Data is more important than ever. The Internet has put a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but finding reliable data can be tricky.
Why use data for campaigning?
All socially motivated organisations seek to address some kind of problem in the world, and prove that they’re making progress towards that end. To show a problem exists, and the impact an organisation has on a problem, they need to take information – raw data – and turn it into a compelling argument to persuade funders and supporters.
Sometimes though, the information charities need to secure a particular funding stream or to pull off a successful fundraising campaign needs to be found elsewhere. Google is a great source of information, but sometimes only a tabulated set of statistics will do.
Chances are, a government department will be collecting the data you need on a specific socio-economic group, or the NHS will be collecting information on a particular disease or health issue. If not, a curious journalist or dedicated hobbyist may have posted the data you need.
Here are some trustworthy resources where you can find the statistics you need for more effective campaigning, to help you report the social need for your services and to report your impact.
Guardian data blog
The Guardian’s data blog is like a treasure trove for those seeking data sets.
All the data researched for the newspaper’s stories find a permanent home in the data blog. Topics as diverse as health, Anglicanism, quangos and even J.K. Rowling have a range of stats related to them.
Better still, the data blog doesn’t give you just the dry facts; they often turn those stats into interesting visual representations.
They even make their data easily accessible in spreadsheets and encourage others to use them.
In a bid for transparency, the government has made public data from central government departments, public sector bodies and local authorities easily available through a search-able database at data.gov.
There are over 7,200 sets of data online and that number only looks to increase over time. If you are looking for public data from the UK, then this should be your first stop.
This website does a similar job to data.gov but on a much more local level.
Out of the 434 councils in the UK, there are only 80 on Openly Local’s scoreboard that are completely open with their data.
By displaying the data in a more readable format, Openly Local looks to change this and strives to make council data as accessible as possible.
Freedom of Information requests
The Freedom of Information Act, introduced in 2000, gives everyone the right to request information that is held by public bodies. Charities can request information from local authorities, hospitals, Universities and other publicly-funded organisations.
Someone may have already asked for the information you’re looking for, so to avoid the bureaucracy of making a request, try searching the What Do They Know? website first. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, they provide an easy way to make a new request too.
Download the NCVO’s guide, “Voicing your right to know: A guide to using Freedom of Information in campaigning” for more information about using FoI requests for campaigning.
The National Health Service
The NHS provides data on a range of services they provide and a range of illnesses and general health data sets and publish it all to their Information Centre.
If you cause seeks to address the health needs of society or a particular community, chances are the NHS has some data that may help you make your case.
When tasked with finding out some information, most people will immediately run toGoogle. Yet few people know more than the very basics of how to use the most powerful research tool there is.
With a basic knowledge of some of the more advanced commands you can type into the search box Google can really help you get to the information you need quicker than any other method.
Knowing a few modifiers, such as using a minus to exclude words from searches (e.g. statistics charity -gov) and how to search for keywords on certain sites (as demonstrated in the picture above), can help you narrow down millions of results into a few dozen highly relevant ones.
Other search engines
Since the term ‘googling’ became synonymous with searching the Internet, it has become easy to forget that there are other search engines out there, and sometimes they can even be better suited to specific kinds of questions.
One of the most useful of these is Wolfram Alpha. Billing itself as a ‘computational knowledge engine’, Wolfram Alpha is a lot more than just a search engine. It can search the web, solve complex equations and, most importantly, find statistics.
Each has their unique advantages and will often provide different or alternative results to the standard Google search.
These are just a few useful resources to find data. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet and, while it can be overwhelming sifting though it to find what you are looking for, just remember there are always sites, blogs and databases out there that are trying to make things easier for you.
Once you’ve found the raw data to support your campaign, you’ll need to think about the best way of crunching the numbers and presenting that data in a straightforward way that’s both effective and simple to understand and generates new insights into your cause. Take a look at seven tools to make boring data bautiful.