The role of geographic data in third sector service provision: developing a framework for research and practice

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Institute of Applied Social Sciences


A central concern of social policy is understanding how best to facilitate an equilibrium between the demands of social need and the supply and provision of adequate services (Baldock et al., 2011). As state provision declines expectations of the third sector's ability to respond to needs are rising, but those needs are also taking on a spatial character: long-term evidence (e.g. through the work of Danny Dorling and others) suggests a concentration of disadvantage in small areas. By employing a geographic lens, clarity is provided on the processes behind meeting pertinent social policy demands such as how best can community and voluntary action groups allocate resources (whether volunteers, or funded programmes) to maximise their impact or minimise overlap and competition between providers of services. The macro-level mismatch between supply and demand of third sector services has been well documented (Mohan and Breeze, 2015., Lindsey, 2013) however research into the micro-level efforts to overcome this are scarce.

Increasingly, focus on big data and data processes (Kitchin, 2014) has occurred as well as the proliferation of geographic information systems (GIS) (Goodchild, 2009), especially amongst TSOs. Identifying how these components interact synergistically to meet social policy challenges within the third sector is both intellectually exciting and beneficial for the sector itself. Although the work of New Philanthropy Capital (de las Casas, 2013), NCVO (2016a) and Just Giving (2015) and others has drawn attention to the importance of improved evidence on impact, they and others (e.g. Data Evolution (2016) show little exploration into use of geographical information in the sector.

Therefore, the aims of this study are:

a) To address the research gap in empirical understanding of TSO engagement with geographic data.
b) To develop an analytical framework that details how geographic data can be used by TSOs to efficiently allocate resources in response to service user demand.
c) To explore the potential uses of geographic data in third sector service provision, in accordance with existing data availability and technical capabilities.

The research questions employed are:

RQ1: What role does geospatially referenced data on service user demand play when allocating third sector resources?
RQ2: Which organisational aims necessitate the use of geographic data for their delivery?
RQ3: What technical and analytical capacity exists for further use of geographic data to meet organisational aims?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1929135 Studentship ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 31/10/2020 James Bowles
Description Presentation at Data4Good UK conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Workshop and presentation at Data4Good UK conference on mapping tools for charities, which generated discussion around how data from a variety of organisations could be mapped to further their mission.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018