DataKind UK Helps Charities Make Informed Choices Using Analytics

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The first DataDive event sees over 100 volunteers consulting four non-profit organisations

Last weekend, over 100 data scientists met representatives of non-profit organisations to help them make better use of their data, during the first event run by recently founded DataKind UK.

The charity, sponsored by Teradata, helps volunteers from the analytics industry engage the third sector to “share insights, understanding and positive action through data in the service of humanity”.

The inaugural DataDive took place over three days and featured four organisations pitching their questions to a room full of experts, followed by networking and free consultation sessions.

“Surely, it would be far better if charities were making decisions based on evidence and analysis rather than gut instinct,” Duncan Ross, director of DataKind UK and head of data sciences at Teradata, told TechWeekEurope.

The good data

DataDive is a free weekend event that allows private and public sector companies to share experience and best practices with non-profits, which often have limited resources and are more risk-averse.

BQK0SHzCUAASGAEThe first meeting at the Mozilla offices in London saw Oxfam, HelpAge, Community and Voluntary Action Tameside, and Hampshire County Council’s Special Educational Needs unit getting free advice from Big Data specialists.

DataKind UK was launched by Ross, a data scientist with over a dozen years of experience who describes himself as a “serial volunteer”.

“It started when I went to the Strata conference in Santa Clara, and while I was there, I saw Jake [Porway] talking about this idea of using data for good. You have people who are spending the best part of their working lives trying to shift churn rates by 0.5 percent. And it’s important, it’s a crucial part of the economy, but it’s not really helping the world in a bigger sense.”

“And yet, we have these people who have incredible skills. When you get involved with data, you quickly find that you can do some pretty neat stuff.”

Porway’s idea, launched as DataKind US (formerly Data Without Borders) in 2011, was to get data scientists to volunteer their time to help solve problems around things like special educational needs or food prices.

“Charities generally can’t afford the kind of wages that data scientists command in the marketplace. Fundraising in the UK is not easy or straightforward. Going to someone and saying ‘we want to get a £100,000 to employ a data scientist’ is going to be a tough call,” explains Ross. However, charity organisations often collect petabytes of data and could benefit a great deal from a thorough analysis.

Ross says that while one weekend is not going to solve global problems, it helps make useful connections, points non-profits in the right direction and helps them make more informed choices. He also has a hidden agenda – to infect others with this “volunteering bug”.

“We’ve known about Big Data in our own data groups for a while, but there hasn’t been an opportunity to actually get stuck in,” Heather Zawada, from the Special Educational Needs Unit at Hampshire County Council, told us. “This is giving us a chance to try something new, test it, see if it works for the Council. And if it does, it will be promoted elsewhere.”

“If anything comes from today, we hope can tell the Department of Education ‘Hey, this works’, and if it can save money, or place money better in the long run, we want every local authority to use it,” she added.

Besides quarterly DataDives, DataKind UK hosts regular meetings and workshops. In the future, it also plans to run DataCorps projects, during which experts will consult a single organisation for free, for a period of one to five months.

DataKind UK is calling for more volunteers and charities to get involved. Information and the registration form are available on the organisation’s website.

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