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Designing the UK-CAT Taxonomy

The UK Charity Activity Tags (UK-CAT) taxonomy system, referred to here as the "tags", was iteratively developed based on the manually classified sample of charities.

This list is considerably longer than the ICNP/TSO, at over 250 tags, and the tags have been developed specifically to help capture the variation seen within UK charities, rather than for international comparative purposes. The tags sit within a hierarchy of X top-level categories, such as health, education or social welfare. In some cases, there are also mid-level subcategories to help structure the system further. A full list of the UK-CAT can be found in Appendix X.

The tags were developed using a number of methods.

To begin with, the researchers simply created these tags from scratch each time they found a form of charitable activity that was not already covered. At regular intervals, the researchers met to consolidate, clarify and coordinate the full list. The aim was to help remove duplicates, fill in gaps, remove tags that were judged too ‘niche’, and make sure that the different coders were interpreting the tags in a reasonably coherent fashion. This iterative process of refinement has never truly stopped throughout the project.

In addition to developing categories based immediately from the data, the research team also drew on the existing classification frameworks used in the register of charities in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Despite their limitations, as discussed earlier, these were useful for filling in any gaps and helping to ensure that in many cases, it is possible to translate results from one scheme to another.

A lookup table of the different classification schemes against the UK-CAT is available in Appendix X.

What counts as an activity?

The distinction between activities, causes, beneficiary groups and facilities can all be quite blurred. For example, possible tags might include:

  • Disability
  • Disabled people
  • Mobility or home modification services
  • Facilities for disabled sport

Most tags relate to a particular ‘cause’, something that needs preventing or encouraging, or a particular group that needs support. A few, however, relate to particular types of facilities such as village halls, playing fields or community cafes. Some are forms of activity that support other causes, such as volunteering, grant making or campaigning. In all cases, we have attempted to focus on what it is about a charity that makes it charitable. For example, providing horse riding lessons is unlikely to be a charitable activity on its own account, but riding lessons for disabled people is.

A further consideration was that because a charity could have multiple tags, these combinations of tags could be used to indicate particular activities. For example, a community cafe that particularly focused on people with disabilities could be tagged with both “Community Cafe” and “People with disabilities”, rather than creating a separate tag for that activity.

How many tags?

For any classification system, a balance needs to be struck between being sufficiently fine grained to capture the nuances in the data, without being too unwieldy to apply, or too specific to enable informative comparisons.

Although this is inevitably a subjective decision, one way the team assessed whether to add new categories was by searching for the frequency of the key terms amongst the name, activities and objects of the charities. If the terms had less than a 100 charity matches, this would suggest that the category was too specific to be included. This was not an absolute rule, however, as a few categories of this kind were included anyway due to their unique importance or for the sake of consistency with other tags.


Last update: November 15, 2021
Created: November 15, 2021