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.