Data, data everywhere…

360Giving wants to free up 80% of the UK’s grants by value as open data.  So we need to encompass the biggest grant makers. We were delighted to work closely with BIG Lottery officers and recently their Chief Executive Dawn Austwick to begin publishing their impressive grant record as basic open data (on which, more developments soon).

But there are a good number of much smaller lottery distributors who make tens of thousands of grants between them.  Most of the distributors are covered by Freedom of Information legislation and I’ve been beavering away over the last few weeks with a series of FOI requests politely asking for their data for each of the last five financial years. Generally I have been asking:

>>I should be grateful for a spreadsheet/csv file of your grants made for the last five financial years. I should like to know the
name of the recipient organisation,
date of grant,
purpose of grant/description,
address of recipient including post code,
company or charity number of recipient,
[activity] of recipient,
scheme under which grant was made,
source of funds (eg lottery, exchequer etc).

Which seems reasonable to me and something that a statutory grant maker will have in their database – it is public money after all.  Some have given a great response, others not. There seems to be a particular reluctance to provide the company or charity numbers of grantees, which is odd.   I am now working with a number of experts to find a way around the problem.  But this exercise has brought a further hundred thousand grants or so into the public domain as primitive open-ish data.

Our grant data page shows all the data we have unearthed so far by FOI as well as data found simply by tracking it down in a grant-maker’s website.  I was particularly pleased to bump into the Technology Strategy Board who pointed me to their grants spreadsheet with over £2 billion of grants in it.

This creates a further challenge – lots of spreadsheets scattered all over the internet with data in all sorts of forms, none of it standardised.  So you can’t be sure what information is in which column. We want people to publish their data themselves in a standardised format so that others can re-use it for better grant making.  But we have only just published our data standard and it needs road testing.  And in the very early stages of an open data journey you need to keep things simple

‘grass-roots action is essential. Put the data up where it is: join it together later.’

Tim Berners-Lee

Our model at 360 giving is NOT a ‘library publishing’ model, where we gather all the data up and keep it safe and then charge for access to it.  But in the very early stages we need to pump-prime data standardisation and manipulation.  We think that the best way is to demonstrate by doing.  So we are going to engage some experts to standardise the data we have found so far, despite its gaps and flaws and create a public database as a demonstrator.  We can then feed the learning back into our work helping people to publish.  More on that in the following blog post.

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