There are 46 Community Foundations across the UK. Each of them have in-depth knowledge of their local area and what the priority needs are. This puts them in a unique position, to be able to collaborate with donors from across the private and public sectors so that local people can give to local issues.
Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) have aspirations to become their community’s Knowledge Hub; the go-to place for figures about the local community. Before using Local Insight, finding and using place-based data had been a time-consuming, arduous and costly task. Being a small team, they did not have the capacity to run regular updates and wanted a solution that could support strategic funding and collaboration.
The need for an easier way to access data came to light while OCF were putting together the “Oxfordshire Uncovered” report, which looks at what the social problems in Oxfordshire are. Simon Barnard (Community Impact Analyst) explains, “It took me a long time. All of the data was there, but I didn’t necessarily know where to look.”
It was then difficult to really drill down into the areas they were interested in – and they were faced with numerous, large spreadsheets from the ONS website. On top of that, it was challenging to identify diverse data sources, often relying on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) or using second-hand data from Council reports.
All in all, it took 4 months for OCF to produce the report. Simon comments “A lot of the community foundations have carried out these reports. Most are either paying somebody else to do it, or are spending a lot of time doing it themselves. And I think they could be doing it quicker by themselves with Local Insight.”
He adds “It’s fine to take some time and spend some money on these big reports. But you can’t do that every year. Local Insight has a big place in being able to create interim reports, which can be made in a matter of days – or hours even – in order to inform grant making and build our strategic plans up.”
He explains further “Local knowledge is one of the selling points of a community foundation. The knowledge comes in two ways. The statistical stuff and the soft stuff. You need both to be a proper knowledge hub. And you need to communicate with different types of donors. In that way, Local Insight can help. And it can help you do it quickly.”
“Local knowledge is one of the selling points of a community foundation.”
For example, OCF have used Local Insight to engage effectively with potential donors in Henley, by demonstrating what the local needs were. Simon explains, “This was interesting, because Henley is actually one of the least deprived areas in the whole of Britain. However we were able to show that although the overall landscape in Henley was comparatively very good, there were still X hundred number of people claiming income benefit for mental health reasons, demonstrating that there is still need – even in Henley.”
Being a small charity, all staff are already all hands on deck doing multiple jobs. So any solution needed to be easy to use, and provide answers quickly in an accessible way. Local Insight has been designed to be accessible by all, so that you don’t need to be a statistician to gain useful insights.
As Simon puts it, “One of the things with data is that there is a nerd scale, where data in its raw format is exciting to a very small minority of nerds. Adding intelligence to data and making it understandable to normal people is very important. And being able to bridge the gap between the nerd and the norm is the most important part of the tool.”
“Adding intelligence to data and making it understandable to normal people is very important. And being able to bridge the gap between the nerd and the norm is the most important part of the tool.”
Instant and easy access to data, matched to the local areas they care about, has created new opportunities for OCF. Simon notes “As far as the Henley example is concerned, I just wouldn’t have been able to produce a report. It wasn’t critical enough for me to spend loads of time on it. It needed to be done in an afternoon really.”
Simon adds “in addition to the ease of use – it’s actually about presentation too. And that is very important. Doing snippets of maps is very good and the big reports that you can spit out instantly are brilliant.”
Within Local Insight, you can create bespoke neighbourhoods, simply by drawing a boundary on the map. Local Insight then does all the hard work of matching data to that specific area. One way OCF have used Local Insight is to highlight what the social issues are in a small area.For example, they created a custom area based on the Berinsfield community and found that although the number of children living in poverty in Berinsfield is lower than other areas, it has a far worse rate of educational attainment.
Simon say “little nuggets like that can be quite exciting for a community foundation – or any other funder. Berinsfield is quite a small area, and if you can identify a particular topic, like education, then with a healthy amount of funding, you could actually make a shift on that.”
Without Local Insight, this would have taken up a lot of time (finding the data sources, analysing spreadsheets, working out the correct geographies). With Local Insight, OCF have instant access to the data they need. Simon says “before, we were less able to pick out the topics we wanted to focus on, without having the necessary data at our fingertips.”
“Before, we were less able to pick out the topics we wanted to focus on, without having the necessary data at our fingertips.”
OCF want to do more strategic funding in their areas, and to encourage groups to collaborate on larger projects on specific social issues. Simon hopes that Local Insight will form a part of that picture; “It could be used to help Community Foundations be a convener for large projects. By being able to draw a boundary of a particular area and drill down into its particular issues, you can focus on something of a manageable size.”
He says “A better understanding of the need, and where it is. And then understanding our impact better. Those two things Local Insight can certainly help inform. It’s not the answer to all the questions but it can help certainly.”
OCF are continuing to strengthen their deep local knowledge of their areas through qualitative information, initiatives such as 360Giving and tools like Local Insight. Ultimately, they are doing this to become their community’s knowledge hub.
And if OCF succeed in being the community’s knowledge hub, what other doors would this open? Simon comments “ It will help us achieve what we want to do in terms of more collaborative work. I hope it will help us make Oxfordshire better for everyone.”