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Weekend Link Roundup (April 20-21, 2013)

April 21, 2013

Magnolia_bloomsOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....


On her Getting Attention blog, Nancy Schwartz has some recommendations for nonprofit communications officers (here and here) on how to communicate during a time of crisis.

Current Affairs

In the wake of the horrific bombing at this year's Boston Marathon, Philanthropy 411's Kris Putnam-Walkerly has curated a list of resources for anyone interested in learning more about philanthropy's response to the tragedy. As of Friday, the One Fund Boston, which was created by Boston mayor Thomas Menino, had raised more than $10 million to help victims of the attack.

As if the marathon tragedy wasn't enough to rattle Americans, on Wednesday a fertilizer plant in the Texas town of West caught fire and exploded, killing at least fourteen people and injuring hundreds of others. According to ThinkProgress economic policy editor Bryce Covert, the plant hadn't been inspected in five years. Covert goes on to explain that the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "is chronically understaffed, which means that a given plant like West Fertilizer can only expect to get a state inspection once every 67 years on average." And what's more, OSHA is "slated to take a huge cut under the sequester...."


On the O'Reilly Strata site, Mike Loukides, vice president of content strategy for O'Reilly Media, reminds us that data science, like science itself, needs to be built on a foundation of skepticism. "Skepticism about data is normal," writes Loukides,

and [that's] a good thing. If I had to give a one line definition of science, it might be something like "organized and methodical skepticism based on evidence." So, if we really want to do data science, it has to be done by incorporating skepticism. And here's the key: data scientists have to own that skepticism. Data scientists have to be the biggest skeptics. Data scientists have to be skeptical about models, they have to be skeptical about overfitting, and they have to be skeptical about whether we're asking the right questions. They have to be skeptical about how data is collected, whether that data is unbiased, and whether that data -- even if there's an inconceivably large amount of it -- is sufficient to give you a meaningful result.

Because the bottom line is: if we're not skeptical about how we use and analyze data, who will be?

New York Times columnist David Brooks has some interesting thoughts of his own about the uses, and misuse of, big data. "One of my take-aways," writes Brooks,

is that big data is really good at telling you what to pay attention to. It can tell you what sort of student is likely to fall behind. But then to actually intervene to help that student, you have to get back in the world of causality, back into the world of responsibility, back in the world of advising someone to do x because it will cause y.

Big data is like the offensive coordinator up in the booth at a football game who, with altitude, can see patterns others miss. But the head coach and players still need to be on the field of subjectivity.


In the first of a series of "dialogues" on the Nature Conservancy's Talk blog, TNC president Mark Tercek chats with environmental activist Bill McKibben about climate change and the state of the environmental movement.


Still a little confused about social impact/pay for success bonds? Not to worry. The experts at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco devote the most recent issue of Community Development Investment Review to the topic, with contributions from George Overholser and Caroline Whistler, Daniel Stidt, Jonathan Greenblatt, Kristina Costa and Sonal Shah, and many others.

International Affairs/Development

Writing on PhilanTopic, Jeff Falkenstein, vice president of data architecture at the Foundation Center, recaps the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development's annual Global Forum on Development, which this year was held in Paris. Among other things, Falkenstein highlights some of the gains achieved through the Millennium Development Goals process, which is slated to end in 2015, and asks what role, if any, private foundations should play in a post-MDG world. What do you think? Share your thoughts here.


Beth Kanter was in San Francisco earlier in the week for the 2013 Global Philanthropy Forum and, on her blog, recaps a session from the event on the topic of "building an information infrastructure" for philanthropy. Among other things, the session highlighted the need for more current data; the challenge of making the data we do have more meaningful; the benefits of data mining; and building organizational capacity to take advantage of open data. For more information on the session, check out this curated list of blog posts and other resources from Kanter.

On the other side of the pond, our friends at Alliance magazine are pleased to announce the winners of the first Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize: Jane Weru and Kingsley Mucheke of the Akiba Mashinani Trust, in Kenya.

Professional Development

Network for Good's Katya Andresen has some advice for social sector professionals who are "stuck on replay." "'Replay' can be somewhat effective if you're sticking to what works well," writes Andresen. "The problem is it can also create an autopilot state of mind that dulls your senses to changes around you -- like shifts in the political landscape, your donor base or constituencies -- that require a new approach."

Social Media

And on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation interim vice president of research and evaluation Debra Joy Perez shares insights into the foundation’s use of social media as well as some of the metrics it uses to understand the value of that work.

That's it for now. What did we miss? Drop us a line at rnm@foundationcenter.org. And have a good week!

-- The Editors

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