How transparent is the data on OpenCharities?

OpenCharities gathers financial data from 319,851 non-profit organisations.

However, it’s difficult to draw consistent observations from the data available. Some profiles are incomplete or out-of-date while others include a full financial breakdown.

The only figures that are disclosed across the board are the income, the total spendings and the amount of money spent on charitable activities. With this data, I was able to create a simple Many Eyes bar chart of the ten wealthiest British charities’ rough expenses.

Down the side of the chart, I can select the different charities and assess, for example, which ones spend more than they earn.

But I was more interested in looking at the detailed spending strategies of different charities in similar fields. Before starting, I had to check that the organisations I picked disclosed the same amount of information, so my visualisation could be as accurate as possible.

I chose two health-related charities, Cancer Research UK and Nuffield Health.

I created a bubble chart on Many Eyes using both charities’ spending information. Because Many Eyes lets you upload the spendings in one dataset, I was able to visualise both strategies in one graphic by selecting which charity’s finances I wanted to analyse.

It is clear that Nuffield Health spends more money on charitable activities than Cancer Research UK. But this comparison is pointless without a total sum of both charities’ spendings.

By clicking on ‘Flip’ at the top of the screen, these details appear and I was able to calculate that Nuffield Health, a non-profit organisation that still provides private healthcare, spends a larger percentage of its income on charitable activities than Cancer Research UK.

All in all, is a solid initiative – British people should be able to find out how charities are run and how their money could help.

But the website presents many obstacles. The data isn’t downloadable and I was unable to scrape the numbers from the website onto my Google Spreadsheet using the =importHTM(“URL”,”table”,N) formula.

And, even though my second chart illustrates areas of spending more successfully, ‘governance’, ‘trade’ and ‘other’ are hardly tangible areas of spending.

The website needs to break down spending details into concrete and local groups, although this does depend on the charities’ willingness to disclose more data.

But, if they accept that people are more likely to donate when they know where their money is going, charities can only benefit from greater data transparency.

Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore)

Posted in Data Journalism Experiment, Data Sources, Uncategorized, Visualization Experiment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is data making local government more transparent?

These days we are always reading about how local government is becoming more ‘accessible’ and ‘transparent’. Steps are being taken, largely through Freedom of Information requests, to open up details about council spending/ cuts/ initiatives/statistics. One of the main initiatives has been to set up the government’s website says that:

‘The Government is releasing public data to help people understand how government works and how policies are made. Some of this data is already available, but brings it together in one searchable website. Making this data easily available means it will be easier for people to make decisions and suggestions about government policies based on detailed information’.

Here is Nigel Shadbolt talking about the Open Data Initiative in more detail.

This all sounds really promising, and there does seem to be a considerable amount of open data available on the site (5,400 data sets to be exact). I wanted to see who was using these data sets, and what they thought about the government’s efforts. Logging into one of the general forums it became clear that some users were less than impressed with the data sets. Comments criticised the lack of ‘hard data’:

‘The forum should be huge by now.  It isn’t.  The list of data-sets is pathetic. I can only describe it as “Yes Minister.” data.  Harmless.  Unlikely to generate controversy. Unless access is given to the raw data; this quest for knowledge is doomed.’

Someone else drew attention to the same problem saying:

‘Some of the data here is pointless. I wonder if the government are trying for quantity rather than quality.’

However there were people in the forums who seemed to be interacting effectively with the data that was supplied and in turn with the other users. There just didn’t seem to be that many of them. The enquiries that had been posted assumed a fair bit of prior knowledge about data already, which made me think that their authors were probably people who already had a vested interest in the subject. An example of this was ‘how can I build a silo for my enterprise?’ The aim should also be to get people who aren’t from a data background interested.

Another problem that seemed obvious was the fact that there are still some key public bodies which are not subject to Freedom of Information requests. They remain closed off from public investigation. Some of these included:

  • ACAS
  • Local Medical Committees (Statutory body representing GPs)
  • Local Safeguarding
  • Children Boards
  • NHS Confederation
  • Office of the Complaints Commissioner
  • Office of the Schools Adjudicator
  • UCAS

Another good site to visit for interacting with more localised government data is OpenlyLocal. Here you can gain access to information on over 140 local authorities, and more are being added every week.

