Use Data for Social Good

August 09, 2018

Contributor: Kasey Panetta

How organizations can use data to improve society, gain talent and increase transparency.

Homelessness is a growing problem in many countries, for different reasons: in England, the migrant crisis; in Vancouver, Canada, lack of affordable housing; and in the U.S., often veterans fighting post-traumatic stress. One of the challenges in combating homelessness and ensuring adequate care is that the data regarding homeless populations isn’t standardized across sectors. This makes it difficult to coordinate care across multiple organizations.

The Community Technology Alliance (CTA), founded in 1991 to develop data-driven solutions to poverty and homelessness, is charged with coordinating data collection and cleansing. This information is put into dashboards to help understand needs of the homeless and to coordinate and provide care across multiple agencies. In 2015, with support from the Tableau Foundation and Interworks, CTA launched a data fellows program to develop data leads tasked with using data to tell a story about homelessness in their cities. This is just one example of Data for Good.

“ Data can be used for the good of society”

Data and analytics leaders are in a unique position to build programs that benefit the Data for Good movement, in which people and organizations transcend organizational boundaries to use data to improve society.

“If you are a chief data officer or responsible for setting forth data strategies for your organization, you are in a unique position to restore some of the decline in trust in businesses by proactively pursuing use cases of ‘data for good,’” says Cindi Howson, research vice president,at Gartner. “Data can be used for the good of society, but private- and public-sector firms, nonprofits and NGOs still lack analytics resources and expertise. Data and analytics leaders must cross traditional boundaries to use data for good, to better compete for limited talent and to foster an ethical culture.”

CTA isn’t the only organization using data for the betterment of society. MasterCard anonymizes credit card data to be analyzed for smart city initiatives. Google offers hospitals search data to predict infection disease outbreaks and Yelp offers ratings data to cities to prioritize food safety inspectors.

Attract data and analytics talent with Data for Good programs

Data for Good programs can be an effective way to attract data and analytics talent. New college graduates are increasingly looking for companies that afford them an opportunity to pursue projects that benefit the community or larger world. A recent Gartner survey found that one of the top two reasons female students study data and analytics was the desire to have an impact on their company and the world. At the same time, data and analytics jobs are increasing in numbers and difficult to fill. Offering paid time to pursue projects to help the community can differentiate a company in a highly competitive environment.

“ Companies are able to share data with the intention it be used for social good, assuming data owners are made aware”

This is precisely what Nationwide Insurance did in 2007 when the then-CEO discovered the low high school graduation rates in his hometown of Columbus, OH. The company’s data and analytics experts donated their time to provide data that measured proficiencies and identified an early warning for struggling students. This pro bono project was so successful it was spun off into its own nonprofit.

Evaluate commercial data for social purposes

Companies can evaluate their data, both internal and external, for potential uses in Data for Good efforts. Generally companies are able to share data with the intention it be used for social good, assuming data owners are made aware of the possibility. For example, MasterCard shared anonymized data with New York University to check on the success of its redevelopment projects, smart city initiatives and programs to reduce greenhouse gases. The company has also tracked the benefits of microlending in Kenya.

Whether it's working with other companies to help address homelessness, allowing employees to spend a certain amount of days on a community project, or sharing data, data and analytics leaders, including CDOs, are in a unique position to establish Data for Good programs.

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