- Caution on Open Data for Social Investment.

Be careful with the recently published Open Data for Social Investment by Foundations. By

The Cabinet Office recently published some data on social investments made by charitable foundations in the UK, along with some interesting visualisations.

It looks really quite interesting, but before getting too excited about the output, I decided to look into the data a little more carefully. I wanted to see how consistent data entry was. Given that social impact bonds are a core area, and all three of the participating foundations had been involved in the Peterborough Social Impact Bond, that seemed a natural choice to look at in more detail.

What you can see in the table below is, unfortunately, a lot of inconsistency in the data.

Foundation The LankellyChase Foundation Panahpur The Barrow Cadbury Trust
Source Of Investment WC1R 4BH  tn9 1ap WC2B4AS
Investment date (commitment for investment/ facility/ guarantee) 27 October 2010 10 November 2010 10 November 2013
Investment date (cash draw down) 1 November 2010 10 November 2010 Split over 6 dates
Original scheduled final full repayment/ redemption date 1 November 2018 20 November 2013 20 November 2019
Commitment or facility provided - amount guaranteed or underwritten £- £100,000 £100,000
Cash invested - principal invested/ amount guaranteed or underwritten £500,000 £54,193 £54,193
Total Value incl. co-investment £5,000,000 £5,000,000 £4,200,000
Payment Frequency Other Annually Other
Bullet Payment Yes No Yes
Balloon Payment Yes No No
Product Type Bonds Equity Equity
Purpose Of Investment Working capital and cash-flow finance Working capital and cash-flow finance Working capital and cash-flow finance
Location Of Investee   UK,W1W5BB UK,W1W
Geography Of Beneficiaries   PE3 7PD PE
Sector Criminal Justice and Public Safety Criminal Justice and Public Safety Criminal Justice and Public Safety
Type Of Organisation Invested In Limited Partnership LLP Company limited by shares
Charity Number      
Company Number   LP013829 7240908

Now to be fair, this is a complicated investment structure, and investors could enter it via different routes (with a partnership interest or through a corporate feeder structure), so some of the differences are explicable – if not terribly useful when you are trying to draw meaning from this style of data.

What about the analytics? Well there does appear to be some double-counting, but not nearly as much as there might have been: for example, the visualisation (derived from http://data.gov.uk/data/viz/social-investment-and-foundations) appears to show that these three foundations invested £608k and others invested £8.6m in this social impact bond, where I suspect true figures should be more like £379k with others investing around £2.3m. (These latter figures are estimates based on a few assumptions: if you know better, feel free to correct me.)

£54,193 Barrow Cadbury Trust £54,193 Panahpur £8,591,614 (others) £9,200,000 Total Investment £500,000 LankellyChase Foundation

As a self-confessed data-geek, I fully appreciate that it is hard to get perfectly clean data – particularly on the first go. And I applaud the Cabinet Office and the contributing foundations for the time and effort in getting this far. But if we are to try to draw meaningful information and trends from this data we have to, collectively, do a little bit better.

Update: 4th Feb 2014 - The Cabinet Office wrote to me on 20th Jan 2014 to say that they had removed one of the inconsistencies - updating Barrow Cadbury's reporting of the Total Investment into the Peterborough SIB from £4.2m to £5m. Since the code behind the visualisations on the Data.gov website assume that all deals with the same total investment size are actually the same deal(!) this does address the double count in this instance. It doesn't, however, resolve some of the other issues – for example the revised chart now shows that the three foundations contributed £608k of the £5m in the Peterborough SIB; in reality this is mixing commitments to invest with drawdowns actually made – it is known that these three foundations collectively committed £700k. This could be fixed in the data set too, but the point is not to say that there is one piece of data wrong - this example was picked as one that was easy to validate as there is so much public information on the deal - the point is that we have no idea as to the data quality of the rest of the data set.

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