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Markets for Good

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No numbers without stories, no stories without numbers


Philanthropoids, donors and nonprofit leaders want (and use) data for different reasons. Philanthropoids and donors hope to compare options and allocate investments while nonprofit leaders hope to learn and prove impact using data. But in all cases, the data they seek needs to tell a story and have a narrative in order to provide the full power for which it is sought.

Open Data Set to Reshape Charity and Activism in 2016

How will data affect charity and activism in 2016? This week, we look at The Guardian’s article where experts share their thoughts on what this year will hold for the growth of open data.

Across the world, countries are expanding their use and distribution of data for others to access. Last year, the EU, China, and Taiwan announced various accomplishments and goals for the use of open data by the civic groups, businesses, and governments who need to analyze it. Five of the world’s experts on open data shared their thoughts on what is to come with the expansion of access to this knowledge.

Breaking Down Barriers to Expand Data for Social Good

Jake Porway from DataKind and Neal Myrick from the Tableau Foundation talk about their work with change-makers, to develop new ways for organizations at every level to inform their efforts through data.

Why Nonprofits Deserve CRM Innovation

Charitable giving, according to Destination CRM, has exceeded $298 billion in the US alone. In his article ‘ Why Nonprofits Deserve CRM Innovation‘, Gabe Cooper calls for software companies to give nonprofits the attention they deserve by creating technology that suits their needs.

Philanthropy is driven by personal connections – donors donate to the causes that speak to them on an emotional level. For modern nonprofits, this takes place on an extremely large scale, and in order to compete effectively they need to create hundreds of these connections to build relationships to fund their causes. For them, nonprofit CRM or ‘donor management software’ is crucial – but innovation in this space is often lacking.

Data Science, a Critical Tool in the Nonprofit World in 2015

For Brian Lange from Datascope Analytics, there’s never been more opportunity for nonprofits and foundations to adopt evidence-based practices in their work.

Strategies for Getting Staff Excited About Data

At UTEC (United Teen Equality Center), we work hard to ensure that our data has integrity, which requires that it be accurate, reliable, timely and useful. The essential question for us is “How do we get that data?” Obtaining and documenting good data is particularly difficult at a place like UTEC where we serve youth who often find themselves in crisis or facing barriers to success, which leaves staff little time and energy for data!

We’ve found that buy-in from the direct service staff who enter the data is crucial to getting good data. If staff understand the value of data, they are likely to ensure the data are right.

In particular, we’ve found four strategies are important to staff-buy-in.

  • Start with the end in mind.

    The possibilities of what to collect are infinite. We’ve learned to distinguish between nice to know and need to know. We assess data collection through the lens of how the data relates to our theory of change, and how it will help us better serve our youth. This helps staff understand why we collect the data.For example, there are countless risk factors that we could track at intake, such as family functioning or income level. However, to make the intake form manageable, we focus on data related to our target population, particularly their school dropout, employment, and pregnant/parenting status, as well as their criminal and gang involvement. We also collect limited data on other risk factors that directly affect youth’s ability to participate in the program, such as mental health and substance abuse issues.

  • Cultivate data champions and curiosity about data.

    Line staff’s own peers offer the most compelling reasons to collect and analyze data. They convey to one another how they use data and the benefits they see. We encourage staff’s help in informing our data strategy. This is done through a group we call The Inquirers, a team of direct service staff helping to create a learning agenda for UTEC. We build on staff ideas and strategies related to collecting and using data.For example, one of our case managers developed an “awesome board,” a dry erase board above his desk that tracks youth progress across key milestones. All case managers adopted this, and we celebrate youth who “complete” this board at a monthly house meal. See photo of an “awesome board” below. Note that names have been hidden to protect confidentiality.

  • Conduct regular data review at all levels.

    Staff review and discuss reports, at varying frequencies, with data tailored to their needs. In particular, UTEC’s leadership team reviews dashboard data comparing actual data against a set of quarterly and annual targets to identify red flags and inform course corrections. In addition, line staff review youth progress reports to identify additional needed supports. Youth also see their own data through formal “youth check-ins,” where they meet with staff to discuss their progress.

  • Integrate data into the culture and physical space of the organization.

    UTEC aims to foster a culture that reflects our shared values–including the value that we place on data—and to integrate those values into our surroundings. As part of our “Outcomes Transparency and Questioning Campaign,” we display data around our building to highlight successes and show progress. For example, our public café highlights our youth outcomes. See photo below.

