When we wrote the original blog post about the impact of City Angels we tried to find some statistics about Accident and Emergency admissions in Chichester as another indicator on their impact.  We couldn’t find the sort of data we needed – it had to be for Friday nights only and anything that was there didn’t seem to be freely available or at the right level of detail.

But City Angels have just been told that Friday night admissions last year were down a massive 61%.  Particularly given the recent anxiety about A&E resources that’s a really significant impact.

With our data-nerds hats on, we were also really excited that City Angels had received additional funding to start operating on Saturday nights – which would seem a good thing for Chichester – but also because it provides a natural experiment over two years.

In fact, at the moment they’re operating on Friday nights every week, and every other week on Saturdays – so hopefully later in the year they’ll be able to get police and health data comparing ‘on’ and ‘off’ Saturdays.

And one other snippet of impact – some of their new volunteers are people who’ve previously been helped by the Angels on a Friday night.

It’s a reminder to us that really compelling evidence of the impact you have doesn’t necessarily need to involve big and complex (and expensive) studies.  You may already be unwittingly carrying out a natural experiment of this sort, and just need a little bit of data and analysis to discover the results.



They need to write a list.  Of the data they want to be sent.  It would be very simple, a list of items with definitions.

name                        Legal name of organisation
Charity number              Registered charity number
Beneficiaries               How many different individuals have                                you worked with in the reporting period

And then, importantly, they put that list online, in such a way that each item on the list has it’s own web address. So if anyone wants to talk about the name of a charity, they’d say ‘www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/name’. Of course people wouldn’t say that, but computers would.

Then they would agree to accept a json file of the form

  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/name': {
     value: "A lovely VCS Organisation",
     meta: {}
  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/organisation/charity_number': {
     value: 123456,
     meta: {}
  'www.vcsdatastandards.org/impact/beneficiaries/unique': {
     value: 789,
     meta: {
         date_from: "2012-01-01",
         date_to: "2013-12-31"

Computers are very good at producing files like that. Computer programs (like Lamplight, but because everything’s open anyone could implement it) could very easily produce files like this to send to funders. And it should be possible to produce in the click of a button (or two, but really not much).

Important points:

  • Anyone could add to the list of things to be measured.  So if a second funder wants to use this system, they can look through what’s there, use it if they want to, and add their own if it’s not on there. (There might want to be some curation of this, though).
  • To specify their reporting requirements funders would send a list of urls.
  • All this could happen machine-to-machine – I’m not suggesting individuals would take a list of urls.  But items could be narrative, numerical, whatever, and you’d obviously need people to sign things off.  VCS orgs could even publish these things on an /open page and funders scrape them, if they wanted to.
  • Like can be compared to like: by using these urls as our definitions of what things mean, different VCS, funders, whoever.
  • The definitions and everything needs to be open and free to use.

This is just a sketch.  If something like this were produced and endorsed by people like the Big Lottery, NCVO, some bits of government, we’d implement it in Lamplight in a flash, and I suspect other suppliers would too.