Seize the Future by Harnessing the Power of Data

Essay by Kriss Deiglmeier: “…Data is a form of power. And the sad reality is that power is being held increasingly by the commercial sector and not by organizations seeking to create a more just, sustainable, and prosperous world. A year into my tenure as the chief global impact officer at Splunk, I became consumed with the new era driven by data. Specifically, I was concerned with the emerging data divide, which I defined as “the disparity between the expanding use of data to create commercial value, and the comparatively weak use of data to solve social and environmental challenges.”…

To effectively address the emerging data future, the social impact sector must build an entire impact data ecosystem for this moment in time—and the next moment in time. The way to do that is by investing in those areas where we currently lag the commercial sector. Consider the following gaps:

  • Nonprofits are ill-equipped with the financial and technical resources they need to make full use of data, often due to underfunding.
  • The sector’s technical and data talent is a desert compared to the commercial sector.
  • While the sector is rich with output and service-delivery data, that data is locked away or is unusable in its current form.
  • The sector lacks living data platforms (collaboratives and data refineries) that can make use of sector-wide data in a way that helps improve service delivery, maximize impact, and create radical innovation.

The harsh realities of the sector’s disparate data skills, infrastructure, and competencies show the dire current state. For the impact sector to transition to a place of power, it must jump without hesitation into the arena of the Data Age—and invest time, talent, and money in filling in these gaps.

Regardless of our lagging position, the social sector has both an incredible opportunity and a unique capacity to drive the power of data into the emerging and unimaginable. The good news is that there’s pivotal work already happening in the sector that is making it easier to build the kind of impact data ecosystem needed to join the Data Age. The framing and terms used to describe this work are many—data for good, data science for impact, open data, public interest technology, data lakes, ethical data, and artificial intelligence ethics.

These individual pieces, while important, are not enough. To fully exploit the power of data for a more just, sustainable, and prosperous world, we need to be bold enough to build the full ecosystem and not be satisfied with piecemeal work. To do that we should begin by looking at the assets that we have and build on those.

People. There are dedicated leaders in the field of social innovation who are committed to using data for impact and who have been doing that for many years. We need to support them by investing in their work at scale. The list of people leading the way is constantly growing, but to name a few: Stefaan G. Verhulst, Joy Buolamwini, Jim Fruchterman, Katara McCarty, Geoff Mulgan, Rediet Abebe, Jason Saul, and Jake Porway….(More)”.