real barrier to open data good manners?

There’s honest open truth in the blog post Over Politeness is the fatal flaw in the open data movement.

Anything Tom Steinberg writes on Open data needs to be taken seriously. It was he who was one of the key people behind the power of information task force report which got government starting to understand why it’s important to free up information.    Never a natural insider, now he writes:

So, how do I feel about it all now, eight and a half years on from the Open Data Principles? Not good. I’ve watched the government of the country I live in sell off our national addressing database, a breathtakingly moronic move that more than undoes the sum and total of good works done in the same time period. And I’ve watched that same government tacitly endorse attempts to kneecap our Freedom of Information law, whilst simultaneously grinning and waving a flag labeled ‘most transparent government in the world.’

I’ve not seen any meaningful attempt to systematically overhaul procurement rules to ensure that new government computer systems produce decent open data by default. This omission is especially important since building open data feeds into new government computer systems remains the only way that most government data will ever get released cheaply, quickly, and in appropriate formats. Factories and power stations only pump out less rubbish when the law says they must, and the same is true of government computer systems. International progress on that front so far? Somewhere between dismal and undetectable.


Transparency laws are like babies: There’s no way to get a real one without someone somewhere having to go through a very unpleasant experience that they’d really do almost anything to avoid. And as a consequence, meaningful transparency laws don’t get implemented except in situations where legislators fear something even worse than the effects of more transparency.

If you don’t believe me, consider the following examples.

In Britain, we did not gain the right to see our Member of Parliament’s expenses untilHeather Brooke forced out a scandal so enormous that four MPs were actually sent to jail. Just in the last two weeks we appear (in a vaguely codified way) to have won the right to see our leaders’ tax returns—but only after a week in which the press savaged the Prime Minister daily over his connections to off-shore finances co-ordinated by his father. The pain required to produce this concession could literally be seen on David Cameron’s face as he was forced to face the issue.

I agree.  I’ve sat on the Local Public Data Panel at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Rarely did I feel I was being much use, often felt stifled by process and internal political demands. This stifling of what people on the panel wanted to achieve was usually tolerated because we were over respecting  convention and frankly being polite (or weary).

Government can and does co-opt,  in part to control change and bog things down.  I do though only partly agree that being combative is the whole answer. Government also needs to invest in sharing information. We’ve benefited from that investment.  It needs to be a combination of a will to change from within government and impatience for change outside.  But then I’m probably still being polite.

Bitcoin for Volunteers and blockchain for government.

Bitcoin is the digital currency that is being fussed over at the moment as  Australian Craig Wright says he invented it.   It’s important because it is a way of creating currency that doesn’t require a bank.  It allows us to trust each other with who owns which money –  because we can all share the same cash book – or ledger.

HullCoin allows people in Hull to create a new currency with the time they put into volunteering. It is similar to the =Bristol Pound or Timesharing in some senses.  What’s interesting, in part, is that it uses a blockchain.  The technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain is, rightly, also on the minds of government.  Why?  If this technology helps us trust each other with money, it can also help us trust each other with much more besides: who has voted, who owns which house, who is entitled to which services and who is qualified to deliver them.

In his speech last week, Digital transformation in government and blockchain technology,  the Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock, said:

To make real progress, we have to be much smarter.

That’s why we started building what we call ‘government as a platform’. That little catchphrase sums up a huge amount of work building many different things – not just actual technical platforms, but also standards, design and service patterns, data registers, and the skills and capability of the people who deliver digital services, and indeed the whole business of government.

All those things – the platforms, the standards, the legacy technology, the service design – come together as an ecosystem of interconnected components that departmental teams can use to assemble their services.

They will only do that, though, if they actually trust those components in the first place. So delivering transformation is just as much about fostering a new culture of trust across government.

The old culture depended on departmental silos, and services designed and delivered within them. Instead we’ve got to work across those silos. And that depends on trust.

This brings us to the benefits of the blockchain.

Blockchains – distributed ledgers, shared ledgers – are digital tools for building trust in data.

Rather than a single central authority demanding trust and declaring: “I say this data is correct,” you have the distributed consensus of everyone in the chain, saying in unison: “we agree that this data is correct.”

They bring with them built-in integrity and immutability. You can only write new data, nothing is ever removed or deleted.

It does sometimes get touted as a wonder solution. In time institutions that we rely on to manage trusted processes – planning departments, banks, local authorities – will be changed by technology like this. The most important first start for government though is to recognise that many of it’s structures are a barrier to better ways of working, to focus instead on what needs to be done to solve a problem.

That is what Mark Rogers – Chief executive at Birmingham City council – has been thinking about in what he calls a

Pig in Muck moment…

His blog post Tapping into Brum’s talent and innovation expresses his  pure pleasure of spending time with a group of people passionate about finding new routes to solve problems:

Hosted by that hotbed of forward thinking grooviness, the ImpactHub, a small number of fellow travellers sat down for a couple of hours to make my brain hurt on the subject of an ‘open innovation system’.

Pretentious? Hopefully not.

Under discussion was actually something very straight-forward; how we might further encourage and accelerate a progressive, welcoming and applied approach to convening interested parties from civil and civic society to tackle the city’s wicked – and not-so-wicked – issues.

Those of you who have been following my ramblings for the last couple of years will know that I am (very) interested in working out, among a number of things, how the council can itself become more innovative, whilst also being more enabling of others across the city to do the same.

It’s important that people like Mark take the time to have their head hurt.  It’s much more productive than the sort of polite government meetings that stifle change in areas such as open data.

Recent things written about open data and community groups and democracy

BBC Reports that ”

The UK government is the most open and transparent in the world, according to global rankings looking at public access to official data.

But web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, whose organisation compiled the table, says the country has “a long way to go” before it has a fully open government

UK addresses as open data:  the “UK’s first open and free address list launches”:

Voluntary sector and open data.

David Kane from NCVO writes:

My aim as a member of ODUG is to represent the needs of the voluntary sector – but to do that I need your help. I’d love to hear your open data issues – are there datasets that government produce that would help you but which you can’t get hold of at the moment?

A great place to start is the data requests process on This is where you can request access to datasets that aren’t currently open – they’ll be looked into by the team at the Cabinet Office and ODUG will also keep an eye on the process. You can also get in touch with me directly if you have any questions or comments about open data.

Something that ODUG members have been working hard on recently is a response to the government’s proposals for a National Information Infrastructure (NII). This ODUG paper published today sets out what we believe a National Information Infrastructure should look like, and how it is as important for the country as a physical infrastructure such as Crossrail.

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