DataKind as EARL’s 2021 charity

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We are pleased to announce that we have selected DataKind  as the chosen charity that the Enterprise Applications of the R Language Conference (EARL) will support in 2021.

Last year when EARL needed to move online, we decided that as our overheads were lower we could donate our profits to charity. As we are online again, we are pleased to be able to do the same this year. We interviewed Suzy East, DataKind’s Community Project Manager, to find out more about the great work they do.

Tell us about DataKind’s mission?

Our mission is to transform the impact of social change organisations by building their capacity to use data science through:

  • Changing attitudes

We want to increase understanding of and trust in data science within the social sector, by showing what’s possible and how data can be used responsibly

  • Providing a safe space to test ideas

We work with organisations to explore what might help them, and introducing them to new approaches and tools

  • Supporting data practitioners

We provide access to peer support networks for data experts in the social sector, and we’re working to ensure the number of data scientists in social change organisations continues to grow

In order to achieve this, we run a number of programmes ranging from our monthly Office Hours, where any social change organisation can receive an hour of free advice on any data-related topic, to our DataDives, a high-energy weekend of exploratory analysis for one to three carefully selected charity partners, to our DataCorps, projects of up to one year where we can build and operationalise a data science tool to help an organisation work smarter.

Since we were founded in 2013, we have worked to understand the social sector’s needs and how we can harness the power of pro bono data scientists to deliver social impact. All of DataKind’s projects are undertaken by pro bono data scientists; we have a core community of around 50 active volunteers and work with several hundred over the course of every year. We are powered by this community of passionate data scientists – including statisticians, data engineers, visualisation experts, developers, designers and project managers – who have contributed over £3 million in pro bono data services through DataDives and DataCorps projects to more than 80 charities. We are now, by far, the most experienced provider of charity data science support in the UK.

Can you give us some examples of the kind of work you have done with social change orgs?

Example: Centrepoint

Centrepoint, a youth homelessness charity, came to their DataDive with a mound of messy local authority data. After much data cleaning, the volunteers created models to show that official government numbers underestimate the number of homeless people by a factor of 10. At that time, official government figures showed that there were 16,000 young homeless people in England. Our volunteers found that figure was more like 140,000. This project was the start of a two-year Centrepoint programme to develop a robust and accurate Youth Homelessness Databank for the entire sector, building on data contributed by charities and local authorities all across the UK.

Example: The Welcome Centre

We worked with the Welcome Centre, a food bank in Huddersfield, to identify those most likely to need extra support, over and above food packages. Four DataKind UK volunteer data scientists and a Welcome Centre trustee embedded a machine learning model in the food bank’s referral system. The model enables advisors to fast-track support to high-need cases. It identifies clients who were likely to become dependent early in their journey, enabling them to get extra support and advice to prevent temporary crises from becoming more permanent. This project was a finalist in the European Data Science Awards 2019 for Best use of Data to achieve Social Impact.

Has Covid affected the type of projects you have worked on?

Covid hasn’t necessarily affected the types of projects we work on, but it has massively impacted how we work. We used to run in-person DataDive weekends of up to 100 people, as well as in-person monthly office hours, volunteer committee meetings and training sessions, and much more! We’ve translated all our events and activities online, and while we miss seeing our wonderful volunteers and charity partners ‘IRL’, it has opened our events up to a new audience that couldn’t attend previously due to the distance, caring commitments or other factors. As a result, we definitely plan to keep holding regular online events in future.

As for our charity partners, it’s made it much more difficult for them to find the time and energy to engage in data projects with us, as many people have been furloughed, and many charities have had to prioritise delivering direct support to their beneficiaries. 

What are your main aims for 2021?

We are about to hold Data4Good festival on May 10-12, an online conference about data in the social sector. We are also currently working on developing an updated strategy for the next three years, with the help of our board of trustees. In terms of projects, we’re looking to deliver three DataCorps projects, along with our regular DataDives. 

If someone is reading this and wants to find out more and ways they can help, where can they go?

If you’re a data scientist or data analyst that wants to get involved, we recommend you start by taking part in one of our DataDive weekends. Take a look at our website where you can read more about volunteering with us, and sign up to our mailing list to hear about future events.

Thank you Suzy! We look forward to working on some events and partnerships with Data Kind UK in the lead up to EARL 2021.

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