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How to Actually Use Open Data for your Non-profit – a case study

We’ve been writing a lot about open data on the blog – what it is, where to find it, and so on.  We’ve been dispelling some myths about its problems and complexity. But what is open data actually useful for?  I mean – we’re all very busy people, not exactly looking around for things to do to fill up all our free time.  What is the bottom line about open data and how can you use it to serve your nonprofit’s goals?

Open data can be actually useful to your nonprofit in several ways:

  1. Getting more grants.  Most funders want to see clear data to support your grant applications.  That’s great if you already have lots of data collected and analyzed.  But if you don’t – what to do then?  You guessed it – open data!  When research has already been done, and data is publically available, you should take full advantage of the opportunity. Use the open data in your grant application to make a strong case while showing off your quantitative chops to potential funders.
  2. Making strategic decisions.  Open data can supply valuable information as you navigate the many options and decisions facing you.  Determining how to spend precious resources more effectively and efficiently can be a complex process, and your gut can only tell you so much.  Facts and figures can clarify many things, and data-backed evidence can be extremely useful in your decision-making process.
  3. Collaborating with others.  The benefits of collective impact, collaborative research and partnerships are becoming more widely recognized in both the public and nonprofit sectors.  Open data can help you find potential partners and can help to leverage your existing partnerships in previously unexplored yet deeply impactful ways.

One story:

The Region of Peel includes a collection of towns and cities just outside Toronto, with one of the largest immigration rates in North America.  The Peel Newcomer Strategy Group is a nonprofit with a mission to provide services in as coordinated, accessible and available way as possible.  Their intention is to develop a “No Wrong Door” approach to service delivery for newcomers to the community.  Through this effort, they quickly realized they needed more information: they needed to know where newcomers were settling in the community, what percentage were unemployed, what level education they had, and where settlement services were located.

For example, one service provider has heard from clients that unemployment for newcomers is a very prominent issue in their community. The provider is interested in applying for funds that will support newcomers in gaining employment. Before this provider applies for funds, they would like to know the settlement services in the area and consider partnering with them around a funding application.

The provider would benefit from knowing the following:

  • What percentage of newcomers is unemployed?
  • What education they have?
  • What other agencies could they partner with?

Settlement supports they could partner with:

    1. Newcomer Centre of Peel
    2. Afghan Women’s Counselling And Integration Community
    3. India Rainbow Community Services of Peel

Using locally available open data, they were readily able to find many helpful answers. Additionally, along the way they discovered and partnered with organizations with similar goals such as the Newcomer Centre of Peel, the Afghan Women’s Counselling And Integration Community and India Rainbow Community Services of Peel.

As a result of these local partnerships, not only were their immediate data needs met, they then went on to develop a new online tool that was strategically and mutually beneficial to all involved.

This is just one success story of how open data helped not only one nonprofit, but a collection of nonprofits and the local community as well.  Let open data help you find answers, collaborators, and innovations for you and your organization – and share your success stories with us!

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Here is the link to the new tool:

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Percent change is misleading - even when shopping for socks.