Using data to boost your charity’s social impact

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DataKind UK provides free support to charities and other social purpose organisations, to help them increase their impact through the use of data science

Screenshot from DataKind UK showing 34 smiling faces looking into their screens, as volunteers support Sobus and Citizens Advice Lewisham at a DataDive in September 2020

Volunteers support Sobus and Citizens Advice Lewisham at a DataDive in September 2020

Guest blog by Giselle Cory, Executive Director of DataKind UK

DataKind UK

Since 2013, DataKind UK, a registered charity, has been supporting other charities, local government, and social enterprises to use data science. We help organisations to answer big questions about their services, their communities and their impact.

Our support ranges from very light touch – an hour on the phone with a data scientist  – through to three month DataDive projects focused on exploratory analysis and prototyping, and ambitious year-long DataCorps projects to deliver cutting-edge data science solutions.

All our projects are staffed by our volunteers: experienced data scientists in industry, who give their time on a pro bono basis to support your organisation.

But what is data science?

Data science is the 21st century term for using tools to gain insight and knowledge from data. It tends to be a mixture of traditional statistics and newer computer science methods. Have a hunch that one of your programmes works better than another? You can use your existing data to test that hypothesis.

Data science also offers your organisation the opportunity to better fulfil its mission. It can help you to better understand your beneficiaries or clients, evaluate the effectiveness of your programmes, and learn how to increase your impact. It can also support crucial decisions about where to focus your limited energy, time, and budget using evidence, not assumptions.

Why don’t all charities use data science already?

Though data can be a powerful asset, many organisations aren’t making much use of their own data yet. We recently wrote about the main barriers that members of our Social Data Society, our group for data folk who work in the charity sector, face when trying to embed data science use in their organisations.

Often, data is only thought of as useful in the context of monitoring and evaluation. Data analysis is seen as a way to satisfy funder requirements, rather than to test assumptions and learn more about one’s impact.

Secondly, there can be a lack of buy-in from senior leadership for making better use of data and data science, which means the work is not well-resourced.

Finally, a lack of clear job roles means that data folks (data analysts, impact managers, research officers, data scientists) are often called on for a huge range of tasks, including customer relationship management (CRM) or database management, grant reporting for funders, website analytics, data analysis and visualisation, and everything in between! Even organisations lucky enough to have a several-person data team can struggle.

DataKind UK has been able to work with a lot of organisations to help them embed data science into their day to day work, and transform their impact. We share some examples here.

Citizens Advice Lewisham

Citizens Advice Lewisham wanted to look at their data to ensure that they are truly reaching the people that need them most. They found that while the team is doing a fantastic job of supporting the most vulnerable people in the borough, many of their hunches about where there were gaps in service provision were correct. Excitingly, they were able to present their findings to the Mayor of Lewisham, who used the data to shape the council’s priorities.

Sobus

Community development agency Sobus, based in Hammersmith and Fulham, found that in the West London areas they support, Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately represented in mental health care referrals. They wrote a blog post about their results, and have since produced the BAME Mental Health Research Report with Young Hammersmith and Fulham, a local charity which brings together the public, private and voluntary sectors to effect positive change for young people.

They are enthusiastic about the change that the insights of their project will bring to the community. You can find more examples of charities using data and data science on DataKind UK’s website.

 

A DataKind map produced with Sobus at the DataDive shows referrals from the BAME community.

A map produced with Sobus at the DataDive shows referrals from the BAME community. The areas with larger dots show higher referrals.

Increase your organisation’s impact

To help your organisation increase its impact through the better use of data:

  • Get in touch with DataKind UK for free support, whether for one hour or one year!
  • Sign up to the Data Collective, a peer support community of people working in the social sector who use or want to use data, including events showcasing data use in the sector
  • Come to the online Data4Good Festival in May 2021 for three days of events on data use in the social sector.

You can also tap into the support and resources on offer from Datawise London (funded by City Bridge Trust), a partnership programme that supports small charities and community organisations in London.

There’s a great collection of resources online, including step-by-step instructions for working with data and more information about what data science is and how you can make use of it.

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