DataKind: Reflections from the Bristol DataDive

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By Paulin Shek


If we rewind back a couple of weekends ago, you will find fellow Mango consultant, Chris Musselle, and I deep in survey data, pulling in lots of open data and utilising all our skills to work with a team of fellow data scientists to recommend business strategies for a local charity- Bristol Older People’s Forum . It was a weekend of chaos, stress and lots of fun too! How did we get there? Following a very enthusiastic pitch from Emma Priest, MD of Datakind  in the first Bristol Data Scientists Meet Up a few months back, I immediately contacted her afterwards to get involved as a Data Ambassador.

Some information about DataKind: DataKind is a charity that organises events such as hackathons, and the upcoming Accelerator night ; an event which links up Data Scientists with charity organisations. The idea is that charities often collect a lot of data but often don’t have the skills or resources to utilise the data. DataKind aims to promote awareness of the power of data for making decisions within these organisations. For example, charities can use their data to better understand the beneficiaries of their cause and use this new understand to improve their internal and external strategies for making a bigger impact, as well as to raise more money.

As Data Ambassadors, Chris and I spent the previous month, working with other Data Ambassadors to help ensure the event ran as smoothly as possible: to prepare and clean the data, investigate other data sources that would be useful for BOPF and create metadata. We also spent a lot of time refining the project goals so that we could focus the team on specific questions to ensure maximum productivity, as well as making sure all work done on the day was useful for the charity.

As well as BOPF, the two other charities in attendance were Alzheimer’s Society  and Which?. We spent Friday night pitching our projects to the hackathon attendees, trying to recruit as many data scientists to work with us that weekend as possible.

On Saturday and Sunday we finally let the attendees look at the data and start hacking! We had a great team, with a broad range of skills and local knowledge. There were also a lot of familiar faces from other meetup groups too, such as Bristol Data Scientists Meet Up, as well as South West Data  and Bath Hacked . It was also interesting to speak to Karen, the Forum Project Manager of BOPF and fully understand the contextual information about the charity such as their strategy for the next year about funding and recruitment as well as generally how are changing as an organisation.

It’s always fun to explore new data but the best outcome of the event for me was the follow ups afterwards. As well as a great feedback session with Emma and the other data ambassadors this week, we’ve received a great reception from the hackathon attendees working the BOPF team, who are all very keen to stay involved. We have had volunteers to do more data analysis and even an offer to make a website for BOPF!

Going to a DataKind event has turned out to be the beginning of a big project, and I look forward to further working with BOPF in the New Year.


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