What Data Scientists Get Out Of DataKind

April 8, 2015

Last month at a Nesta event with DataKind UK, a charity worker asked a panel of data scientists:

"We understand what charities get from DataKind events such as DataDives, but what do data scientists get out of them?"

Don't get me wrong, I love pizza and I do get weirdly excited about new data sets as well as certain python libraries. But, we need to have better answers for people who ask us what it’s like if we’re going to be an integral part of the data revolution in nonprofits.

One of the reasons data scientists might find it hard to explain what they get out of these events is that the rewards aren’t so easy to quantify and therefore aren’t our cup of tea. But, there’s also a time and place for the qualitative!
 

Data crunching for charities is great

You get to think outside the box

That half day per month when you get to experiment on a pet project? That your employer thinks is a good idea but never actually implemented? This is more or less it, plus food.

Learning new data skills

From visualisation wizards to machine learning gurus, DataKind events feature an amazing pool of expertise – everyone is keen to share and help each other out.

Networking

There’s a high probability you’ll get to meet people you’d like to engage with professionally, whether that’s someone from the charity sector or a friendly Google engineer.

Civic engagement

Ever wondered how campaigning works? Who puts forward policies and on what criteria? Where data and evidence sit in the picture? Charities struggle every day with the ins and outs of processes that affect the lives of millions.

It makes you happy

Volunteering makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. More than that – volunteering makes you happy.   
 

My field research experience

I recently attended my first proper DataKind event, a Project Accelerator night in London, in which four UK charities participated.

The projects they presented us with were very diverse:

  • Age UK Islington wanted to explore the data collected from its service beneficiaries to find out which features emerge as predictors for winter-related mortality
  • The Trussel Trust wanted help in getting killer stats from their data on food banks and links to poverty in the UK, in order to inform policy makers and campaigners tackling food poverty
  • Auditory Verbal was looking to provide proof of favourable outcomes for Auditory Verbal therapy as provided by them to deaf babies and children.

I got to work with Quaker Social Action. They had gone to great lengths, including weeks of volunteers mystery shopping, to acquire precious data on funeral service providers – data that is virtually impossible to come about in any other way. We had a good hour and a half’s worth of brainstorming on how to use this evidence in support of their campaign against funeral poverty.

I wrote a post about the specifics of the event from a charity perspective on the NCVO blog.
 

Your experience

I’d love to hear of other people’s take on this, and the Leeds DataDive is coming up!

If this didn’t convince you, well, just remember that it’s tons of fun AND there’s pizza.