The Trust at The Detail Data Launch
An exciting new partnership is bringing the sector together with the brave new world of open data. The Trust's Robbie Best went along and was encouraged by what he heard...
This week saw the launch of an exciting new collaboration between NICVA and investigative journalism website The Detail which will see them work together to harness the power of open data.
The Detail Data is being funded by the Big Lottery Fund and, in my view at least, is as important as it is innovative.
As NICVA’s Lisa McEllheron said at the launch, it is ‘right where our sector should be – just ahead of the curve’.
The ambitious 3 year project will deliver training to the Northern Ireland Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector on how to best use open data to serve and develop communities, as well as create a huge resource in the already impressive data portal - data.nicva.org.
Alongside this, The Detail will continue their excellent work in investigative journalism with at least 30 data-based stories produced over the 3 years of the project.
At the launch, which was attended by around 70 people, there was a great buzz around what this initiative could achieve but also some misgivings and wariness around the issues of privacy and Data Protection – which is to be expected due to the sector’s lack of familiarity with a lot of these issues.
There is definitely a balancing act to be negotiated between openness and privacy and each individual organisation will need to find its own level of interaction so it can square that particular circle.
For me, it seems as if this initiative can be split up into two distinct – but interlinked threads – both of which marry up well with our own work in the realms of Social Innovation and Creative Space for Civic Thinking.
The first is the data portal and how this will hopefully be a tool to help the sector operate more effectively and it’s attitude towards data and its possibilities.
The world is now run on data – the examples of which are too plentiful to list here – and the NI VCSE needs to get itself into that mind set, to accept this context if it is to be modern, impactful and relevant to the people it wants to serve.
If the private sector is using data to design services, websites and apps to sell things to us then we, as a sector, should be using data to help people in their day to day lives – to help design our services, to identify need and to make sure we are making the impact we need to.
We can’t let fear of the new hold us back from making a positive difference to the most vulnerable in society – initiatives like this are essential for us to stay relevant in the digital world.
For me, this aspect of Detail Data falls squarely into the realm of digital social innovation the Trust has been working on for the last few years.
However, rather than simply being a solution to a single problem, this initiative is building capacity and giving the entire sector the tools to think innovatively and to use a digital resource to have more of an impact.
The investigative journalism aspect of this project is also really exciting.
Independent, reliable and trustworthy journalism is one of the bedrocks of a true democracy and this initiative is helping to provide that.
Our media can too often be simply a sounding board for corporate interests or political parties, meaning people are less informed than they really should be about the decisions being made on their behalf.
By committing to produce well researched, robust, data-based journalism this initiative is playing a key part in democracy and has the ambition and skill to question and hold to account those in power.
This is a key function of our sector and while the Trust has been involved with setting up an Open Government Network here in NI - one aspect of which will be to advocate for more ambitious commitments to open data by the NI Executive and local councils -, as well as, funding some research into the Independence of our sector, but these are only part of the puzzle – journalism can, and should, play a key role in helping our sector fulfil its role as a way for citizens to engage with governments and elected representatives.
For the sector to best serve communities across NI – whether that be through the delivery of services or through being a conduit for democratic action, we need to be innovative , open, and engaged this exciting initiative is all those things.