Keynote Preview: Using Big Data to Help Humanity

By Clint Demeritt

Data is like crude oil according to Jake Porway. It can be a powerful resource to fuel innovation, but only after it’s processed.

As the founder of DataKind, Porway believes big data is the jet fuel that will drive nonprofits to provide better services exactly where they are needed. Porway will be talking about how nonprofits can use big data to solve big problems during his keynote speech at the DMA 2016 New York Nonprofit Conference.

With a background in machine learning and technology, Porway founded DataKind to help connect nonprofits to the big data science that helps big corporations increase profits and target consumers.

“DataKind’s mission is to harness the power of data science in the service of humanity, and we do that by teaming up social change organizations, like nonprofits, with volunteer data scientists on projects,” Porway said.

Big data analysis can help nonprofits amplify their impact, uncover new insights to drive better decisions in the future and make them more efficient to do more good with fewer resources.

We now live in a world where data is king, and tons of data is generated by smartphones, social media and governments. And we are only at the beginning of the data revolution. Pretty soon with internet-connected cars, refrigerators, watches and whatever else you can think of, we’ll have a data bonanza that scientists such as Porway dream about.

Though data can be a powerful tool for organizations, Porway warns not to let the data get ahead of the mission. With all this information being generated, it can be difficult for nonprofits to figure out how to leverage it all.

Porway said the best way for nonprofits to use all this data is first to take a step back from it. Before organizations can start working with data sets, they first need to think about the questions they need answered.

“The first step of any project we do is actually not around what data to use but defining what question we are trying to answer,” Porway said. “This can actually take some time to formulate as it serves as the foundation for the rest of the team’s work. Once we have that defined, then we start thinking about what data we might use to answer it.”

DataKind’s DC chapter put this philosophy into action to help the Red Cross in its goal to reduce fire death in U.S. homes before disasters happen. The Red Cross wanted to look at past home fire case data and other publicly available data to figure out how to better target residential areas for future fire preparedness campaigns.

In just 24 hours, the DataKind team was able to provide county-level recommendations for where the Red Cross should target those new campaigns.

“Many people still think of data as a measure of past activity, but we see it more as fuel to help you predict future activity,” Porway said.

But DataKind isn’t the only organization harnessing the power of data. Porway has pointed to other organizations such as Code for America, ScraperWiki and Random Hacks of Kindness who have all help provide high-tech solutions to real world problems.

To learn more about using data to fuel innovation for nonprofits, check out Porway’s keynote address at the DMA 2016 New York Nonprofit Conference.

This article is brought to you by the DMA Nonprofit Federation. Click here to register for the 2016 New York Nonprofit Conference.