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Spotting the Human Side of Data at Do Good Data Conference

MFG Archive, Opinion

Beth Kanter shares her reflection on the Do Good Data conference in Chicago last week.


Last week, I attended and presented at the Do Good Data Conference in Chicago. The conference is expertly curated by Andrew Means who has shaped the agenda and speakers into an incredible learning experience for both the human and technical sides of data of for good. This is the best conference to learn about data for nonprofits and suggest that you register for 2016.


The Do Good Data community understands that good data practice is a balance of both the human side and the technical skills. It is like yin and yang, because these seeming contrary skills sets are interdependent. You look at this yin yang narrowly as data visualization and spreadsheet data, but  it includes organizational culture and its influence on decision-making – from consensus building on indicators, agility in responding to data with action, and using data for learning and continuous improvement. I took lots of notes during the day, including this storify of curated tweets. As I’ve gone back through notes, I wanted to highlight some of the discussion threads and ideas that came bubbling up around the human side of data for good. Data As True North.




Sheri Chaney Jones presented an excellent workshop on How To Turn Data Into Dollars which offered some approaches for nonprofits to become more data informed in their decision-making. She conducted an in-depth study of nonprofits and how they use (or don’t use) data for decision-making as part of her recently published book, Impact and Excellence. One telling statistic is that she found no correlation between budget size and data informed practices. In other words, she interviewed and profiled many small nonprofits with few resources who were using data to guide outcomes. So, no more excuses!


Always Be Inspired By Social Change Outcomes


As part of the opening plenary, Andrew Means interviewed Maria Kim from the Cara Program, a job training program for displaced interviews. She mentioned that data alone doesn’t tell the story of transformation of their clients and that stories go hand-in-hand with the data. Every morning at their staff meetings they do a motivational circle where staff and clients tell their stories of transformation. As Maria said, “It is the humanity of mission that we need elevate and show how data supports it.”


Data Visualization As Creative Process

Ann K Emery gave an incredible workshop about how to visualize data in excel. Data visualization is less about science as it is about a creative, even artistic process. She offered up some basic principles of visualization and best practices and then showed us how to apply it effortlessly in excel. Her workshop included presentation, demonstration, and lots of hands-on time. She took us through an excellent data visualization checklist, how to pick the right charts, and shared some of her creative process. She actually makes many sketches of a data chart and the sketching is part  of the sense-making process.


All in all a high quality learning experience about the technical and human sides of data for good.

Many thanks to Beth Kanter for her latest column piece on the human side of data at last week’s Do Good Data conference. Be sure to comment below and of course, follow her on Twitter, @Kanter.


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