Does Your Nonprofit Need Some Data Therapy? | Beth's Blog

Does Your Nonprofit Need Some Data Therapy?


Earlier this week, I participated in a  meeting hosted by the Knight Foundation that brought together a small group of  amazing thinkers in Silicon Valley — nonprofits, for-profits, activists, bloggers, and others interested in technology for civic engagement that builds connections between residents and our governments.    It’s all related to its  TechForEngagement summit last year.  (Lucy Bernholz, who also participated in the meeting, wrote up this great post about the space/movement that is in the center of her research).

One of the themes that came up is the gap in skills of citizens and nonprofits and the use of data.   It is all about the data, but data is playing a huge role in civic engagement strategies and if people or nonprofits lack the skills to use it for civic engagement goals, that poses a problem.   And while I haven’t done an in-depth map of this space,   I keep thinking that a network of intermediaries (people who teach skills, connect skilled volunteers, generate discussion — those data nerds) is missing.  (I may be wrong, let me know in the comments).   There are organizations and individuals who work as intermediaries on connecting the dots between data experts and the people, but what about a network?

As I have been doing workshops based on “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,”  I keep hearing that a big reason that nonprofits are not looking at the data they collect or even collecting it  – is because of skills.     One strategy is to find a data nerd for hire or to volunteer with your organization.   But, everyone can raise their data literacy, especially visualization.      So, as I curate resources on this topic,  I was excited to discover Rahul Bhargava – a data nerd who writes the Data Therapy Blog for the MIT Center for Civic Media.

What I most like about his approach is that he makes data accessible to those of us who do not have advanced statistical analysis skills.    He makes data visualization and working with data fun – and of course offers lots of practical insights.

I discovered him through Kat Friedrich’s blog post  “How nonprofits can earn news coverage using data visualization.”    The blog post is about the launch of the Boston Foundation’s new resource for community organizations and media,  the Boston Indicators Project website. The site contains data visualization tools, thanks to a collaboration with the Institute for Visualization and Perception Research at UMass Lowell.   Why this resource?  According to the blog post:

“Data and reports alone do not produce change,” said Charlotte Kahn, Senior Director of the Boston Indicators Project. To create change, data must lead to action. And community organizations can use data to illuminate the challenges they face.

These ideas make me wonder where there are community technology spaces in neighborhoods that are teaching data literacy skills to the people and where nonprofits are learning to improve their capacity on this skill set?  If you know of or have examples of data literacy curriculum for nonprofits or data empowerment for community organization,  let me know in the comments.



6 Responses

  1. CarolV says:

    Yes! We could so use a data nerd volunteer. We know what we need and should do but we don’t have the time and expertise to implement quickly. We also need social media measurement analytics but can’t do $50/month or more. Wanted: Milwaukee-based datanerd volunteer. Wanted: Donated social media measurement tool or underwriter. Wanted: More time in the day. Wanted: More staff. Wanted: Help despite not being located on the coasts or in Silicon Valley. (I’m jealous of well-heeled and well-funded national and international nonprofits with cadres of experts and marketing/PR/social media/advocacy/video/photography specialists available.) We do the best we can. We read voraciously and go to SXSW Interactive, other trainings. We share what we know to help others who have even less than us. We need more to do our best, no doubt. We know that. We are frustrated. We love your blogs though. We thank you for all you do and share. We = me.

  2. […] Earlier this week, I participated in a  meeting hosted by the Knight Foundation that brought together a small group of  amazing thinkers in Silicon Valley — nonprofits, for-profits, activists, bloggers, and others interested in technology for civic…  […]

  3. Beth says:


    See this post and the comments – there are a couple of places where you can find a data nerd and donated software

  4. CarolV says:

    Thx Beth 🙂 Let me know when you’re around MKE and I’ll be happy to buy you a cup of coffee or lunch!

  5. Charles says:

    Great post. One resource that may be useful for information on information literacy is Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz’s site. Their model may be best known for informing K-12 curriculum but has also been applied to higher education and corporate settings. Their model and tools may applicable to nonprofits and community organizations as well.

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