Come up to the lab: The neuroscientist helping you do data better

Posted on 11 Jun 2019

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Mifsud nathan
Dr Nathan Mifsud of Our Community's Innovation Lab will help you boost your data capability.

Our Community's Innovation Lab has flicked the switch to better understanding by not-for-profits.

One of the biggest priorities behind the creation of Our Community House as the new headquarters for the social sector in Melbourne has been bringing the power of data science to for-purpose organisations.

Dr Nathan Mifsud - recruited from the neurosciences field to spearhead that effort amid the many projects of the Innovation Lab - said he was drawn to fast-paced data-focused work in the social sector.

"It's fun and inspiring to work at an organisation led by people who lean full-tilt into the future, and pull others along for the ride.

"We've got an ambitious goal to reach hundreds of social purpose organisations and build their technological capacity to tackle some of our most complex social issues."

With a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience, Dr Mifsud knows a thing or two about how people perceive the world. He first specialised in analysing electroencephalography (EEG) or "brain wave" data, before working in mental health and higher education.

It hasn't taken long for such an analytical type to learn there's a wide span of knowledge about data science in this sector, and what it can do.

He said the questions most people want answered are: What's data science about? Is it just a fad? How might it multiply impact in the social sector?

High-tech easy-access tutorials show the way for not-for-profits

One of Dr Mifsud's first tasks was to kick off a series of low-cost but highly valuable data science tutorials last week at Our Community's new North Melbourne base.

Fellow data scientist Dr Paola Oliva-Altamirano (resident astrophysicist) and Innovation Lab leader Sarah Barker joined Dr Mifsud to help groups understand data science, explore powerful not-for-profit case studies, and start thinking about the potential uses of data science in their organisations.

That first event also saw US-based special guest Andrew Means on hand to share insights from his influential career in data and philanthropy. Andrew is the founder of Big Elephant Studios, a technology and data consulting firm for not-for-profits, and was the former associate director at the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

The tutorials will continue next month with a session aimed at social sector workers who are new to data science, but who may have experience with or responsibility for data.

The cost of $48 covers entry to a one-hour tutorial session, commencing at 1pm on Monday 29 July, as well as a day pass that provide access to Our Community House co-working facilities for the whole day. Book here.

Our Community's data credentials now helping the sector

Dr Mifsud said helping not-for-profits has always been the main mission of Our Community. Now, amid a wave of data-driven reform, it's important that non-profit organisations aren't left behind.

"With our strong data focus and having already worked with thousands of non-profits, the move into a socially focused coworking space gives us a unique vantage point from which to help articulate the possibilities of new tools, disseminate our lessons and amplify our collective impact. That is the spirit fuelling our new series of data-focused tutorials.

"We designed the first tutorial to be interactive and grounded.

"Sure, data science has huge possibilities, but we weren't interested in delivering a TED talk, especially when many non-profit organisations don't have the resources or infrastructure to support an AI-powered robot factory.

"Instead, we cut through the hype and explained where data science as a field currently sits, and how different kinds of data are typically utilised and underutilised in non-profit settings, and we offered a taste of a data-readiness maturity model that we're developing. "

Our Community's Innovation Lab is supported by a major grant from Equity Trustees.

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