They currently hold data for:

The site is a great source for finding out the details of council spending, and you can see the total amount spent across all councils on OpenlyLocal on the dashboard. One thing that really shocked me is the infographic on the UK Councils Open Data Scoreboard which you can see if you click here. The fact that only 79 out of 434 councils are considered ‘open’ is pretty shocking. That’s less than 20% of UK Councils being so called transparent with their data.

David Cameron’s speech about transparency shows admirable intentions to open up local and national government. However, the fact that less than 20% of councils are complying highlights he still has a long way to go to get this initiative off the ground.

Posted in Examples of where data journalism is used, How is data journalism used?, Introduction to Data Journalism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with Martin Moore (Media Standards Trust)

One of the latest new additions to the online journalism community has been which was launched on February 27th this year.

It’s the brain child of the team at the Media Standards Trust, who were set up back in 2006 as an independent charity aiming to foster high standards in news media on behalf of the public.

We spoke to Martin Moore who is Director of the Media Standards Trust to see how they have been keeping up with the development of data journalism.

Questions are asked by Emily Lingard (@EmilyLingard) and equipment is operated by Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore).

Posted in How is data journalism used?, Interview, Pioneers and awards | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Data journalism from your mobile phone

U.S. telecoms carrier AT&T picked Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent to build its fourth-generation mobile network, one of the first major orders for the new Long Term Evolution technology. They have called this mobile the new LTE mobile.

The capacity is five to six times higher on the LTE because it uses four times more radio spectrum, according to Mikko Valtonen, a technology specialist at Rewheel consultancy.

This could make journalists’ jobs a lots easiers as they would be able to download data on the go.

LTE network technology promises data download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, but typically the speed would be 10-30 megabits per second, on par with 3G networks. So this a real coup for both the manufacturers at Ericsson and journalists using the phones to download data.

This video shows you just how useful and advanced the new phone is.

From a data journalist’s perspective, a much bigger boost to mobile data usage has come from the development of 3G technology, which started from just 0.4 Megabites per second. With LTE’s upgrades, this has jumped to several Megabites per second.

This could encourage more journalists to try their hand at data journalism. However, with information and data research already at your fingertips from home, a journalist doesn’t really need to leave his or her computer to find a story. So is the LTE phone even necessary?

Whatever the outcome, the LTE phone could help shape the future of data journalism.

By Alex Lawton (@AlexandraLawton).

Posted in Data Sources, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are data visualisations becoming works of art?

A good visualisation should tell a story without becoming one itself.

So what happens when you find a graphic so weird and so wonderful that it can only be described as a work of art?

The trend for strange-looking graphics is becoming increasingly popular. Take a look at a few here and here. Another site worth a visit is blprnt.blg, the work of Jer Thorp, ‘data artist in residence at the New York Times.

Following a Society for News Design (SND) article by John Grimwade,  graphics director at Condé Nast Traveller, the comments I read partly celebrated the artistry behind the works.

Michael Agar suggests ‘most examples…will line the walls of the Pompidou in 50 years’ time’ and it turns out some were on display at the V&A Museum in London in an exhibition called, ‘Decode: Digital Design Sensations’.

But can a graphic exhibited as art also inform like a great data visualisation should?

Or is the viewer too distracted by the beauty of the graphic to focus his or her attention on the graphic’s practical purpose – that of simplifying an issue, event or data by creating a visualisation of it?

As John Grimwade admits in his SND article, ‘I love [the graphics], but to be honest, I often have no idea what’s going on.’

The winner of the Best of Show award at the 2009 Malofiej International Infographics Awards was a New York Times graphic called, ‘The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986-2008’.

In a beautiful interactive chart, it shows different films’ successes and failures at the box office.

For me, its main problem is highlighted in the title: it flows. This means it is almost impossible to read precisely how much, say, ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ raked in, or how long ‘Batman Returns’ peeked for.

Alberto Cairo, editor of brazilian daily O Globo summed up my frustration with the NYT visualisation in this video of the 2010 Malofiej Awards: ‘it’s graphically gorgeous. But…it was really difficult to extract deep meaning from the graphic.’

