On the back of Orlando Fraser’s inaugural speech on 4 May as new chair of the Charity Commission during which he indicated that the work of the regulator would be informed by three key values of fairness, balance and independence, the commission has today published its Business Plan for the coming 12 months, building on the progress made to date with its 2018-2023 Strategy.

Earlier this month Mr Fraser highlighted that the commission must embrace the opportunities given by automation, digital and artificial intelligence to be a truly effective and pro-active regulator. In fleshing out this theme the Business Plan focusses on three key shifts – Data, Trustees and People.

The commission intends to better use the data and information it holds, to help the public make informed choices about charities and to enable it to identify risk in charities sooner and to increase the amount of wrongdoing it uncovers proactively, making use of an increasingly sophisticated approach to intelligence-gathering and data analysis.

Charities will be interested to note that the commission will seek to widen the data it holds about charities and to improve its ability to analyse that data. It is going to launch a consultation on proposed changes to the annual return each registered charity has to submit and will explore further opportunities to automate its processes.

Interestingly, the commission intends to fundamentally change the way in which it communicates with charities, moving away from dealing solely with organisations, to engaging proactively with individual trustees, seeking out a more personalised relationship with them.

Presumably this investment of the commission’s time and resource is motivated by a wish to “prevent rather than to cure” - to ensure that less goes wrong within charities in the first place (and with which the commission would ultimately have to deal).

Charities will be pleased to see that the commission intends to continue to modernise its guidance to ensure that trustees are supported to understand their responsibilities and, ultimately, help them to improve the governance of their charities and increase their impact for society.

The commission is well on its journey to mine big data to better perform its role.

Should charities do likewise? In a word, “yes”.

A week ago the charities minister, told an event that it was all about data if the charity sector wanted to improve the way it lobbied the government. This was a key message from the Kruger Report (“Levelling up our communities”) in 2020.

An academic research institution is being established to improve data collection on the performance of the charity sector. The National Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Data and Insights Observatory, funded and hosted by Nottingham Trent University, will address the “fragmentary” and “piecemeal” quality of charity data: VCSE Data and Insights National Observatory | Nottingham Trent University

For years Pro Bono Economics has advocated the better collection and use of data by charities, not least to demonstrate their impact.

But let’s leave the last (graphic) word to US management consultant and author Geoffrey Moore:

 “Without big data, you are blind and deaf and in the middle of a freeway.”