Powered by Data staff and volunteers with Transform the Sector conference keynote speaker Lucy Bernholz
“Data is increasingly becoming a buzzword both in the public sphere and in the charitable sector—but most nonprofits are still figuring out how to incorporate data into their work meaningfully,” says Michael Lenczner, Founding Director of Powered by Data, a project of Tides Canada’s shared platform.
“The sector is starting to learn that there’s more to data than just conversations around conducting impact evaluations in service of funders. There are some really exciting opportunities for nonprofits and charities to explore how they can leverage data to better advance their own work,” says Lenczner.
Powered by Data’s mission is to maximize the availability and impact of data for public good. Through an approach that blends data policy and data strategy, the project helps establish frameworks that will enable the social sector to better share, use, and learn from data. Powered by Data works with charities, nonprofits, government, funders, and global data initiatives.
“Open grants data can tell us a lot about both the charitable and nonprofit sector. It helps us understand what activities are happening in the sector, and tells us who is working on these activities. This can be leveraged as a powerful tool for helping nonprofits find collaborators who are doing similar or aligned work,” he says.
Tides Canada has been publishing detailed lists of grants in our online annual reports for many years. This spring, as part of our ongoing commitment to transparency (and inspired by Powered by Data’s work), we began publishing our grants in open data format and are increasing the frequency of our reporting by publishing a detailed list of grants on a quarterly basis.
What is open data? Open data is information that is free, publicly available, machine-readable, and openly licensed for re-use and re-distribution. This means that anyone can access the information on Tides Canada’s website, download it into their own systems, and use the information for research, education, or even commercial purposes.
In February 2017, Powered by Data hosted Transform the Sector, a conference focusing on the digital data needs of the social sector. The event brought together 300 people from nonprofit organizations, government, foundations, academia, and business—and explored themes around data ethics, data capacity, and the role of data in philanthropy.
Coming out of Transform the Sector, Powered by Data identified administrative data-sharing as a high-impact intervention for the social sector moving forward. This is operational data collected by government agencies and social services on the people they serve—rich information that could never be shared as open data but could be leveraged to help us understand social outcomes, inform evidence-based policy, and better integrate public service delivery.
“In terms of our own learning, we’ve been discussing with our team about what it means to be “data geeks” working in the social sector. We recognize that diverse members of civil society are going to hold distinct pieces of knowledge around the use cases, as well as unique risks posed by changes in data policy and infrastructure. We also recognize that these communities—especially those from marginalized groups—are, for the most part, excluded in discussions around digital infrastructure development. So, we have been thinking about how to make conversations around technology more accessible, and how we can move towards more inclusive decision-making processes around data and tech.”
“We really believe in the potential data holds in being a force for social good. Our long-term vision at Powered by Data is a society where governments, charities, and nonprofits are using data to build a more equitable world.”