Changes are being made to how people convicted of criminal offences are given help towards their rehabilitation. Some of these changes are going to mean that data, and in particular open government data, have an important role to play. In this post I’m going to outline three of these opportunities, all of which could be addressed by projects that participate in the Open Data Challenge Series?challenge:
How can an open data project create further evidence for what are effective interventions for rehabilitation?
The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda proposes to extend rehabilitation services to a wider number of people. For example, from next year everybody?sentenced to fewer than 12 months in custody will receive supervision and rehabilitation. It also seeks to open up a market in the provision of rehabilitation services.
The voluntary, community, social enterprise and private sectors provide services already but the intention is that they will provide more of them and also that they will be able to decide how they provide these, based on their ability to prove their success.
This means there will be an element of payment by results in the new system and I believe there are opportunities for open data projects here.
New Philanthropy Capital produced a report last year which found that whereas 25% of charities say that they do not measure their work, this rises to nearly half when considering charities with an income of less than ?100,000. This indicates that a significant number of smaller charities, and by extrapolation, community and voluntary services, will need to develop both data and open data capacity if they want to win contracts under the new system.
Open data projects could build on the research done by the Nominet Trust on Open Data and Charities. This found that:
Apart from open data portals, it is likely that they [charities] will have to invest in the development?of light-weight standards to ensure harmonisation of their data infrastructures and better information sharing
There is an opportunity here for open data projects that help organisations in the VCS sector publish open data relating to their rehabilitation work.
Where organisations already have some data relating to their rehabilitation work they can use the newly released Justice Data Lab from the The Ministry of Justice. It’s aim is to help smaller organisations to understand how effective their services are by comparing them with matched control groups of similar offenders to the ones they have worked with.
It’s notable that the example report templates [pdf] that the Justice Data Lab produces look to be data driven. However, as yet there appears to be no data standard concommitant with that data. As well as helping to establish commercially viable open data projects, the Open Data Institute is also working with government to improve its open data provision. That includes advising on open data standards.
There is an opportunity here to use the Crime and Justice Series to connect with staff in the Home Office to help draft an open data standard for the Justice Data Lab.
Payment by results can create incentives for organisations to experiment with new and innovative ideas. It can also introduce perverse incentives that encourage people to cheat; to massage their figures to make themselves look better and to earn more money. Open data advocates often quote Louis Brandeis’ statement that “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” an open data project could put this principle into practice.
There is an opportunity here for open data projects that increase transparency and inform the public about effective programmes for rehabilitation
From the above, there are at least two areas where open data projects could be entered for the Crime and Justice Open Data Challenge and another area where interested parties could (and indeed, should) be talking to government about the open data standards it will develop to support the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.
I’ll be taking part in the Sheffield – Hack The City event this weekend. It is an excellent chance for people interested in starting open data projects that tackle this or other challenges in the Open Data Challenge Series. See you there.