This past Saturday, GuideStar was proud to join hands with the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), the d.school, the White House Office of Social Innovation, Palantir, LinkedIn, and the Foundation Center to make possible the #GoodJobs Challenge - a hackathon competition that challenged students to develop innovative, data-driven tools to solve social sector problems. Six different teams spent the day with data and nonprofit experts to develop and ultimately present prototypes of their technology-driven solutions. The products they envisioned included an online wizard designed to help social entrepreneurs determine the best legal structure for their ventures, a common application that would allow individuals to apply to multiple nonprofits at the same time, and a tool that helps young professionals envision and build uncommon cross-sector career paths.
The CodeJam was particularly timely because it came directly in the wake of the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget release. The Budget contains two provisions which, if passed, would require that nonprofits file their tax forms digitally and that all collected information be made available to the public in a free, accessible, and digital format. In short, it would bring open financial data to the nonprofit field. GuideStar has long provided quality data about the nonprofit sector to the public – from the financial data it digitizes to the timely, qualitative data it collects through the GuideStar Exchange -- and Saturday’s event was another step toward GuideStar providing more data in an open, accessible format. The hackathon highlighted the types of creative data analysis and mashups that will be possible as more data about the nonprofit sector is made available from GuideStar, the IRS, and others.
A great example such purpose-driven ingenuity was put forth by the team AfterTheService, which worked to fulfill the White House Joining Forces Initiative's challenge to design data-driven tools that help veterans access services provided to them by nonprofit organizations. Combining GuideStar's data on veterans organizations with Palantir's powerful visualization software, the AfterTheService team built a tool that maps the the ecosystem of veterans service organizations, helps veterans more efficiently match demand to supply, and identifies underserved parts of the country. Given the data available to them, the team outlined a strategy for filling the information gaps and for addressing unmet veterans needs. The tool and process they designed could easily be adapted to dozens of different nonprofit cause areas, ultimately helping the sector to recognize where services are over- and under-represented and where more funding and activity may be needed.
If Saturday's event proved one thing, it proved that the directions are limitless. Data holds immense power, but it is only as useful as what we make of it. Fortunately, there seems to be no lack of talented, creative individuals eager to dig in and use information to intelligently drive the collective good.
We look forward to the next data dive and the boundless opportunities these kinds of gatherings provide to the social sector. What kinds of challenges do you want data to address? What kind of data-driven tools do you think need to be created to solve real-world problems?
Kjerstin Erickson is Special Projects Fellow at GuideStar, where she is helping the organization roadmap several strategic initiatives. Previously, she was the Founder and Executive Director of FORGE, an international nonprofit that facilitates community-based peacebuilding and reconstruction in war-torn Africa. She holds a B.A. in Public Policy from Stanford University and lives in San Francisco.