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Open Data Stories – Building Sustainability through Data

Since setting up in Ireland in 2016, The Information Lab Ireland has endeavoured to use data and data visualisation to tell stories that matter. We have worked with media organisations, NGOs and groups working in advocacy to help them tell their stories using data.


At the heart of The Information Lab Ireland is a belief in sustainability. We believe that businesses can use their skills and knowledge to improve society. We have started by supporting our team in projects they care deeply about and have this as a core value of our business.

Here’s what you can do…

1) Find an useful data set
2) Clean & publish it to Data.World to make it open and accessible
3) Create a Tableau viz and publish it to Tableau Public

We have a role to play. Our community is one that prides itself on knowledge-sharing and openness. Many people in the data community already work on affecting positive change, through hackathons, pro-bono projects, or personal work. We believe the community can be at the forefront of doing good, and Open Data Stories are our way of engaging.

How can Data Drive Change?

In 2017, Kevin Lynch & Dave Hackett of The Information Lab Ireland began to examine mental health support for children in Ireland.

At that time, awareness of shortcomings in the care system was growing. This lead to a public consultation in the Seanad on children’s mental health services.

It heard that children at risk of suicide were being treated in adult emergency and psychiatric units in hospitals. It spoke of lengthy waiting lists, of children slipping through the net and staff that could not cope. One mother described how her daughter, already suffering with autism, a physical disability and anorexia, suffered the further indignity of being “fobbed from one waiting list to another” for two-and-a-half years. 

Driven by those stories and strong sense of purpose, Kevin approached Ray Burke, Senior Communications & Advocacy Officer at Mental Health Reform (MHR) to find out how The Information Lab Ireland might help. 

MHR is a national coalition of organisations that campaigns to transform mental health and well-being supports in Ireland. Its seventy-seven members include Pieta House, Shine and Merchants Quay Ireland.

“When we asked Ray for data to analyse he told us there was no National Mental Health Information System,” recalls Kevin. “Referrals to Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Primary Care Psychology (PCP) are all on paper from GP’s. He didn’t have the statistics he needed and certainly didn’t have them the way he would have liked them.”

MHR was trying to drive change, create policy and come up with solutions to problems with little or no measurable data.

Finding a Solution 

Ray did however suggest taking a look at so-called PQs, also known as parliamentary questions. A parliamentary question is a question put to ministers from other members of Dáil Éireann. Parliamentary questions around health and health policy are of course answered by the HSE on behalf of the minister. Those answers usually include a blurb or the answer to the question and/or accompanying statistics. That then gets posted to the HSE website

This was a useful starting point. From here it was possible to scrape the HSE website and catalogue the answers to all questions.

(Click on image to see the data at data.world/infolabie)

The Information Lab Ireland team started to analyse parliamentary questions and quite soon after, data and statistics began to emerge. We could find out the numbers of people on waiting lists to see specialists. We could see how long they had been waiting for. We could see the areas that were worst affected by backlogs. The more we saw, the more questions came up. 

The results were shocking but at least now they were clear, they were concise and most importantly they could be turned into interactive visualisations. Ray could now put clear pictures of the crisis before TDs and councillors and show them clearly why systemic change was needed at both national and local level. 

These are stories that involve people on our team, people you work with, their children, your children and there are many more stories like them. 

There are strands of our society, people we share this country with, who are not being heard from and we want to help tell their stories.

At The Information Lab Ireland, we asked ourselves early on what we could do as a company for society. This is a small example of that. 

Each #OpenDataStory is about helping others in society tell their story. Using data we can help drive reform for the people who need it most. 

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