Exploring the Social Sector’s Relationship with Data: Takeaways From Data 4 Impact

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Community – it’s one of the foundational pillars of our vision for better and more open democracy at Open North. As a nonprofit ourselves, it’s important for us to work with a range of stakeholders to build sustainable, inclusive and innovative open communities, including within the social sector.

As part of the 2016 Canadian Open Data Summit events in Saint John, NB, Open North co-organized Data 4 Impact, a one-day workshop geared towards community organizations. Developed and facilitated in partnership with the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN) and Data for Good, we developed a multi-stage self-reflexive process designed to help participants define and improve their relationship with data.

With nearly 100 representatives from a range of community organizations taking part in the workshop, we produced an in-depth report complete with pre-event needs assessment survey results, the trainer’s agenda, workshop activity outcomes, and evaluation quotes. As allies with tech and data expertise, we hope that the report will act as a resource for the social and philanthropic sectors.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

-It was clear that community organizations tend to take a more organic and collaborative approach to data, unlike the private sector. It’s well-known that the social sector consumes and produces large amounts of data. Yet, even if it suffers from a significant lack of capacity, it is “very comfortable” sharing the data that it produces to maximize the impact of the sector as a whole. This mindset is especially promising for data-driven collaboration.

-There is a tendency to speak about data in binary terms, as either open or closed, but as our workshops showed, there is a much more nuanced and meaningful conversation to be had about shared data that falls within the two ends of the data spectrum. Our conversation about this gray zone helped identify and address perceived and real risks, as well as discuss privacy and access issues, like giving different access for different types of users.

-The workshop also validated once again that the binary supply and demand model doesn’t quite fit the mold for open data. A much more tailored and context-specific approach to understanding and enabling shared data, like mindset shift, organizational culture, social dynamics, infrastructure, capacity, etc. is necessary. It’s not as simple as pushing data to known data users.

It was a pleasure collaborating with NBSPRN and Data for Good for this workshop. Something tells me that we’ll have the opportunity to repeat this experience. If you’re a community organization looking for tools and resources to enhance your data capacities, I highly encourage you to read the full report here.

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