Open data from the Charity Commission

Good news from the Charity Commission today – it’s been announced that the Register of Charities will be made available in a more accessible online format. The Cabinet Office has described this as important step for transparency in charities, but it’s worth remembering that this information has been public for a while.

You can see it now using the “find charities” function on the Commission’s website – it’s the same data that powers the charts on an individual charities record on the register (here’s NCVO’s). However, building a website or app that uses this data in a different way isn’t easy: you either need to “scrape” the data by writing a program that visits the web page and gets the data from it (which is a technical challenge) or ask the Charity Commission to send you the whole register on a CD.

Scraping the data is exactly what Chris Taggart did to create opencharities.org. As he explains, this lack of machine-readable data from the Charity Commission meant that when he needed to use charity data in his OpenlyLocal site he was forced to create his own version of the register by scraping data.

As well as an “API” for accessing data on charities in formats that computers can understand as well as humans (machine-readable), you should also be able to download whole chunks of the register for your own analysis. This is a good move, and something we called for in our response to the Charity Commission’s consultation on the information it holds. I’m looking forward to seeing what this API looks like in practice.

I think the next big step for transparency is opening up charities’ accounts. The annual accounts and reports are where charities really communicate what they’re doing and the impact that they have. Again, these are currently available but at the moment the information can be “locked up” in PDFs (which can be downloaded from the Commission website), making it difficult to aggregate and use this information. Producing account data (and data on impact too?) in a format like XBRL, or even just as simple HTML files, would be another step towards more open charities.

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David Kane David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.

One Response to Open data from the Charity Commission

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