Note from Beth: Over the summer, I got wind of the “Data Analysts for Social Good” conference in Chicago and organized by Andrew Means when colleague Heidi Ketroser Massey tagged me in the above Facebook status asking about capture tools for conferences. The conference is part of a professional development effort for data geeks who work for nonprofits which includes a web site, webinars, and more. Heidi’s post triggered an interesting conversation in the comments on capture tools and transparency mentioned in the guest post below, but more importantly Julia Smith from NTEN volunteered to write up this guest post about the conference.
Report back from the first-ever Do Good Data Conference by Julia Smith
Many of you, especially those in greater Chicago, may be familiar with the Data Analysts for Social Good group that Andrew Means founded in May 2012. What started as a happy hour (“as all good things begin,” says Andrew) to share ideas and commiserate with fellow data-minded souls at local nonprofits has grown into a full-fledged network that came together for its first annual conference earlier this month. Speakers included Chicagoans like Rayid Ghani, founder of the Data Science for Social Good Summer fellowship; Mark Mathyer of the Museum of Science & Industry; and Lauren Haynes of GiveForward. But the event also drew folks from out of state, including Splash’s Eric Stowe, Idealware’s Laura Quinn, Innovations for Poverty Action’s Lindsay Shaughnessy, Maine Conservation Voters’ Gianna Short, and many others.
“I was taken completely off-guard by the interest in the conference,” says Andrew. “We sold out our 120 seats over a month before the conference and had over 60 people on a waiting list wanting to come. I was also really happy with the mix of people that came to the conference; we had academics, practitioners, executive directors, researchers, people that don’t often get in the same room and talk. I loved that.”
Those attendees didn’t just bring a range of experiences and viewpoints; they also brought a spirit of transparency and generosity. Earlier that week, community member Heidi Massey (who runs Chicago’s 501 Tech Club monthly meetup, where Andrew has been a featured speaker) learned about the waiting list. She turned to Facebook to ask how we might document the day for those who couldn’t join in person.
After much discussion about Etherpad, Piratepad, okfnpad, Storify, and other tools, we settled on good old Google docs. By the time we all arrived at the event, Heidi had created a separate collaborative note-taking doc for each session, and one that served as a table of contents.
And that’s just one example of how the importance of transparency came up time and again during the event. I asked the members of the Communities of Impact about their takeaways, and Mark Mathyer said, “Transparency rules! I have always believed that making public more information is good for everyone. If funders don’t want to embrace and understand both the good and bad news, they probably aren’t the right funders for your mission. Eric Stowe, from Splash, reinforced this point in the final keynote. A donor who feels attached to the lifetime of a project is more valuable, and probably ultimately happier, than one who expects to solve a problem with a single transaction.”
Andrew is already cooking up some big changes for next year’s conference, so don’t miss out. To learn more and stay in the loop with Data Analysts for Social Good, you can join the LinkedIn group and subscribe to the listserv. And, again, you can view notes from specific panels and workshops at Do Good Data—or contribute to them, if you attended!—right here. The more people thinking, talking, failing, winning, and sharing resources about data and transparency, the better off our sector will be.
Julia Smith is Community Development Manager at NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network and Program Manager for the Communities of Impact (COI), funded by Microsoft and currently in its pilot year. She worked with COI members Andrew Means, Mark Mathyer, and Gianna Short to write this post.