Jargon: What do we actually mean? Phrase One: “Use/Using Data.”

“So, what does Gather do?”

“We use data to get toilets to people who need them the most.”

“Use data?”

“Yes”

“What do you actually mean by that.”

This is a conversation we have with a lot of people. Since launching Gather in 2016, our vocabulary has become filled with jargon, acronyms and phrases that make perfect sense to us but can mean nothing — or cause great confusion — to others.

So, we thought we would start a series of blogs with the title “Jargon: what do we actually mean.” Our hope is to navigate the nuances and de-mystify the descriptions that can sometimes prevent people from connecting with our cause.

To kick things off, let’s zoom in to two small words at the start of our mission statement. Use — or Using — Data.

What do we actually mean?

At Gather, when you hear us say we ‘use data’ we are summarising a series of activities:

· We encourage sanitation organisations to collect data on the location and characteristics of toilets in emerging cities in a standardised way (more on standardisation in a future post)

· We encourage sanitation organisations to share this data with us.

· We then analyse this data and visualise it. In other words, we put it onto maps. This allows us to see where there are gaps in provision and where more toilets need to be built

· We then interrogate the data. We want to get maximum value out of the data so that we can provide insight that effects change.

Screenshot of Gather’s demo platform of global data sharing. This screen shoes toilets in the informal settlement of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya. GPS coordinates of shared toilet facilities are mapped alongside geographical boundaries and population density.

One of the ways we interrogate the data is by curating it alongside other data sets on things like population density, flood risk and topography. When we layer this with the toilet data, we can see:

· Where toilets are compared to where people are

· Which toilets will be most susceptible to flooding during the rainy season

· Where waste transfer stations should be built to come with forecasted demand

A data scientist out our data dive for urban sanitation in March 2018 demonstrates how sanitation data for Lusaka, Zambia can be made useful and forecast business opportunities for sanitation waste collectors.

One way of thinking about it is this: when we say we “Use data” we are describing all of the things we do to make data useful. Without making data useful it is impossible to direct investment to where it is needed, highlight areas of inequality and improve the distribution of resources across emerging cities and countries around the world.

What to join us? We are always looking for exceptional, talented data scientists to help make sanitation useful so that we can use it to get toilets to those who need them the most.