Why Data for Good? Findings from our Volunteer Survey

March 3, 2021

By Benjamin Kinsella, Technical Project Manager, DataKind

DataKind is proud to steward a global community of passionate Data for Good (D4G) volunteers, but we’ve wondered: are we doing all we can to support pro bono engagement with the worldwide Data for Good movement? We have a DataKind community of thousands of data scientists, technologists, designers, academics, thinkers - all representing nearly a decade of relationship-building, partnership, and project success, so we wanted to know - what makes people volunteer with DataKind? How can we best serve the DataKind community in the next decade?

This blog is part of DataKind’s Center of Excellence blog series, as we lead the efforts of ensuring that the findings of the survey are being incorporated into our volunteer opportunities at DataKind. To be able to better understand our community and to shape our next wave of volunteer opportunities and engagement, we asked DataKind community members to participate in a short survey in October 2020. You might remember our call for participants! We were thrilled at our learnings, and we were able to share these insights - and receive feedback from expert volunteer and global engagement organizations - at the 2020 Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) Conference

We’re excited to share these findings with you now. Below is a summary of these preliminary findings where we identify how the insights have shaped our work and vision for the future of D4G volunteering. 

Our Community Responded to the Call

Before we dive into the survey results, we want to note that D4G volunteering shares many of the same characteristics as traditional and skill-based volunteering. What this meant for us is that there’s a significant amount of research that DataKind could draw from to create a survey that would yield valuable insights. In this exploratory survey - which was designed and analyzed by a team of volunteer and staff DataKinders - we aimed to better understand D4G volunteer motivations, and the current characteristics of our community, with the aim of using those results to structure our next phase of global volunteerism.

Survey Snapshot

  • A total of 238 respondents who self-identified as D4G volunteers completed the survey.

  • Volunteer responses came from 26 countries and fell between the ages of 22 and 81, with a median age of 34. 

  • 52.3% self identified as male, 44.8% as female, and 1.3% as non-binary.

undefinedFigure 1: Gender Distribution across Survey Respondents

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Figure 2: Location of Survey Respondents

  • Volunteers exhibited a range of skill sets beyond core-data analytics capabilities, including web development, product management, user research, and domain expertise (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3: Market Basket Analysis of Volunteer Skills with Conditional Probabilities

  • Volunteers seek additional ways to engage with DataKind, including tailored volunteer opportunities, technical and non-technical workshops, and networking events (see Figure 4). 

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Figure 4: Respondents Interest in Potential DataKind Events

  • Volunteers were motivated by altruistic concerns, as well as opportunities to learn and enhance their knowledge (see Figure 5). There was also a dynamic interplay between motivational factors and social variables (e.g., age and gender). For example, as respondents get older, they assigned lower scores to indicator questions related to career- and learning-related benefits that may be obtained through D4G volunteer work. However, this pattern reversed among respondents after the age 45 (see Figure 6). 

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Figure 5: Cumulative Motivational Scores 

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Figure 6: Distribution of Understanding and Career Factor Scores by Age and Gender

  • Respondents reported obstacles that may prevent a volunteer from long-term engagement. These were particularly apparent among respondents who were working mothers who expressed difficulty in pursuing long-term projects. 

To view our preliminary findings as presented at the ARNOVA Conference, see here

Survey Limitations

Like any survey project, this work contains limitations worth mentioning. For example, our sample of respondents were limited to those who had opted in to receive emails from DataKind’s listserv and/or followed DataKind’s social media accounts. Given the DataKind focus - it’s not possible to generalize these findings to other D4G initiatives and those across different cultural contexts. Even with limitations, we at DataKind believe this study provided insights that point to new opportunities and actionable next steps for D4G practitioners. We’re excited to share those with you below. 

Building New Volunteer Opportunities

Drawing from these preliminary findings, DataKind’s Center of Excellence - in partnership with teams across the organization - is developing new initiatives through which we can continue supporting our volunteers. Here are three ways we’re taking these findings and putting them into action. 

Seek innovative ways to develop and expand pathways for engagement

A range of experiences, skill sets, and types of volunteer engagement are essential for DataKind to support mission-driven organizations and the D4G ecosystem. For example, this survey confirmed the wealth of experience DataKind volunteers bring, including domain expertise, product management, user research, consulting, academic publishing, and much more. We also observed that more experienced volunteers (i.e., those who have been volunteering with DataKind for several years) seek opportunities to continuously stay engaged with DataKind, but with less intensive time commitments. 

Because of these findings, DataKind is designing and developing new programs with these findings in mind. In addition to volunteers having opportunities to get involved at different expertise levels for different time commitments, DataKind recently launched the “Scoping Squad”. These volunteers leverage their expertise in consulting, analytics, and human-centered design to discover and design DataKind projects with a project partner before a team is recruited to execute. Volunteers also work with DataKind’s Center of Excellence as “Excellence Ambassadors” who contribute to DataKind’s knowledge base and Project Playbook development. This includes data science projects like analyzing past project GitHub data to better understand our coding norms and using the results to revamp our GitHub best practices. We’ll continue to explore these initiatives and engage volunteers who bring new perspectives and skill sets that can contribute to DataKind’s mission. 

Continue to place emphasis on our diversity and inclusion efforts

It’s imperative that we continue attracting and retaining diverse volunteers in global contexts to build and deploy ethical solutions with end users, and ensure the long-term sustainability of projects. We recognize that our volunteers have a range of backgrounds, lived experiences, and cultural heritages, as demonstrated in these survey results. Given that 32% of respondents self-identified as being a member of an underrepresented group in tech-related fields, DataKind must continue to be mindful of the unique assets, needs, and challenges across our volunteers. To continue engaging with our global volunteer communities, we have an unwavering commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion

We’ll work alongside our volunteers to incorporate new opportunities to allow for broader participation. We’ll also continue to implement ethical and equitable principles into the design and execution of our programmatic offerings, and seek opportunities for constant improvement. Additionally, we’ll continue to strengthen and enhance partnerships with organizations who are committed to bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Effectively align activities with volunteer motivations

Volunteers are motivated by their desire to contribute to prosocial causes. They’re also motivated by the numerous individual benefits that come from volunteering, like learning new skills and being part of a like-minded community. We’ll continue developing and sharing relevant volunteer opportunities with our community, as well as organizing workshops and networking events. For example, in December we hosted a community networking event for volunteers motivated by growing their network and meeting others in the D4G space. Similarly, we regularly host project showcases to demonstrate the impact that our volunteers are making through their project work. We’ll be organizing three workshops on Data Ethics, Project Scoping, and Community Healthcare, as part of NYC’s Open Data Week, March 6-14, 2021. Activities like these tailored to different volunteer motivations will continue to be part of our offering to our community at DataKind. 

Join Us for our Next Series of DataKind Engagements 

As we continue to grow, learn, and serve a global volunteer population, we’re excited to offer a number of upcoming touchpoints for the DataKind community. 

We hope to see you on the frontlines of Data for Good!

Have a suggestion or comment? Get in touch with us at community@datakind.org.

Acknowledgements: We’d like to thank our contributors who helped to develop this survey and analyze its findings. This project wouldn’t have been possible without contributions from Jack Craft, Neal Fultz, Paula Hwang, Revanth Korrapolo, Manojit Nandi, Smit Mehta, Camille Metzinger, and Daniel Nissani.

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Benjamin Kinsella, PhD helps social organizations identify their data science opportunities, and supports the Center of Excellence at DataKind to ensure all projects and learnings are executed with the highest quality standards.

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