Discovering data labs – highlights from the fourth edition of the Data Science Talks

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The EFC Data Science Group held the fourth of its Data Science Talks on the 27 October looking at Data Labs and how utilising data can help social enterprises and non-profit organisations measure their impact but also influence public policy. The meeting was moderated by Sevda Kilicalp, Policy and Incubation Manager, EFC.

James Noble, Associate Director of Data & Learning, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), gave a short presentation on the NPC Data Lab model but also introduced the Justice Data Lab which is run by the Ministry of Justice in the UK. He reiterated that data labs allow charities and social enterprises to measure their impacts in a tangible way. James noted how governments have lots of useful data which can be used by organisations to understand the impact of their work. Using a case study of The Clink Restaurant in Brixton (London), he explained how by using the Justice Data Lab, the prisons that use the restaurant saw fewer of their former prisoners reoffend; therefore, showing that the service works. They provided the Ministry with details of people who worked with the restaurant, and this was then compared with data in the Police National Register. James explained that any organisation that works with prisoners in England and Wales can use the free service, which is financed by the Ministry of Justice of the UK Government. The condition is that the results of the study must be published. As to whether this project could be replicated in other European countries, this is dependent on the availability of large data sets that government has but also other factors, such as transparency. To be able to set up a data lab, in a way which NPC has supported the Ministry of Justice in the UK, both the right data source but also analytical capabilities are required.

Nicholas Steinbrink, Data Scientist, Bertelsmann Stiftung, gave an overview of the organisation’s newly created data science lab, which for now is purely an internal project. This was in response to internal demand for a central unit which can facilitate data processing and analysis. He spoke of the long-term ambition to build a coalition of foundations which together will work with government institutions in utilising data for both their projects and for other non-profit work. Nicholas spoke of two prototype projects which the Bertelsmann Stiftung is working on, including an open data project with the aim of forecasting economic migration in the European Union. The data for this project originates from Google Trends, which is then analysed by the data lab. He spoke of the dilemma that previously the Foundation had no data experts, meaning that these jobs had to be outsourced. So the data lab has allowed to bring expertise in-house. To assist in explaining the “Wegweiser Kommune” project, which compares data between different municipalities in Germany, Nicholas gave a demonstration

On the role that philanthropic organisations can play in collaborating and contributing to the emergence of more data labs, James spoke of the need to increase the demand from the sector for these sorts of resources. Often charities and the social sector are not part of conversations regarding the use and sharing of government data. So having philanthropic organisations engage in these discussions would be mutually beneficial. Nicholas mentioned the legal concerns that institutions have in sharing their data, therefore recommending to have legal experts on the team in assisting with setting up data labs, which many organisations wish to do.

For more information contact Sevda Kilicalp.

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