Learnings from creating a data champions network
By Dirk Slater
Communities are complex and getting a clear understanding of them is a journey
Guest post by Dirk Slater, FabRiders – a strategic social change consultancy
FabRiders’ capacity building work has focused on researching data literacy, designing social learning experiences and co-creating knowledge assets with communities and networks. For 360Giving & the UK Community Foundations (UKCF) we are developing a Data Champions Initiative to support community foundations to be better data-informed about their communities.
360Giving supports organisations to publish their grants data in an open, standardised way and helps people to use the data to support decision-making and learning across the charitable giving sector.
UKCF helps people and organisations invest in local communities where it will make the most impact. Their network consists of 46 community foundations and covers the whole of the UK.
In summer 2017, 360Giving collaborated with UKCF in providing a Data Expedition workshop for community foundations’ staff. Due to the success of this, UKCF decided to support further the journey their members had taken with data by establishing a network of practice – a Data Champions Initiative.
This blog pulls out the five learnings that are emerging from this work:
1. Learn about potential ‘Champions’ from the beginning
FabRiders takes a user-centric design approach to everything we do, so we began by interviewing potential participants. This way we could understand how to create a valuable initiative focused on building their abilities to support their community foundations to be more data-informed. What was immediately clear from those interviews was everyone is driven to better understand need and deprivation within their communities in order to increase the impact and effectiveness of their grantmaking.
Community foundations participating in the Data Champions Initiative:
- Community Foundation for Surrey
- Devon Community Foundation
- Essex Community Foundation
- Heart of England
- Somerset Community Foundation
- Sussex Community Foundation
- Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland
- UK Community Foundations
2. Understand the motivations and opportunities for learning
Most of the staff working in community foundations have developed skills in utilising data ‘on the job’. They are first and foremost managers of grants, donors and programmes.
They are aspirational about making more data-driven decisions and have a clear understanding of when and how data should play a role. They are interested in learning from each other about the challenges they face in integrating data into their work and the steps they are taking to overcome them. They want to compare notes about external datasets that are useful for community foundations, ways to get valuable data from grantees about the impact they are having, and how to help donors understand how they can have the most impact in their communities.
3. Peer-to-Peer exchange leads to deep knowledge sharing
We’ve tailored the design and implementation of the Data Champions Initiative to be driven by social interaction and discussion. To provide a forum where questions can be asked and knowledge shared. As the participants in the initiative are geographically dispersed throughout the UK, our initial engagements have been via online discussions on topics such as ‘using external datasets’ and ‘how to get people to give you useful data’. Through these online discussions we learned:
- Many community foundations are drowning in data, by managing hundreds of donors and thousands of grantees.
- It’s a challenge to stay on top of relevant data that might be out there.
- To properly utilise an external dataset, you need to know what was the primary purpose for collecting that data, when it happened and what it’s left out (what are the gaps?).
We’ve seen champions support each other on using tools such as Carto and Salesforce during these discussions. They have also been important for 360Giving to get inputs on the tools they host – such as 360Insights and GrantNav.
Our first face-to-face workshop was on ‘Data Workflows in Community Foundations’, bringing the participants together for an intensive learning day articulating the process and roles that are needed to utilise data in community foundations. We also developed joint dystopian and utopian visions of data use in community foundations.
To further support peer to peer exchange, we are developing a resource library as a knowledge sharing asset for the network. We are seeing how the participants in the Data Champions network are relying upon each other, their eagerness to compare notes and experiences. The resource library is being developed with an aim to help support that connection and engagement.
4. Don’t forget easy-to-use network-centric tools
While we’ve been focused on individuals getting value from participating in the network, we’re still reliant on online-tools to support the interaction of the network. We’re using email for logistical coordination, Discourse is used as a knowledge base, while we are using Zoom for the online discussions. Google’s Forms and Sheets is what we’re using to build the initial iteration of the resource library.
5. Create feedback loops to inform future efforts
In future online discussions, we will be highlighting the work of individuals and will end with a final face-to-face workshop on ‘Building a Data Culture within a Community Foundation’. After that, we will assess the benefit of the initiative to the participants and possibly open the network up to other community foundations seeking to become more data-informed.
As for FabRiders’ work, we are integrating the learning from this project back into our Network-Centric Resources project and the Data Literacy Consortium that we co-chair. We are also exploring ways to continue to support and increase the effectiveness of community foundations. 360Giving is looking to use the learnings from the Data Champions Initiative to inform ways they can nurture and support developing networks of practice in other groupings of foundations.