Open Data and Social Trends: Have we become the ‘stay at home’ generation?

‘Stay at home’, ‘work from home’, ‘home workouts’, ‘virtual meet-ups from home’, ‘home office’ - our lives have become revolved around our homes and how we can live day-to-day without really needing to leave them. But is this behaviour going to continue in the future, and how will Government policy be shaped in reaction to this?

A year ago, we were all told, as a nation, to ‘stay home’. This included ‘working from home’ or ‘WFH’ as it quickly became known on social media. It was a novel experience for many and one which the majority of us thought would only last a few months at most. One year on and we are still ‘WFH’. But how will the future of this way of working impact the third sector, especially for organisations where home-working isn’t a viable option long term? Government policy needs to start to reflect the changing social trends which we are experiencing.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 36% of adults were working from home during February 2021; a similar level to that of May and June 2020. However, in Summer 2020 (between 16th-30th August and 9th-13th September), when fewer restrictions were in place, just 20% of adults reported working from home. During this period, non-essential shops reopened and the infamous ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme began. Life looked a little bit more ‘normal’, however we were clearly too quick to come to this assumption. During this time, many third sector organisations were working hard not only to aid the community during a pandemic, but also to stay afloat themselves.

A report by Lloyds Bank Foundation called Small Charities Responding to Covid-19, has found that some charities will be facing a ‘tsunami of need’ due to effects of Covid-19. Not only are many organisations facing more referrals than ever before, but staff are also feeling the negative effects of lockdown themselves.

“For many frontline staff, the necessary emotional separation between work and home collapsed, as they were supporting clients through traumatic experiences from their living room,” the report says.

Unfortunately, in the last week of January 2021, personal well-being scores for life satisfaction and happiness remained at some of the lowest levels recorded since this survey began in March 2020. Anxiety scores were also at the highest they have been since April 2020. This has subsequently led to more people seeking help from charities and community organisations, however these groups are not receiving any extra help or support from the Government, despite the increased workload.

As well as this, new research suggests that the devastating financial impact of the pandemic has left nearly 40% of charities and community groups worse-off, with two in five organisations reporting that their financial situation has deteriorated. It also reported that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in the third sector, with charities moving existing face-to-face services online in order for staff to remain safe. However, with many customers still wanting face-to-face appointments, there is a severe backlog which continues to grow.

Future Government policy needs to be innovative in terms of its response to the changes the sector has had to manage. A reduction in income plus an increased demand for services, only serves to add to the pressure charities already face. The Government must think creatively about how it can aid the third sector to re-emerge from the pandemic without any extra unnecessary challenges. One way to aid these organisations is of course through the utilisation of open data.

The availability of data throughout the pandemic has been absolutely key to the global response. A report by Nature Computational Science says that access to the scientific data has allowed for the opportunity to augment a public health response and inform policy in real-time. However, it also states that there is still a way to go in terms of use of data and data sharing. In the future, data and code need to be open source to enable rapid integration across multiple research groups and governments.

This is exactly the same sentiment that New Union wants government to adopt in terms of ease of access to data across the third sector. Publishing open data will produce gains for organisations like charities and community groups where data will help to inform decisions about their areas of expertise, and about the issues for which they take responsibility. With many more people ‘WFH’ and living their lives very much in the vicinity of their private homes, open data is going to be more important than ever for organisations to bridge the information sharing gap.

A truly open platform will assist the third sector to overcome many barriers which the Covid-19 pandemic has set in place; empowering charities and community organisations in particular, to continue their valuable public service.