The Power of Data

At Buttle UK, we see data as one of the most powerful tools for social change in our armory. That’s why we’re so passionate about wading into the challenges and opportunities that data sharing presents.

By Pixie Parker · October 2, 2023

In the grant making sector, and the wider charitable sector, we are sitting on an absolute wealth of information. We know that the publication of key governmental data can lag some way behind the point at which it was measured, for myriad reasons. That means that we are always working with data that reflect a different time and a different cohort. On the other hand, organisations making grants are on the frontline. We see and know peoples’ stories as they happen; the data we collect is live, raw and actionable. And many organisations are in a position to get it out into the world much quicker, and safely too. It’s all about identifying the audience, the purpose and the means.

Certainly for Buttle UK, we are given a window into the poverty landscape through the data we collect on application. We can map protected characteristics by family type and area, and therefore, the demographics of households living in poverty. We can measure exactly how much we grant, what we fund, and what necessitated it, down to postcode level. The value of our data is in how it contributes to conversations around poverty and inequality. Our grants may help individuals, but our data unlocks the whole picture of the who, the what, the where, and the why, to help make change for everyone. And that underpins our purpose and our audience; the campaigners who can use their platform to enact change for us; the funders who can see our work and find good reason to invest in it; the individuals who want to know how we can help them; the list is endless.

We recognise, though, that it has taken a journey to get to where we are today. Many organisations find it challenging to turn raw data into key insights. That can be because of staff expertise, workload capacity, core understanding and organisational strategy. We also acknowledge that it can feel very daunting in a society with a growing concern and care for where its data is shared – and rightly so. That’s why we do not undertake this journey alone. Finding the means to share data safely, openly and purposefully is something we have largely done through collaboration.

We are really proud to publish our data on 360 Giving, a charity which has recently taken huge strides in making it possible to safely, anonymously report data on grants to individuals. Their vision is to create informed understanding of the sector and to improve charitable giving. The databank it has created is free to use and submit to, with support and guidance throughout provided at no cost. It also provides analytical tools and visualisations, which can have huge value for organisations without access to an advanced database.

One of the first places we ever shared our data openly was the Local Needs Databank led by New Philanthropy Capital. It’s a really great example of cross-sector collaboration and the power of deeper understanding grown by data insights. It’s also a reminder that, where data expertise or workload capacity is lower within your own organisation, we can lean on those who generously lend their own skills to bring that data to life. In this way, data sharing can be such a powerful tool for internal organisational growth and strategic understanding. It’s a two-way street.

We are also engaging with Data for Action, Datakind and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on an ambitious new project. It’s exploring ways to help charities to share their data and to realise the untapped potential it offers. You can read more about it here. These organisations are great places to start if you simply want to understand more about the ‘why’ of data sharing. The JRF has written about the battle of missing data and the underuse of existing data, which gives great food for thought, too.

At Buttle UK, we know that years of strategic work has led us to this point of confidence and excitement for the possibilities that data sharing presents. We’ve also maneuvered around many of the obstacles and barriers that are so daunting at the beginning. If you are completely new to the journey, we are keen to help. The more organisations that contribute, the greater our collective understanding. We are stronger, together.

We urge you to start, if you are at the beginning, by reflecting on what data you collect and who might need it more than you think. The value of what we have is easily forgotten if we face inwards only. You may not realise the full extent of the wealth of data you have, and the role it can have in contributing to conversations about need, support, diversity and equality. Hopefully, the organisations we’ve shared here give examples of exactly what that can look like. It’s helpful to have directions to start the journey on! Ultimately, when we contribute our data into the world, we are taking an active role in driving more visibility and investment into our sector. It’s always a great feeling to know where we fit in the bigger picture – and working with that tribe to make things better for everyone.

Jessie Adams – Impact and Evaluation Manager, Buttle UK

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