Lessons from DataKind San Francisco’s Launch of DataAdvisory Projects

By DataKind San Francisco 

From financial forecasting to targeted advertisements, advancements in data collection and analysis have benefited a myriad of for-profit organizations today. Unfortunately, due to limited funds and resourcing, such benefits often don’t reach social impact initiatives. At DataKind, our core mission is to enable mission-driven organizations to enjoy the fruits of the ongoing data revolution. Recently, at DataKind San Francisco, we concluded the launch of our first DataAdvisory cohort, which helped four nonprofits grow their data capacity to address critical organizational issues.

The DataAdvisory projects were launched in early 2021 to strengthen data infrastructure and capacity in organizations across sectors such as pandemic response, digital health, social equity, local government, and food systems. While our previous efforts at DataKind San Francisco solely focused on providing data expertise for specific analytical questions, we recognized that a solution focused on developing best practices for data could be just as valuable for many organizations. The DataAdvisory projects help develop a long-lasting and sustainable data infrastructure to enable organizations to answer better data-driven questions.

DataAdvisory Overview


Using a framework developed by DataKind UK and Data Orchard CIC, we identified seven key categories to increase data capacity for nonprofit partners (see above figure). As our four partner organizations were largely in the earlier stages of data maturity, we piloted DataAdvisory projects spanning ten weeks to assess and provide recommendations across the seven thematic areas that increase data maturity.

DataAdvisory Partner Organizations

DataKind San Francisco ran the DataAdvisory pilot with four organizations with the following project outcomes in mind: 

  • MyCovidMD gives free testing and access to telehealth services to under-resourced communities. They collaborated with us to increase data science capacity internally and optimize data workflow. (Team Members: Dr. Nana Afoh-Manin, Deiandra Concepcion, Flor Anaya, Allan Salvatierra, Allison Wu, and Anjana Sundaram)
  • An anonymous healthcare startup is on a mission to bring affordable health coaching to low income Americans fighting chronic disease. They reached out to us to understand how they could use their data to help health coaches and clinic providers manage client engagement and proceed with appropriate health interventions. (Team Members: Victoria Hollingshead, Abhishek Kapatkar) 
  • BAC (unBox) provides reliable community resource information locally to the Bay Area. They partnered with us to build scalable data infrastructure and better leverage data tools. (Team Members: Charlie Hoffs, Isabelle Foster, Chris LeBoa, Jaya Pokuri, and Hope Kirstian Miranda)
  • The City of San Jose’s Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI) leverages technology to address pressing issues in the city. They worked with us to reduce technical barriers to local open government data use, particularly related to equity-focused analyses (Team Members: Christine Keung, Joy Hsu, Julia Chen, Ramya Ravichandran, Edwin Zhang)

Key Insights  

While each organization had unique data needs and requirements, we saw that many of our nonprofit partners had a common need to understand how data flowed through their organization. For example, MyCOVIDMD collected extensive data but lacked a centralized database from which routine analyses could be easily developed. We were  able to provide advice on building a streamlined workflow for data storage. An additional benefit of this was the ability to easily create a simple dashboard for MyCOVIDMD and partners to track key results of vaccination drives and access to community health services.


“Connecting with the incredible network at DataKind was [a] huge comfort to our organization in its early stage,” said Dr. Nana Afoh-Manin, Founder of MyCOVIDMD. “Hit with the enormous lift of getting disenfranchised communities access to care and resources in real time during a pandemic, collecting quality data would play an integral part to storytelling and exposing health inequities. Yet, even as allies and activists, we have to be constantly reminded of ethical issues in data collection. DataKind helped us to work through our framework, practice and incorporate more mindful approaches, tools, and resources.”

Similar impact was seen in our collaboration with a local healthcare startup. Following the data maturity assessment, we outlined short- and long-term metric recommendations, including those to measure health coach performance and patient engagement. The team also walked through a number of exploratory data analysis questions and techniques that could help inform the organization’s future product objectives and data collection strategy. For example, a descriptive model could help investigate whether employing different coaching plans for distinct patient groups improved performance. In addition, a binary classification could be used to identify if a patient was more likely to drop out of the program or continue until completion.

Likewise, our work with unBox focused on advising how to build scalable reporting systems through more effective data infrastructure. We provided recommendations on how to improve technical processes through leveraging data tools and adopting better practices with technologies such as Github. In addition, the DataKind team advised on non-technical areas such as volunteer recruitment and growth, funding, and culture. 


“DataKind San Francisco’s DataAdvisory program provided our BayAreaCommunity.org (BAC) team with invaluable in-depth technical expertise and high-level strategic advising…to guide our core team through improvements to our website’s backend infrastructure and data architecture,” said Charlie Hoffs and Isabelle Foster, Co-Founders of unBox, which in 2020 created BayAreaCommunity.org. “Their expertise has helped us map a plan for deepening BAC’s impact in the Bay Area, and further aligning BAC with unBox’s mission of uniting young people to fight U.S. food insecurity. Based on the insights gleaned from the DataKind San Francisco DataAdvisory program, BAC decided to partner with the nonprofit social service resource referral website, One Degree, which shares BAC’s vision to help Bay Area residents access needed resources to chart a path out of poverty.” 

We also found that our DataAdvisory approach supported better understanding of equity in local governments and the resources they provide to their communities. Our team partnered with the City of San Jose Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI) to help develop an open data standard and analysis framework to encourage equity—a publicly accessible system to understand the quality of government services in San José by location and the people who live there. 


“Data equity for San José isn’t about doing analysis for analysis’ sake—our residents have to be our north star,” said Christine Keung, Chief Data Officer of the Mayor’s Office on Technology and Innovation. “We want to not only inspire those in the City with what our data equity strategy can achieve, but also create a platform for productive conversations with our communities.” 

DataKind San Francisco’s DataAdvisory project was able to help fill an unmet need for the MOTI team. “Our ability to shift the City’s culture towards a more accessible and sustainable understanding of data as a decision-making tool relies on internal capacity to scale this work,” added Keung. “Organizations like DataKind that champion Data for Good make it possible for organizations that don’t traditionally have a pool of technical talent to pilot projects that could have an immense impact on the communities they serve.” 

Looking Ahead

DataKind San Francisco is excited to incorporate these learnings from our first cohort of DataAdvisory projects into future iterations of DataAdvisory. As our Chapter prepares to launch the second cohort of DataAdvisory projects, we hope you’ll consider joining us. If you or your organization is in the early phase of data maturity, and looking to level up your capabilities to more effectively work towards your mission, please reach out to us at sfbayarea@datakind.org. We look forward to harnessing the power of data science and AI with you! 

This blog post was written by the following members of DataKind San Francisco: Victoria Hollingshead, Abhishek Kapatkar, Jaya Pokuri, Ramya Ravichandran, and Anjana (Ani) Sundaram. We’d like to thank DataKind UK for providing the Data Maturity Model as a resource!

Joining the DataKind Movement

DataKind’s work is possible through the generosity of our volunteers, donors, and corporate sponsors. If you’re moved and can join us in supporting this and our future important work, please become a donor here. Every gift helps DataKind harness the power of data science and AI in the service of humanity.   

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