Doing Good With Data – Data Without Borders

June 10, 2011

This was orignally posted by DataKind Executive Director & Founder Jake Porway on his personal blog to launch Data Without Borders, now known as DataKind.  The post went viral, attracting attention from O'Reilly, The White House and hundreds of data do-gooders.  It helped launch what has become the data-for-good movement as we know it today!

As we all know, the world is inundated with data about practically everything we do, from where we are to who we know to what we eat, and it’s an extremely exciting time to be working in a field trying to make sense of all of it. However, as I and others have pointed out, there’s a lot of effort in our discipline put toward what I feel are sort of “bourgeois” applications of data science, such as using complex machine learning algorithms and rich datasets not to enhance communication or improve the government, but instead to let people know that there’s a 5% deal on an iPad within a 1 mile radius of where they are. In my opinion, these applications bring vanishingly small incremental improvements to lives that are arguably already pretty awesome.

On the other hand there are lots of NGOs and non-profits out there doing wonderful things for the world, from rehabilitating criminals, to battling hunger, to providing clean drinking water. However, they’re increasingly finding themselves with more and more data about their practices, their clients, and their missions that they don’t have the resources or budgets to analyze. At the same time, the data /dev communities love hacking together weekend projects where we play with new datasets or build helpful scripts, but they usually just culminate in a blog post or some Twitter buzz. Wouldn’t it be rad if we could get these two sides together?

To bridge this gap between the people with data and the people who know what to do with it, I’m proposing a sort of Data Without Borders program (or something snappier sounding / less trademarked. Suggestions welcome.). The plan is to round up data folk who want to do something meaningful with some of their spare time and match them up with non-profits / small companies who need data services. Need a statistical analysis done? We’re there. Are you launching a new service and want to collect data on it but don’t know how or what to collect? We’ve got you. Are you an NGO who just doesn’t have any idea what data’s out there or what data you already have? We can help you out.

I’m hoping to roll out an initial Hack Day / match-up event in the early Fall, so keep an eye on this page for updates. If you’re interested in helping or getting involved, feel free to head over to Data Without Borders and sign up for the e-mail list or just contact me directly. Right now we’re looking for a) data / dev people who want to get involved in working with NGOs b) NGOs who need, or suspect they need, help with data c) data people who can help NGOs audit their proposals for this program. Heck, if you just think it’s a good idea drop a line and let me know.

More details to come!