2021 Shortlist

BBC Shared Data Unit

Country/area: United Kingdom

Organisation: BBC, Local News Partnerships

Organisation size: Big

Dear judges,

I’d like to put forward for consideration the work of the BBC’s Shared Data Unit (SDU) during 2020, a unique exercise in collaborative journalism.

During the pandemic, the team has explored and explained the implications of the pandemic to UK audiences through data.  We have brought dozens of datasets into the public domain through our open Github repository, along with accompanying methodology and code.



The SDU was set up to support the development of data journalism skills across the local news industry. This was in recognition of the growing importance of these skills in the face of more data being created and made available than ever before in all areas of public life, including local government.  It is a key initiative within the BBC and industry Local News Partnerships (LNP)  

The unit delivers: a) The creation of large-scale data investigations in the form of data packs that LNP Partners can access and use to create stories of local interest and relevance b) Training courses for journalists that provide them with the necessary skills and experience to bring back to their home newsrooms.

The SDU aims to bring high quality investigative journalism to its local partner network and the BBC.  Its reporters take the time and space to work on exclusive investigative journalism, using cutting edge digital techniques to tell stories that would otherwise go untold.

One of the unique successes of the SDU has been to bring together journalists from media organisations to work on stories in collaboration.  Secondees bring fresh ideas to the SDU core team, who help work on those ideas and bring them to publication across our public network.  

The stories have generated hundreds of local stories for more than 400 partner outlets.

The unit’s output also generated content for network BBC programmes including the News Channel, Radio 2, BBC Radio 4 Today, Five Live, and the One, Six and Ten O’Clock news.  It has generated hundreds of news bulletins or leads across BBC local radio stations and regional television programmes.

In addition, the unit’s output has been used by BBC Wales, BBC Scotland, Good Morning Ulster and the Sunday Politics show.

The move to home-working brought about by the pandemic necessitated a switch from in-house secondments to remote learning.

From September to October, 2020, the SDU ran a pilot with local news partners offering remote training sessions in four key areas.  Around 70 local journalists benefited from the sessions. 

The sessions took delegates through the basics of spreadsheets including how to sort, filter and pivot data using the web-based free application Google Sheets.  The second session included more advanced techniques including how to merge datasets using the VLOOKUP function.  The Freedom of Information masterclass took delegates through how to maximise use of the Act when making requests to local authorities including what to do when your request is denied.  Delegates who took Using Statistics in Journalism learned how to perform descriptive statistics on datasets, as well as learning some of the common pitfalls journalists fall into when using statistics in their work.

Many thanks 

Pete Sherlock

Description of portfolio:

The portfolio we are putting forward for consideration demonstrates how the SDU used data to help explain the implications of the pandemic to a national and regional audience.  We told exclusive stories by bringing inaccessible datasets into the public domain.

Our portfolio also demonstrates a commitment to transparency and open reporting.  All our datasets, code and methodology are published on our Github page and shared across the industry.

These stories made headlines across the BBC’s flagship news programmes, as well as across hundreds of local newspapers and regional television and radio outlets.

In April, we reported how hundreds of thousands of key workers considered critical to the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis were earning below the so-called “real living wage”.

Later that month, we reported experts warning some airports were “at risk” of closure because of the loss of business during the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, we reported on fears that the UK’s scene would collapse without government support, as the lockdown left 140,000 performers, agents, promoters and technicians without a steady income since the end of March.

Later that month, we told how search interest in online casinos had hit an all-time high in the UK since lockdown began.

In June, the unit told how some of the largest UK councils may have to declare themselves effectively bankrupt unless the government agrees to further support.

In July, we reported how more than one in six young people are now claiming out-of-work benefits in some parts of the UK.

In August, we reported that flu vaccination rates among the most vulnerable were falling, revealing the scale of the challenge in expanding the vaccination programme.

We also reported how thousands of landlords were trying to avoid renting their properties to benefit claimants, despite a judge ruling a blanket ban was unlawful.

In October 2020, we reported police had wrongly cancelled records of serious crimes, in many cases without informing victims

In November, we reported experts’ fears that thousands of smaller charities across the UK could cease to exist in the new year, following a shift in the nature of giving.

In December, we reported millions of people missed out on potentially life-saving scans when non-Covid-19 NHS services almost ground to a halt during the pandemic.

Project links: