Voices of Pro Bono Data Science: The Key
October 22, 2014

For the second year in a row, DataKind is joining Taproot Foundation to celebrate Pro Bono Week 2014, a global celebration of the pro bono ethic across all professions that use their talents to make a difference. This is the first post in a four-part blog series highlighting voices of pro bono data science where we asked our volunteers and partner organizations to answer the question: "Why do you think pro bono data science can change the world?"

Tell us about The Key and your work

The Key is a UK-based charity whose mission is to provide young people with the opportunity to practically develop their skills and inner strengths for real world success. We believe all young people have the power to be great. We motivate young people to prove they can work as a team to think up, plan, do and review a project that takes them through a journey of discovery and personal development. We do it with just enough structure and plenty of freedom to make their own choices. 

Why do you think pro bono data science can change the world?

Pro bono support is an effective and cost neutral way of boosting a charity's infrastructure, operational excellence and strategic capacity. I’ve experienced first-hand the huge benefits from pro bono finance, HR, law, marketing, process improvement and even franchising. But none were as catalytic as data science.

I’m convinced pro bono data science could actually change the world. Or at least the world my charity operates in. Here’s why:

  1. It’s a skill specialism in which the vast majority of charities (of all sizes) are woefully behind. There’s such a mammoth amount of improvements to be made and quick wins to discover that even novice data scientists can make a massive difference.
  2. Even tiny charities can use data to drive their decision making, continuous improvements and innovations. But it can be expensive and many cannot afford such support.
  3. Using data allows you to explore social problems and solutions from novel angles. 
  4. There’s still so much opportunity for charities to use data to legitimately influence perceptions, practice and policy, both internally and externally.
  5. It’s exponential. Everyone involved benefits from tapping into multiple and diverse minds, skills, and tools to tackle charity data challenges (including the domain knowledge of the charity's staff). These relationships seem truly symbiotic.  

The Data-for-Good movement will never fully take off without charities embracing pro bono data science. Many are led by a passion for a cause and deep-seated belief in their theory of change, but data science may disprove those beliefs or illuminate better ways of solving those social problems. This could potentially threaten a charity's future or independence.

This is why I urge charity leaders to be brave, to ask the most difficult questions, to relish challenging your beliefs and to put the needs of those you serve above the needs of your organisation. Only then will the Data-for-Good movement realize its full potential in addressing the world's toughest challenges.

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