Celebrating our volunteers (remotely!)

April 23, 2020

By Nicole Holgate, Communications Officer, DataKind UK

I began my new role as Communications Officer at DataKind UK in the middle of February. One of the many things I was excited about was working with the community of volunteers who lead their charity support services through committees and events.

I met some of the core members: talented data scientists who give their time and skills to support charities. They were humble, friendly, enthusiastic, and fantastic to work with.

Moving online

Unfortunately, not long after that, social distancing began and our team started working from home. This was also only a fortnight before a DataDive weekend involving almost 50 people, including charity representatives and data science volunteers.

We decided to move the event entirely online. Normal roles all became remote, such as Data Ambassadors, our volunteer data scientists who work with the charities in the lead up to the weekend; troubleshooters, who provide extra support with problems and questions; and to be safe, a few extra facilitators too.

So this blog is to say a massive thank you to everyone involved, and in particular to the volunteers who worked so hard and were vital to the DataDive being a success in this new virtual territory. It was daunting, but we didn’t have to worry, they took it in stride!

Essential support

Aside from supporting the charities, throughout the weekend our volunteers helped wrangle others between Zoom rooms, updated shared documents with emerging findings, and were ultimately responsible for getting the best out of each team to ensure a high standard of results for both charities.

Volunteer facilitators, Stef and Dan, helped ensure everything ran smoothly, always available to answer queries and solve problems. Stef’s role as a member of our Ethics Committee meant they could help teams deal with potential ethical issues like bias in the data.

Vyas, from our Scoping & Impact Committee, co-hosted the event, bringing valuable experience of previous DataDives. His customer-facing data science background made the welcoming and closing presentations he took part in a joy that reinforced why we had all come together.

Six Data Ambassadors (DAs) managed teams of volunteers doing data analysis for two charities, The Brilliant Club and Citizens Advice Manchester.

The Brilliant Club volunteer team

As a DA for The Brilliant Club, Katy had spent weeks getting to know their data and the questions they needed help with. She worked alongside Emiliano, who kindly hosted our last DataDive at the end of 2019; Daniel, who also supports organisations to use AI in his day job; and troubleshooter Paolo, who sat on our Community Committee and is currently one of the volunteers delivering our Office Hours support. 

Emiliano helped his team to look at the factors that influence whether pupils on The Brilliant Club’s programmes are successful in submitting their final assignments. Daniel supported his team of volunteers to create maps and analysis with data around The Brilliant Club’s PhD tutors and partner schools to help the charity increase its provision across the UK.

Katy ensured her team always kept The Brilliant Club staff up-to-date, making sure the data science volunteers were addressing the real-world questions faced by this fantastic organisation.

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The Citizens Advice Manchester volunteer team

We were all sad to hear that DA Lisa was too ill to take part in the weekend. Along with Tahir and Yvonne, the work she did preparing the data and question set before the DataDive meant their team could immediately get their teeth into the data challenges for Citizens Advice Manchester (CAM).

Joe, a former DataKind UK Chapter Leader, and Sukh, from our Scoping & Impact Committee, were able to fill in for Lisa. Both showed razor-sharp judgement to help everyone divide up their challenges and stay focussed on the best results for the charity. They supported other volunteers to take a closer look at CAM’s client groups and help CAM understand how they might be able to improve their service delivery.

Tahir’s thoughtful and thorough approach was instrumental in helping CAM to examine their overall impact and best use of their resources. He also kept us entertained with one of the most exciting Zoom backgrounds, a futuristic, tech-filled hacker’s palace :).

Yvonne, who was volunteering as a DA for the first time, was a steady and calming influence on her team throughout the DataDive. They produced informative charts to break down extremely complex data about the journeys of CAM’s clients.

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Humbling and exciting

The charities were blown away by the commitment of everyone that took part, and how much was achieved. CAM’s Stuart Pearson said “It’s been a really humbling and really exciting experience, and I want everyone to know the work they’ve contributed will definitely make a difference. People will be getting help and advice directly because of the work you’ve done this weekend.”

As the weekend drew to a close, several volunteers agreed how inspiring it was to work with a community of people like themselves who wanted to do good, even from isolation. As one put it, “The DataDive was an amazing experience for me to contribute my data skills meaningfully, and the sense of community is more comforting than ever in these turbulent times.”

And as Vyas added in the closing presentation of our first successful online DataDive, “When you think back on this weekend, you can know you made history!”

We're so proud to work with our brilliant volunteers. Thanks to them, we can even continue to offer our support to charities during a pandemic. To all the participants of our first remote DataDive - you are data heroes!