Inside DataKind UK
By Ruby Childs, Ethics committee
This post shows the inner workings of DataKind UK and how it flourishes from the contributions of our volunteers
DataKind UK was founded by volunteers in 2013, as DataKind’s first chapter. Since then it has grown to three full-time staff, five chapter leads and a large community of volunteers. Our work — supporting social change organisations to move into the digital and data era — is made possible by the thousands of hours contributed by pro-bono data scientists in our community.
Many of these hours are contributed by our committees. Our committees run DataKind, alongside the staff team, and contribute to the strategy and long-term direction of DataKind. Each has a specific focal area within DataKind UK, such as helping scope out a project that could be tackled with data science or considering the ethical implications of AI for the social sector. The five committees are:
- Scoping, selection and impact
- Office Hours
Each is made up of 5 to 8 dedicated volunteers. Committee members tend to have been long-time volunteers within DataKind UK, each having started their ‘DataKind journey’ by attending a DataDive. A ‘chapter leader’ heads each committee; below, they explain what their committee does.
Part of helping social change organisations to use data is making sure that the data and its applications (such as machine learning algorithms) are used responsibly. We also want to help our community of volunteers and social change organisations think about ethics in their wider work, and find practical processes to incorporate those discussions within their teams and organisations.
We host a data ethics book club, open to anyone, to discuss developments in data and AI ethics (read about our facial recognition session). We also surveyed our community on attitudes to ethics in data science. We’re developing and testing processes to use in DataKind UK projects to ensure ethical considerations are at the heart of these projects, including training our volunteers on how to best support social change organisations to navigate this field.
The members of the committee work across a range of sectors including academia, non-profit and corporate sectors.
Scoping, selection and impact Committee
We make sure that DataKind UK pick the best projects to work on, and we measure the impact of projects.
We begin at the selection stage — where we try to select the right projects given their goals, likely impact and our values. This is an open discussion with the potential partner; if these initial discussions prove fruitful, we move into the scoping phase. Here, we work with the partner to define achievable objectives, desired impact and begin to delve into the data itself. We then hand the project over to the Community Committee, to staff it with a team of volunteers.
Finally, upon completing the project, we assess and evaluate how it went and what impact it has had.
Our Community committee is centred around one of the most important parts of Datakind UK: the volunteers that drive our work. We strive to make sure that Datakind feels like an inclusive and diverse community in which people feel comfortable and valued.
If you decide that you want to get involved you will more than likely chat with one of our members so that we can tell you a bit more about Datakind and understand what role your skills will best suit. This allows us to help make sure we have a good blend of skills when we come to match our “Data Ambassadors” up to their charities.
Importantly we also help organise our socials that happen throughout the year! These range from our Christmas quiz to (sometimes very rainy) summer BBQs. What is important to us is that Datakind UK is an open and welcoming place for everyone who wants to do good with data!
Office Hours is an external facing programme, during which volunteers give advice to social change organisations on working with data, in order to improve their capability for making use of data and data science. We provide this advice via hour-long slots, in person at our London offices or remotely.
It’s often their first contact with DataKind UK, and needs can vary widely. These are either specific problems — “I am trying to do X but I keep getting an error”, or general problems — “I have to improve our organisations data and data science capability but I don’t know where to start!”
Office Hours aims to solve both types of problems. We tackle the first, more specific kind by doing our best to provide on the spot fixes using our expertise, and we follow up by email after the session with more detailed solutions.
We tackle the more general problems by providing some “data therapy” where we talk through a charity’s data maturity journey and assess where they are, where they would like to be, and how they can get there. We are working on formalising this step, to give charities concrete action plans based on moving between specific steps on our data maturity framework.
Since this programme began last year, our volunteers have provided advice to over 100 charities, and we plan to continue to grow. We will also be working closely with the Programmes Committee on how Office Hours interacts with our other programmes, in particular on what other support DataKind can provide charities to help them make progress with their action plans.
Our committee is tasked with ensuring that DataKind programmes deliver as much impact as possible for our partners, whether that programme is a DataDive, a longer term DataCorps project, or more light touch support.
We are all about continual improvement, and our work takes place on a project-by-project basis. For example, this year we are reviewing all past DataDives and the questions answered at each one. We’ll then build a database that we can analyse to identify paths to further improvement. We will share our findings with social change organisations to show them what makes a great DataDive.
Given that other committees all have their own responsibilities for delivering great programmes, we sometimes end up taking on tasks that they do not have time for. Scoping and Office Hours often encounter potential partners for whom the DataDive is not the most appropriate next step towards greater data maturity. Our biggest objective for the remainder of 2019 is to work with those committees to define a framework that allows us to more efficiently identify the needs of those partners and what it is that we can do to help.
If you’d like to join us as a volunteer, reach out to us. Similarly, if your a mission-driven organisation that wants help with your data or if you’d like to find out about upcoming events, get in touch!