As part of an ongoing process of learning and improvement, we share two continuing challenges:

1. Making changes to systems while still maintaining buy-in.

We make changes to our data systems based on our program model and staff feedback. However, changes require retraining staff, which can create staff frustration in having to relearn systems. We’re working to minimize these disruptions by making major changes annually, as opposed to monthly or quarterly. But this means that systems aren’t as efficient as they could be in the meantime.

2. Simplifying data entry while still getting data that is detailed enough to be meaningful.

We constantly seek ways to simplify data processes. We scrutinize every data point and ask, “Why do we want to know this?” and “What will we do with this information?” However, there’s still a lot that’s important to collect. Our challenge becomes making data collection manageable for busy staff. We’ve addressed this by providing staff with tablets to enter data, since staff are often on-the-go.We also work to make data accessible through staff-customized dashboards. We assess the manageability of our data processes based on: (a) whether the amount of time it takes to enter the data is reasonable, (b) how easy it is to access needed data in a timely way, and (c) the degree of flexibility in our data systems to accommodate changes in programming.

As we’ve learned, getting and keeping staff buy-in for data requires constant attention. The work to achieve data with integrity is never done: there’s always room for improvement! Special thanks to Jephine Ajwala for help writing this blog post. Jephine is a Data and Evaluation Analyst at UTEC and is passionate about developing evidence-based strategies aimed at improving the circumstances of marginalized populations.

If you are interested in learning more about UTEC, visit our website. You can also sign up for our mailing lists.

The preceding is a cross post from Markets for Good. To view the original article, click here. Many thanks to Erin and Jephine for sharing such creative and useful examples of how to create an organizational culture that supports data with integrity! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, and to share this article on social media using #dataintegrity.

Data With Integrity

The goal of the Community Analytics and Learning team at nFocus Solutions is to support learning that creates positive social change in the youth and community-based sectors. Today, as a way of contributing to the larger conversation around how best to use data and research in creating social impact, we are pleased to announce to the Markets For Good audience, our Data With Integrity blog series.
With this series, we seek to challenge the “we needed better data so we got it and then everything was better” narrative. That story is too easy, and it’s not that helpful for people who are in the weeds of trying to create data cultures in their organizations. Instead, we will be sharing stories that detail the guts and messiness of real, on-the-ground implementation and evaluation, and small wins on the side of actually making progress toward having data with integrity. In addition, we also hope to highlight research-based and conceptual pieces that propose perspectives on what it might mean to have data with integrity in the social sector.

We have three overall goals for this series:

1. Establish a meaning and rationale for the idea of “data with integrity” through first-hand and research-based stories.

Beyond Alphabet Soup: 5 Guidelines For Data Sharing

We know (intellectually) not to rely on magical solutions to drive our work. In practice, however, we sometimes fall into the trap of unwitting, magical assumptions. The reality is that underlying any amazing feat we might accomplish, you can bet on solid infrastructure, process and groundwork to account for it. Andy Isaacson, Forward Deployed Engineer at Palantir Technologies, takes us there – to the heart of responsibly making data usable …and useful for people.

Using Data to Build Nonprofit Advocacy Capacity

Washington Nonprofits (WN) is the state association for the 58,000+ charitable organizations in Washington State. As a new organization (3 years this fall), we’ve sometimes struggled with how to serve the incredible diversity that is our sector. This article retraces our journey over the past year to learn how to use data so that our nonprofits can better drive social change.

Maps: Who, What, Where

A little over a year ago, Washington Nonprofits received a database from the Urban Institute with information on all of the 23,500+ federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofits in Washington State. The data included information of each organization’s federal employment identification number (FEIN), type of service, address, and reported expenses. We knew that maps would be critical to making sense of the data but didn’t know anything about mapping. With the help of a graduate student intern, we quickly became adept at making Google maps. A key step in this process was discovering the wealth of easy to use geographic data on the state OFM website. This information allowed us to overlay virtually any political boundary including city, county, legislative districts, and congressional districts. This summer, we sent the maps to our entire congressional delegation and the four state legislators who comprise our legislative nonprofit delegation. WN believes that maps can be a tool to create stronger relationships between nonprofits and our elected officials.

Why Big Data Is Such A Big Deal

In a recent TED Talk, Kenneth Cukier looks at what's next for machine learning and human knowledge.

Kenneth Cukier believes that most people are “probably sick of hearing the term big data.” He notes: “it is true there is a lot of hype around the tool, and that is very unfortunate because big data is an extremely important tool by which human knowledge is going to advance.” In his recent TED talk, posted below, Cukier asks and answers the question: “why big data is such a big deal.”