Unlocking the potential of data in the third sector

Data and digital technology present many opportunities for the third sector, so why has uptake been so slow?

In episode two of our podcast How we innovate: third sector talks, Marcelle Speller chats to Brevio’s Billy Wright and New Philanthropy Capital’s Rosario Piazza about how technology is transforming the charitable sector.

Listen to the full podcast here.

What can we learn from data?

NPC recently launched an innovative data dashboard that collates data from a number of UK charities. The dashboard helps charities and funders see the places most affected by covid-19, and those that have underlying factors—such as age, health, ethnicity, economic indicators, and multiple deprivation—which may put them at risk.

“At NPC we are in a place where we can connect funders, charities, social enterprises, and governments, so we really wanted to leverage that position. We asked ourselves, is there anything we can do to support the sector in this time of unprecedented crisis?” says Rosario. 

And they did by unlocking the power of administrative data. The project aims to open up government administrative data to the social sector, and to help charities, funders and government bodies to better understand the long term impact of their services on beneficiaries. 

Rosario says the dashboard has proven to be a vital resource for the sector, even beyond the UK. 

“I know some funders have been using it – we received extremely positive feedback, for instance, from the US. The Bill Gates Foundation nominated [the dashboard] as one of the most amazing digital initiatives and set of resources available.”

Rosario says “there are many challenges when it comes to both digital and data. I’ve always seen that as an opportunity for the sector to be more vocal and transparent about what they do.”

But what role does digital technology play in the third sector?

Brevio’s non-executive Director, Billy Wright says that when it comes to digital transformation, technology is not the barrier, cultural change is.

“Delivering the technology change is often the relatively easy part. What is much more complicated and much more challenging, is driving the cultural change – getting people to think and work in a different way, and to think about the established business models and power bases, in a fresh way.”

What can the third sector learn from other sectors?

“I think if you look at any modern commercial business that has digital at its heart, which increasingly means virtually every business, you’ll find that the most successful businesses have adopted a quite different way of working to the way businesses worked 15 to 25 years ago,” says Billy.

Reflecting on how the pandemic has affected the sector, Marcelle says it has forced us to think about things and do things differently.

“In a way, [covid has] shaken people out of a certain complacency, now that things have to be done differently, we have to think fast, we have to work fast, we have to make decisions when we don’t have all the information.”

Billy says that the pandemic has also highlighted which charities are in need of funding and which ones are delivering. 

“What a lot of funders are recognising is that actually, it’s the cold spots and the unmet needs that really need to be more carefully looked at. Often, when you really get down to the level of impact, you find that it’s the smaller, more innovative charities are really delivering.”

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