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Data and insight

This page is free to all

Use this page as a very basic introduction to data and insight and why they matter to community groups and charities. The support with data and insight section listed above signposts you to related NCVO guidance and other organisations with information.

What is data?

Data is any collection of information you have. It becomes useful information if you process and analyse it to learn things (gain insights).

Here is a selection of different things you might have that you can get data from.

  • Attendance registers from sessions you run
  • Casual feedback from people leaving sessions (if you make a note of it)
  • Financial records
  • Email list open rates
  • Analytics of visitors to your websites
  • Case notes
  • Enquiry line conversations including recordings
  • Surveys where you ask the people you work with for information about themselves
  • Pictures drawn by children about how they feel

There are also many types of data available publicly that your organisation might be able to use, including information published below.

  • By the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and other bodies that tell you about ethnicity, gender, wealth, literacy and other factors, by area breakdown.
  • By your local council - which covers similar things, but on a local level.
  • About grants that are given out by funders.
  • As Open Data by organisations committed to transparency and openness.

We have a data and insight section in our digital and technology pages, because digital tools are key to helping us work with data. They can help us:

  • collect the data
  • store the data safely if used well, or put it at risk if used badly
  • analyse and compare large amounts of data, looking for patterns, trends and diversity of views
  • make graphs and images from data (data visualisation) to help us tell the story of what we do
  • generate data about online activities.

Handling data safely is important. For information that could identify or contribute to identifying an individual you have a series of legal duties related to that safety. This is covered in our section on data protection.

What do you need data for?

If your organisation needs to demonstrate the difference it makes (outcomes and impact) and how it does this (outputs) it needs data. You need it to learn from what went well and what needs improving. You need it to provide evidence and be accountable. It is particularly important if you're applying for funding. Most funders need you to provide some reports on what you do.

You might think of this as knowing whether you’ve met your aims, objectives, goals or targets.

This is most commonly known as impact or impact assessment. It also includes monitoring and evaluation which form part of the impact assessment picture.

Doing this well is particularly important if you want to apply for funding.

You will usually report on some or all of:

  • Outputs – products, activities, services or facilities that your work or project creates.
  • Outcomes – the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of your project or your organisation’s work.
  • Impact – broad or longer-term effects of a project or organisation’s work.

What will you do with it?

You'll need to:

  • understand the problem or issue you're trying to solve
  • identify the difference you want to make
  • decide what to measure
  • measure, and learn from what you discover
  • improve your services.

Here are some things to consider to keep on track when collecting data.

  • Are you collecting the right amount of data – is it at the level of detail you need?
  • Are you exploring sensitive issues about people’s lives – is the method you're using appropriate?
  • Have you got the right skills in your organisation to carry out the type of activity you want to do?
  • Will you be able to analyse the data once you have it?
  • Will the people you're working with trust you and understand what it is you're trying to do?
  • Have you thought about the rights of the people you're working with?
  • How reliable and valid are the methods you're using? Do they really show what you hope they'll show?

Fortunately there's lots of advice online that you can work through to start managing data for your organisation. For larger organisations, there are expert consultants who specialise in supporting community interest companies and charities to get this right. Smaller organisations can look for advice through regional networks.

Where can you get support with data and insight?

Use NCVO's advice

We have impact specialists who provide training and consultancy.

We have a selection of practical support articles, training courses in related subjects and consultants who can advise you. Our focus is the whole picture rather than the digital side of data.

Connect with other key services

These are some other key organisations working with data or impact.

Inspiring Impact

Inspiring Impact provides simple resources that help you make the most out of data. Its goal is to help you learn from the information you have so you can support the people you work with better.

Datakind UK

Datakind are specialists in giving free advice about data science. They connect volunteers with charities and other community organisations to help you work out what to do with large or complex sets of data you've collected. They understand the software and tools to help you understand what your data can actually tell you.

  • Office Hours. You can book a slot to ask them any kind of question about data. It could be a technical challenge, a strategic question or a completely random idea.
  • Datadive. Understanding what you've got. They link you up with data scientists who'll go through your information, sort it in different ways and help you understand what it can tell you about your work. There can be a waiting list, and projects take three to six months to complete.
  • Datacorps. Planning a longer term data project. Deciding what to collect and analysing it over several months. Again Datakind can connect you with volunteer data scientists with the skills to do the work. Only a small number of these projects take place each year.

Find out more about these offers, how to apply and charities they've worked with. Datakind UK ‘What we do’ page.

Other digital volunteering

Many digital volunteering schemes will have volunteers who can help with the digital side of data. They can help with things like making the best use of analytics, heat maps and other web-based tools.

Find digital volunteering opportunities.

Regional services

Check with your local infrastructure support organisations who support community groups and charities. Ask them if there's an organisation with a focus on supporting charities to use data well in the area. Use our guide to how to find local infrastructure organisations.

One example is London. Superhighways and Datawise London are two organisations specialising in data and impact.

They run training programmes only available to London-based organisations but anyone can use their online resources.

More advanced support

Open data aims to make the world a better place by sharing information. Find out more from the Open Data Institute (ODI).

If you want to audit how well your organisation is doing with data and find out how to do more you can try the data maturity assessment tool by Data Orchard.

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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