Big challenges – and rewards – for Big Data in the third sector

Image from Flickr user JustGrimes, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

Image from Flickr user JustGrimes, licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

By Stephen Lochore

‘Big data’ is big news! Along with its close relative ‘open data’, it’s part of the latest thinking about how managing information can help bring about better services. The rough idea is to use new technology and approaches to understand, analyse, link and where possible share large complex datasets to generate new insights and improve decisions.

In 2012, the UK government identified big data as one of eight ‘great technologies’ that support science and business, and since then has invested in a range of big data initiatives through the UK Research Councils. This includes the ESRC’s Big Data Network, whose current phase involves establishing four academic research centres to make data from local government and business more accessible.

In Scotland, an industry-led data lab, backed by public funding, is due to open late in 2014 to develop new data science capabilities.

Most of the focus has been on private sector innovation, higher education research capabilities and public sector datasets. Little has been said about the third or voluntary sector, which is surprising:

  • Third sector organisations provide a wide range of services – policymakers need to understand the sector’s structure and capabilities;
  • Many third sector organisations gather information that could help improve the design and delivery of services – they work directly with local communities including vulnerable groups who can be reluctant to engage in formal consultations.

Fortunately, there are a few initiatives which are looking at these issues.

On Monday 13 October I went to the first of a series of workshops organised by Scottish Universities Insight Institute into the opportunities and challenges of using data for Scotland’s third sector organisations.

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Housing associations – great places to work?

protect houseIn our second blog on housing associations we look at why they are consistently cited as great places to work and what the future might hold for them.

by Brelda Baum

Housing associations (HAs) are perceived to be great places to work according to The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For 2014 survey (not for profit results) which is dominated by HAs and social housing employers. This seems to demonstrate that, despite the availability of other more lucrative options, people still want to work in the housing sector, perhaps because HAs and social housing organisations are at the forefront of a very rapidly changing environment, often at the cutting edge of a lot of social issues, so that by working for them, people see themselves in a position to do some good and see evidence of it. Continue reading