Introducing DataKind’s Center of Excellence

By Rachel Wells, Senior Manager, Center of Excellence, DataKind

As part of expanding our work into the next chapter, DataKind is thrilled to announce the launch of our new Center of Excellence: A cross-discipline team of experts committed to creating an ecosystem of excellence across DataKind’s global programs. To reach our mission of harnessing the power of data science in the service of humanity, we aim to empower more people with the ability to apply data science, machine learning, and AI for good. We are committed to training and transparently sharing our processes and resources for anyone to use to advance the social sector. And we will accomplish this all while ensuring “Data for Good” means “Data for All,” prioritizing equity, supporting local leaders, and questioning power dynamics, with ethics as a top priority.

The Center of Excellence will be setting project quality standards,  innovating and researching to ensure we produce excellent products across DataKind, supporting our volunteers and project partners, sharing best practices, and learning out loud. So, what exactly will this work entail?

Ultimately, the Center of Excellence will provide: 

  • Continuous improvements to codification of standardized approaches, systems, processes, knowledge management, and resources as we test and learn
  • Direct support to those implementing our resources and guides
  • Experimentation, innovation, and research to constantly improve our work
  • Measurement, tracking, monitoring, evaluation, and reporting for all DataKind’s work
  • Thought leadership in transparently sharing our processes and practices
  • Training and education on our changing resources and systems 

And how do we define “excellence”?

In our search for an answer throughout the strategic planning process, we settled on defining “excellence” through what we call the 7 Excellence Pillars. We have set a vision statement associated with each one, as we move towards excellence in all areas. 

7 Excellence Pillars

1. Quality

A commitment to quality assurance is the foundation of the Center of Excellence. This encompasses everything we do—from our data science methodologies to our project partner engagements, volunteer training materials, and everything in between. 

Our vision statement for Quality: All DataKind projects, products, and engagements are consistently of the highest quality data science for social good work. 

2. Ethics 

As data scientists, we risk doing harm even when we intend to do good, without carefully ensuring we are accountable to communities impacted by our work and maintaining equity, antiracist, and inclusive lenses. Ethics, inclusivity, and social justice have always been top priorities and values for DataKind, and the Center of Excellence is committed to continuing and expanding DataKind’s leadership in data science for good ethics. 

Our vision statement for Ethics: All DataKind engagements are responsible, ethical, inclusive, and just throughout all stages of the project with transparent documentation.

3. Innovation

As an AI organization, innovation comes naturally to us at DataKind, but we want to ensure that everyone across our global network  feels equally empowered to take risks, learn from experiments, use cutting edge tools and technology, and take on projects that expand how data science can be used in the service of humanity. 

Our vision statement for Innovation: DataKind teams feel equipped and supported to take on innovative projects that require the latest capabilities in AI and expand how data science is used in the service of humanity.

4. Learning

DataKind has always been an advocate for Learning Out Loud, and now we have a team dedicated to ensuring those learnings are shared with those who can most benefit from them. We are committed to facilitating learning opportunities for everyone across the tech4good ecosystem to ensure we can all grow and improve the world together. 

Our vision statement for Learning: All DataKinders are trained regularly, learn transparently, document well, and regularly improve upon resources and systems.  

5. Impact

DataKind’s strategy is to move the needle on wicked problems with data science through Impact Practices. Naturally, this goal requires having a rigorous definition of impact and the systems to honestly measure and reflect on the impact we are making. 

Our vision statement for Impact: All DataKind projects have demonstrated, quantifiable impact defined before and measured after project completion.

6. Data

Bear with us as we get a little “meta” here with this Excellence Pillar. One of the best things about being an organization that supports other nonprofits with data science is that we can apply data science to improve our own work internally as well! 

Our vision statement for Data: The Center of Excellence continuously measures our success in the other Excellence Pillars and makes decisions based on the results.

7. Collaboration

People are at the heart of everything we do, and nothing would be possible without our DataKind global community! Center of Excellence outputs will be a reflection of the DataKind community and the result of substantial collaboration with and contribution of volunteers across the globe. 

Our vision statement for Collaboration is: The Center of Excellence products and processes are designed in collaboration with and inclusive of the DataKind community.

What can we expect from the Center of Excellence next?

The first priority of the Center of Excellence is to build DataKind’s project Playbook! The Playbook will be a globally accessible living knowledge base that will enable the reader to implement every element of a data-for-good project following DataKind’s standards and processes. Excited? Look out for early releases and sneak peaks that will be shared throughout the next year!


The high level DataKind Playbook Development Plan and Timeline

Over the next six months as the Center of Excellence grows, we will also be creating the systems needed to support excellent work. Look out for job postings and calls for volunteer teams.

Finally, we will be back on our blog quarterly sharing our updates, how-to guides, and tips on doing excellent data for good work as part of a Center of Excellence blog series.

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