About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Data for good

This report explores how capturing, sharing and analysing data in new ways can transform how charities work and how social action happens.

This report explores how capturing, sharing and analysing data in new ways can transform how charities work and how social action happens.

Key Findings

  • Citizens Advice (CAB) and Data Kind partnered to develop the Civic Dashboard. A tool which mines data from CAB consultations to understand emerging social issues in the UK.
  • Shooting Star Chase volunteers streamlined the referral paths of how children come to be at the hospices saving up to £90,000 for children’s hospices around the country by refining the referral system.
  • In a study of open grant funding data, NCVO identified 33,000 ‘below the radar organisations’ not currently registered in registers and databases on the third sector
  • In their social media analysis of tweets related to the Somerset Floods, Demos found that 39,000 tweets were related to social action

New ways of capturing, sharing and analysing data have the potential to transform how community and voluntary sector organisations work and how social action happens. However, while analysing and using data is core to how some of the world’s fastest growing businesses understand their customers and develop new products and services, civil society organisations are still some way off from making the most of this potential.

Over the last 12 months Nesta has grant funded a number of research projects that explore two dimensions of how big and open data can be used for the common good. Firstly, how it can be used by charities to develop better products and services and secondly, how it can help those interested in civil society better understand social action and civil society activity.

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Datakind, a global community of data scientists interested in how data can be used for a social purpose, were grant funded to explore how a datadriven approach to mining the rich data that CAB holds on social issues in the UK could be used to develop a real–time dashboard to identify emerging social issues. The project also explored how data–driven methods could better help other charities such as St Mungo’s and Buttle UK, and how data could be shared more effectively between charities as part of this process, to create collaborative data–driven projects.
  • Five organisations (The RSA, Cardiff University, The Demos Centre for Analysis of Social Media, NCVO and European Alternatives) were grant funded to explore how data–driven methods, such as open data analysis and social media analysis, can help us understand informal social action, often referred to as ‘below the radar activity’ in new ways.

This paper is not the definitive story of the opportunities in using big and open data for the common good, but it can hopefully provide insight on what can be done and lessons for others interested in exploring the opportunities in these methods.


Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Peter Baeck

Director of the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design

Peter leads work that explores how combining human and machine intelligence can develop innovative solutions to social challenges.

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