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On Putting Your Data to Work: A 'Flip' Chat With Jake Porway, Founder/Executive Director, DataKind

September 26, 2012

(This video was recorded as part of our "Flip" chat series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat with Paull Young, director of digital at charity: water.)

There's no shortage of data in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector. Indeed, a growing number of nonprofits are filling virtual filing cabinets with data on their constituents, donors, outputs, and outcomes, while more and more foundations are creating digital records of their program activities and grantees' performance. But what are nonprofits and foundations doing with that data once it has been collected? In most cases, not a whole lot.

At the same time, computer programmers have elevated so-called "hackathons"  and "codefests" into an art form. In rare cases, these events even enable hackers to contribute to the greater good by developing software or a mobile app that can be used to address a social problem. Too often, however, as Jake Porway, founder of DataKind, noted at a recent 501 Tech NYC event, they're just "a bunch of white dudes looking to solve their own problems, like where to find parking or farmers markets." Which is why his organization focuses on connecting programmers and data scientists interested in doing some social good with nonprofit leaders working to address some of the world's most urgent problems.

Formerly known as Data Without Borders, DataKind accomplishes its mission through weekend-long "DataDive" events; a DataCorps (i.e., a group of volunteers and/or contract employees who focus on a single project for up to six months at a time); and by providing on-demand/in-house data services.

After the event, I had a chance to chat with Porway about the nonprofit sector's relationship to and use of data and what nonprofits could be doing to make better use of their data. Porway also offered advice for nonprofit leaders who are worried about the steepness of the data learning curve.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)


(Running time: 5 minutes, 51 seconds)

Is all data created equal? And if not, what types of data should nonprofits look to collect, manage, and analyze -- and to what end should they use it? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

-- Regina Mahone

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Posted by Emily F. Keller  |   October 03, 2012 at 09:52 AM

Great post and video, Regina! I attended the event and thought Jake Porway was fascinating. One of my favorite points from his presentation was when he stressed the importance of collecting data in order to ask questions rather than immediately seeking answers. It’s interesting that he has worked at The New York Times, as this approach reminds me of working in journalism and trying to subdue early opinions on what a story is in favor of keeping an open mind to whatever conclusion emerges from a thorough examination of the facts. This process strikes me as very similar. Your question about what data nonprofits should collect and analyze is an excellent one – but what stuck in my mind the most from Jake’s talk was his adaptable approach and willingness to adjust his search at each step of the way. I think the way we look at data is as important as what data we are viewing. The most significant findings are often those that are not readily apparent at first glance, and sometimes they aren’t the conclusions we are hoping for, but a wide-ranging view without expectation can probably teach us the most.

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