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#BigDataSummit: DataKind urges charities to take advantage of big data benefits

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V3 Big Data Summit: DataKind UK is using big data projects to help charities and non-profits “harness the power of data”.

“We have had a lot of success with small to medium sized charities because they are more agile, more adaptable and more flexible,” Emma Prest (pictured), manager at DataKind UK, told V3.

#BigDataSummit: DataKind urges charities to take advantage of big data benefits

DataKind uses data scientist volunteers in charitable projects, and has used big data and analytics to study levels of homelessness in London and the problem of child poverty. The company has also partnered with Amnesty International to analyse human rights abuses across the world.

Yet often the scope of data projects, especially at charities, begins on a much smaller scale.

“Most of the time the starting place is their own data. Small or big the most valuable data is what you are already sitting on and already collecting so that’s where we start with charities,” Prest told V3.

“However, some are really advanced and are ready for data science so we do some fantastic projects using really advanced techniques but also some really basic analytics that often have a more profound effect on the organisation.”

Rishi Nalin Kumar, a data ambassador with DataKind UK, agreed that smaller organisations are often well positioned to use data projects.

“The size of the organisation does not equate to the size of the impact [of big data]. In fact small organisations often experience higher returns on investment because of high executional ability and low implementation process,” he said.

“With SMEs even a small insight can have a big impact, and that’s because of high agility and high executional ability at smaller organisations that large organisations usually don’t enjoy.

“The value of an insight is not inherent in the insight; it actually comes from changing behaviour. Without this there is no value.”

Yet despite most organisations having access to this kind of data and these sort of potential benefits, Prest says DataKind UK often finds many charities are reluctant to consider using data to alter their operations.

“You are asking [a charity] to change the way it behaves and that’s not an easy task. I think you have to start with a low level of awareness raising,” she said.

“It’s the organisational change which is the tough part, and data can tell you stuff you don’t want to know. Data can sometimes show you that something you have been doing for years isn’t working, and some people are scared of that.

“We can show you stuff but you have to go away and actually change and adapt.”

Duncan Ross, data scientist at DataKind UK, explained that in many cases there is “still a long way to go” before charities are fully aware of the big data opportunities, but that this is a key issues the DataKind is tackling.

“This is going to require an understanding of how to use data effectively, and that probably means that big data needs to become more about approaching the problem and less about hacking the technology,” he told V3.

“Better interfaces, better practices and better visualisation are all key, as well as better communication. One thing we hope is that all the charities we work with come away with a better understanding of how to effectively use data to advance their cause.”

The hope is that this will big data is not something exclusive to large enterprises but can now show tangible improvements for charities and non-profits while helping to better understand and improve society.

The enterprise space is also embracing this potential with IBM claimed recently that Watson will create an “information revolution” leading to companies becoming data-driven cognitive businesses.

V3 heard this week from Oxford University about how it is working with airline giant Emirates to help the company start to make more use of its data to improve performance.

Meanwhile, Wael Elrifai, EMEA director of enterprise solutions at Pentaho, claimed in an interview with V3 for the V3 Big Data Summit that the evolution of software tools used for data analytics will have open source frameworks and code at their core.

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