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Getting to grips with your data

By Giselle Cory, Executive Director, DataKind UK

Giselle runs DataKind UK, a charity that helps other charities use data science to transform their impact. Next week, DataKind UK is coming together with 20 other charities to host the Data4Good Festival. The Festival will showcase the best of data use in the sector, with 60+ events over three days.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

As charity leaders, our roles can be summed up as making and supporting others to make good decisions. Insights from data about your services and activities are crucial to those decisions. Yet looking around the sector too many of us are hindered by a lack of data – or more likely, a lack of meaningful data analysis that brings out the insights held within that data – to help us make those decisions.

What’s possible with data?

We’re surrounded by daily examples of how data use and data science influence our worlds. Amazon recommends a new pair of shoes; Netflix and Spotify tell us what to enjoy next. 

But when it comes to charities – particularly those delivering services to the most vulnerable communities and individuals – we cast around for examples of responsible, impactful data use and struggle to find them. Not knowing what is possible makes it seem impossible to get there!

At DataKind UK, we have spent nearly a decade supporting charities to use data better in order to inform their decision making and transform their impact. One of the things we’ve learned is how important it is for organisations to see what’s possible – particularly by learning about the data journeys taken by other charities. 

Examples from across the sector 

At the Data4Good Festival, you can hear from more than 20 charities about their own data use – from small organisations to the national mega-charities, they’ll share their stories about:

  • Making the plumbing work by transforming how data is collected, such as going from paper to app, or bringing in a new CRM
  • Analysing their own data to better understand changing needs – whether that is text data or numerical measures 
  • Responding to changing realities of Covid, and how data informed their responses
  • Going public and sharing aggregated data on outcomes with the outside world 
  • Measuring the return on investment of your activities 

We’ll also hear from funders about their approach to data, both in-house and for their grantees, including London Funders, Esmee Fairbairn and Guy’s and St Thomas’s Foundation. 

Data and diversity

Good data use isn’t just about the insights produced – how that data is collected, used and accessed matters too. And unfortunately for us there is no such thing as impartial data! When we gather and use data, we do so with certain assumptions. Even if we don’t voice these assumptions, they are still there and inform our work. 

To use data responsibly, we must consider things like:

  • The principles underlying the ownership of data
  • How it represents individuals and communities – or doesn’t
  • How accessible it is to those whose information is collected  

At the Festival, you can learn about “decolonising data”, how to ensure ‘I am me’ is captured as a reality rather than a tick box exercise, how to support communities to become active participants rather than passive subjects, and practical examples of this in action. 

Data strategy 

You may be collecting and analysing your data thoughtfully, but you’re not done yet. Having a strategy for what you want to achieve in the future is crucial across all parts of the organisation – and data collection and use is no exception. But data strategy can be challenging, particularly when most charities have small teams to tackle this rather than armies of consultants. 

At its heart, data strategy isn’t as much about data as it is about your theory of change. As one of the Festival speakers will explain, creating an organisation that is guided by data is about connecting what you do back to your mission. You’ll learn about what to prioritise, what good looks like and how to avoid spending money on things that don’t add value.

The Data4Good Festival is on 10-12 May 2021, with more than 60 sessions over 3 days. Tickets are £45-95 depending on the size of your organisation – and you can get 20% off using the Acevo membership discount code: ACEVO_20. There are bursaries available for anyone for whom the ticket price is a barrier to attending  – get in touch on

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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