Third sector organisations look set to make much greater use of open data in the future, an expert has predicted.

According to Dan Sutch, head of development research at the Nominet Trust, internal data can be useful as it gives charities a “pretty clear picture” of what they are doing.

However, he told the Guardian that if they link it to other sets of data that are freely available, they can add value to the information they already hold, as they will be able to put it in a wider context.

Mr Sutch pointed out that support outlets for charities that want to pursue this approach are available, with groups including Data Unity and DataKind able to provide assistance and expertise.

Nevertheless, he is confident that third sector bodies will ultimately start taking on in-house specialists to handle all matters relating to their use of open data.

Mr Sutch highlighted the Gloucester Voluntary Service as an example of one group that has embraced the idea of improving how it uses data, as it has correlated information on its volunteers with details of local bus routes.

This, he said, means the organisation has been able to work out which people are best equipped to get to specific volunteering opportunities, as some may not have access to or wish to use their own cars.

“The task of getting the data ready to do that took about two hours, just using free tools that are available online,” Mr Sutch commented.

“Imagine doing that over a series of days or a series of weeks and bringing in other datasets.”

This approach could be particularly effective in ensuring a charity gets its message across to a relevant audience.

By interpreting and drawing conclusions from different datasets, an organisation could ensure its marketing campaigns are well targeted, which can in turn ensure it makes the best use of its marketing budget.

A charity might also use open data to determine which methods would be most effective in attracting attention and finding donors in different instances.

For example, promotional merchandise might be more appropriate in some campaigns to raise awareness, whereas billboards and TV adverts could be better for larger national campaigns. Mailshots and local PR stories and features also offer Calls to Action.

The Nominet Trust has already stated that a relatively small number of charities currently use open data to inform their decisions, with this practice still being “very much in its infancy” across the third sector.

A recent report by the body said: “Many organisations are unaware of the open government data resources that are now available to them.”

However, it stated that open data will become an “increasingly important part of the information landscape”, which means charities need to understand the changing environment and operate within it successfully.

“There are many opportunities to increase the flow and sharing of relevant datasets within the charity sector, to support engagement between charities and the public, government, funding bodies and other charities,” the trust said.

The report added that charities of all sizes can make use of open data, as long as they have robust information processing practices in place and comply with their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act.

Posted by Cheryl Jackson-Leafield.