Every charity needs someone to spread the word about the benefits of data. Here’s how you can help
Data can help charities do incredible things, and people who really "get" data and its power to do good are self-confessed data nerds. People like Tracey Gyateng from DataKind UK, a charity that helps social change organisations use data science. "I have been working with and playing around with data for the past 16 years — and I absolutely love it," she says.
Why is she so excited about data? It’s because there are so many ways that data can help any charity. Most charities are aware of the importance of exploiting data, but the truth is that your charity may not get everything it could from its data unless you and a proportion of your colleagues are as excited about data as Gyateng is and embrace it wholeheartedly. And to ensure that happens you’ll need at least one data nerd to carry the flag for data, enthuse colleagues with its potential, and lead the way with data driven projects which prove the power of data and gain more converts to the cause. That data nerd could be you.
The good news is that it shouldn’t be hard at all to get people excited about data and talking about what it could do for them. One way is to showcase some of the successful data projects that other charities have completed.
Projects like the one undertaken by The Welcome Centre, a Huddersfield food bank, with help from DataKind UK. This resulted in the development of a machine learning model which estimated the likelihood of food bank clients becoming dependent on the food bank’s help based on data about their referrals. This is used in practice to identify those most at risk of becoming dependent and working to reduce the issues that can lead to dependency. All that information comes from data. That’s pretty exciting!
Another project by Llamau, Wales’ leading homeless charity, also with help from DataKind, used data to understand which service users would successfully be helped out of homelessness by the existing service, and which would likely need more support. This enables the charity to make decisions about how best to target its efforts to get the best possible outcomes. The information was there all the time, hidden in the data.
These examples show how charities can benefit from a data driven approach to their operations, but the reality is that most organisations need to start small and get the majority of their staff enthused about the power of data before embarking on big projects like these. So how do you start the process of getting people, and indeed a whole organisation, excited about data?
In the longer term this could evolve into something far more sophisticated. For example, Citizens Advice along with DataKind UK developed a Civic Dashboard which, among other things, allows staff to spot when customers come in with similar queries, allowing the charity to identify emerging trends more quickly.
Need inspiration? Here are some a couple of the nonprofit sector’s leading self-proclaimed data nerds:
Sian Basker helped create the UK’s first public internet access programmes in the early 1990s and co-founded the first women’s online resource centre. As co-chief executive of social enterprise Data Orchard she has led the organisation’s pioneering research on data maturity in the not-for-profit sector. She now focusses on helping nonprofit organisations become more data driven to achieve greater impact.
Giselle Cory has worked as a data scientist and public policy analyst in the UK Government before becoming executive director of DataKind UK. She believes that smart, responsible data collection and use can help the social sector tackle some of the UK’s biggest challenges - and change the world!