This poses a real problem for data journalism.

If a complex graphic leaves its viewer feeling more confused than enlightened, more frustrated than empowered to draw his or her own conclusions from the graphic, it is not fulfilling its role. It is leaving the viewer behind.

Graphics professionals should maintain the focus on their readers or viewers.

As John Grimwade points out in his SND article, ‘unless we’re creating pieces for a gallery, everything in a graphic should work to help people make sense of complex information. Especially now, when we’re being bombarded with info from all sides…let’s…not add to the chaos.’

Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore)

Posted in Aesthetics, Event, International Data Journalism, Pioneers and awards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

There’s money to be made in the data world

Businesses across many different industries are now investing in highly sophisticated data technology. They are realising that these new brands of ‘super software’ are the future. More and more there is a need to know customer profiles. Businesses want figures turned into facts, and statistics made into stories about:

  • How well they’re doing
  • Who their customer base is
  • Who they need to target
  • Where they need to go next

Statistics can even help them anticipate where the next trends in the markets will be. Essentially, data has become a business lifeline.

The UK High Street

A simple example of this can be found every day on the UK’s high streets. You walk into a shop, choose something, head to the desk to buy it, hand over your card and……you’re asked whether you wish to be put in the company database to learn of sales and promotional events. But here’s the trick: to register you have to part with your email addresses, telephone numbers, date of birth, marital status and postcode. Then they can tempt you every month with offers, until you eventually give in and spend.

The ‘clubcard’ phenomenon is a fantastic example of how data has become the backbone of some of the UK’s biggest businesses.

  1. Tesco Clubcard
  2. Boots Advantage Card
  3. Sainsbury’s Nectar Card
  4. John Lewis Partnership Card

But why are they all doing it? Giving away loyalty discounts is a price they’re willing to pay so that they can trace which products you buy. Analysts can work out who is buying what and when and then tailor special deals to get you spending to suit your habits. Customer data has become business gold.

On the other hand, customers respond to statistics aswell. Back in 2010 Tesco defied the recession when it declared profits of £3.4 billion. Perhaps its recipe for success was its decision to up its in-supermarket deals to keep customers loyal: 3 for 2, 2 for the price of 1, BOGOF (buy one get one free). It is highly likely that every time you shop you will buy something in response to one of these: it is advertising using, albeit very simple, statistics.

Data entrepreneurs

A more sophisticated example of businesses capitalising on a data-driven world can be seen in digital journalism sites like OWNI. Earlier this month it was reported that OWNI was making money by giving away its content. Being interviewed for MediaShift the site’s director of data journalism, Nicolas Kayser-Bril, explained how they make their money:

‘We specialize in providing apps and social media platforms. Half of our sales today have to do with social media, and the other half has to do with data visualization, crowdsourcing apps, and running innovative journalistic products. We serve all kinds of institutions and NGOs that have a story to tell but don’t know how to do it online. We build the tools for them to do so.’

The online market has been swamped recently with new data initiatives taking off. Another of the latest is a ‘FTL’ (Faster Than Light) new system designed to meet the needs of sectors such as banking and trading. The manufacturer, TIBCO, has said that it reduces the time it takes for information to be sent and received between applications, and could offer a significant competitive advantage. Tibco has yet to divulge how much FTL would cost, but has said that the pricing model would be on a per application basis (which probably means it’s pretty pricey).

Data sifters have become a precious commodity in today’s business landscape. Tools and software designed to help businesses tap into new revenue sources have ever been more popular. The people with the skills to help businesses access customer and economic-related data will no doubt grow in popularity over the coming year. A brand new market is emerging.

By Emily Lingard (@EmilyLingard)

Posted in Future of journalism, International Data Journalism, Pioneers and awards | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Oscar Blend

I spoke to Oscar Blend in an informal interview about the evolving nature and importance of data journalism in his newsroom at the Evening Standard. He describes the divides, the prevalence and the positives/negatives of online data usage at a big newspaper.

To hear the interview, please click here.

By Alex Lawton (@AlexandraLawton).

Posted in Interview, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment