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Organising and deciding

Getting the most out of open data

Lindsay Street, our researcher, explores how Big Local areas can use open data to enlighten their decision making.

One of the principles of the Big Local programme is that residents know best about what the community needs and therefore have control of how to spend their £1 million. But how can partnerships make even more informed decisions, combining their knowledge of the local area with different types of data?

In Matt Leach’s blog, Putting data into the hands of communities, he talks about how open data is an important piece of evidence that can be used to inform decision-making at a hyper local level. But using open data isn’t meant for just ‘techy’ people – here are a few tips and important things to know to help you use it better.

What is open data?

To start with, open data can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone. Local Trust offers a tool, Local Insight, to all 150 Big Local areas which allows you to access open data specific to your area in a user-friendly way.

Inform decision-making

You can make more informed decisions by making sure you have the right data – checking what year it was published and always checking to see what the indicator is exactly showing. This is good practice to make sure you are using open data that fits with what you’re trying to find out.

Whether you’re collecting data yourself or using open data, it’s important to make sure the information you’re collecting and analysing is proportionate to what you want to find out. For example, you don’t want to do an impact evaluation if you want to find out how many people came to the event.

Combine different types of data

As Matt mentions, open data at community level can be hard to come by. It can also be hard to capture soft outcomes, such as how people feel about their community and being a part of Big Local.

“When thinking about using open data, try to think about what other types of data you could use to compliment it.”

This could include case studies, quotes, photos or videos. But, again, remember to always balance what you’re trying to measure with what you need to collect.

If you’re trying to combine different types of information, it doesn’t need to always include data you collect yourself. There are lots of different data sets and types of data out there. For example, if you’re interested in seeing what other funding has been awarded to your area, Grant Nav is a great place to start. The NCVO Almanac also has lots of useful data about volunteering and voluntary sector.

Finally, you may be thinking of doing an evaluation of your activities, including community safety initiatives or interventions to increase well-being. Combine the data you have with research that has already been done. The Community Reduction Toolkit reviews a number of initiatives that you may be investing in and helps you identify the extent to which they lower crime rates and the conditions in which they work best. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing also has a review of different interventions and their effect on increasing well-being.

Telling a story

Using the data you’ve collected to tell a compelling story can be difficult. Think about the audience and how to get their attention. For example, if it’s for residents, try to keep it jargon free and accessible to everyone who wants to read it. When thinking about your audience, also think about what will get a reaction from them, think about what you want them to remember or even take action about.

Depict Data Studio can help you identify which graph is best for the data you’re trying to show and includes tutorials on how to create them using Excel.

If you want to know more about Local Insight and how to access it, email

If you’d like support with measuring the difference your Big Local is making, we can help with this too. See Supporting areas to measure change