Three ways to boost your data capability

Posted on 12 Apr 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Data training
Building your data capability begins with understanding your project and the people you're working with.

Our Community’s data science team continues to look for better ways for not-for-profits to use data, and over the past four years it has learnt some crucial lessons about what really works. It appears the answers are often about people, more than the tech itself.

Data scientist Dr Nathan Mifsud, in a report aimed at funders on building NFP data capability, says that to develop their data capability, NFPs should start with a project, scope each data project effectively, and work face-to-face with key people.

1. Most not-for-profits need to start with a project

Dr Mifsud said starting with a project (rather than a process or a system) and successfully delivering that project “helps an organisation to develop its data culture in an incremental and responsive way”.

He said early on in their data journeys, many organisations worked “at a program level” or tried to use data in just one area of the organisation and weren’t ready to tackle more ambitious activities such as building data maturity, improving data governance or implementing privacy measures.

2. Scoping is an early – and high – hurdle in data projects

Understanding the scope of a project can make the difference between success and failure, Dr Mifsud said.

“Through dozens of consultations with not-for-profit organisations, we saw that there was no shortage of interest in building data capability, but they either didn’t know how to approach it or they had an idea of the process but wanted reassurance.

“As time went on, we addressed this by developing a step-by-step data project pathway. We also zeroed in on the scoping stage with a hands-on workshop.

“A major benefit of clearly scoping a data project is that organisations can more easily find the right help. There’s a wellspring of data professionals seeking to use their time to make an impact.”

Those professionals were better able to help where projects were scoped and ready, he said.

3. Face-to-face time cuts through uncertainty and competing priorities

Dr Mifsud said that participants were more likely to “carve out time” for a face-to-face meeting than for an online chat, and this also enabled them to more easily learn from others with the “same struggles, questions and decisions as them”.

“Remember how indispensable face-to-face interaction can be, and see what happens when you get participants in the same room.”

Our Community unlocks data literacy training

The free four-part Data Science for Not-for-profits compact course aims to help groups develop their data projects.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty said data literacy was more important than ever for not-for-profits as developments in technology and AI forged ahead, and the decision to make the course free was an easy one.

“Things are moving quickly for not-for-profits and we want to help them keep pace,” he said.

He expected that participants from thousands more groups than originally planned would have the chance to complete the course, which originally cost $220, creating hundreds of thousands of dollars of value for the sector.

The course features lecture-style videos, quiz questions and other activities. Enrol now.

More information

Free training for NFPs: Data Science for Not-for-profits compact course

Read Dr Mifsud’s full commentary: Lessons in building social sector data capability

Our Community data resources: Developing Data Capability in your Not-for-Profit | Data Projects from Go to Whoa! | Case studies

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