Reading through the Twitter feed of an event I’m interested in but can’t attend is something of a pastime for me. It was with great interest – and not a little amusement – that I was tracking the progress of a recent Nominet Trust event on UK charities and open data. Following the Twitter hashtag #opencharities offered some genuinely fascinating insights into how charities and individuals are using open data to help inform their work. As Tweets such as

and

flashed up on my screen, I got a flavour of the kind of event that was unfolding.

Indigo trustee, Will Perrin, was also at the event as his organisation, Talk About Local, has a long-standing interest in how local organisations in the UK can use open data to help inform and guide their work. He offered the following helpful tips:

  • Work with people at all stages of capability – there was a huge spread in the room, from people who didn’t even gather data from/on their customers to charities that had hired a data geek.
  • Simplify and clarify language – the geeks in particular need to modify their language to be less technical and more inclusive.  You wouldn’t turn up at a meeting and speak Latin, don’t turn up and speak geek – people will feel excluded and walk away.
  • Show the goal or benefits – open data is complicated stuff you need to keep telling people what the goal is so that they persevere.
  • Provide resources all can use – BIG, NCVO, NominetTrust need to pool resources and provide one definitive place for the UK voluntary sector to go to for advice and links on opendata.
  • Encourage behaviour with funding – make it clear grants will be favoured that include and element of open data.
  • Provide somewhere to discuss issues – people who are good at this stuff love to help others.  And the territory covered is so broad that generic advice always needs tailoring. A simple discussion forum for peer support would be the appropriate technical solution.
You could be forgiven for questioning what all of this has to do with Indigo’s work in Africa. The truth is that many of the lessons above apply to organisations seeking to use open data in an African context. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), for example, provides a mountain of data on international development, while Kenya is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership and has released an impressive amount of government data. For NGOs and organisations in country, however, navigating this sea of data can be a confusing and bewildering task. Knowing how to use that data and make the most of it is a challenge both for organisations here in the UK and throughout the world and viewed in that light, it’s easy to see how the lessons coming out of the Open Charities event are as relevant to the organisations we work with as they are to UK NGOs.
Thanks to Talk About Local for additional material.