Dave Hunt, Miles Feldman, and I had the privilege of being invited to present to Baltimore nonprofits today. The Evaluation Symposium, hosted by the T. Rowe Price Foundation, is to help expose nonprofits to the need to give their data care and feeding. Most of the attendees were from smaller nonprofits, who spend the majority of their time working on the front lines, and look at data collection as a must have for donors and funders, but less of an asset to themselves.
The first speaker was Pete York, of BCT Partners, presenting on "Data Driven Evaluation." While this is old hat for us INFORMS people, a lot of the NPOs were hearing about the concept of analytics and big data in a novel way. His idea was not to go with prescriptive analytics, but "precision analytics." He has set up a system that uses machine learning to figure out causation in the data, so that you can find natural occurring experiments in the data that can inform decision making on the front lines. You find similar instances and having worked through the what works/doesn't with gave care/didn't receive care to not have a control group that wouldn't receive the benefit. Example, Head Start. Do you really not want to give a group of kids an advantage for the sake of process?
Next up from the Urban Institute, was Brett Theodos presenting "Using Data to Drive Success: What Does it Take?" His goal was to walk the nonprofits through tiers of performance measurement and evaluation. A question was asked, how many of you have 0-0.5 full time employees dedicated to evaluation? The majority of hands were raised at this time, which tells me there are tons of opportunities for Pro Bono Analytics to make a real difference. He talked about the Measure4Change model, which is a joint venture between the World Bank and the Urban Institute, which I'm going to investigate.
The third speaker of the morning was Tanya Beer, representing the Center for Evaluation Innovation. "Evaluation for Strategic Navigation" was her topic, and talked about how to measure the intangibles like advocacy (INFORMS Government & Analytics Summit, anyone?) and aligning your nonprofit to the entire field in terms of sphere of influence. Many times the mission of the small nonprofit and the everyday work they are doing do not align with the funders/donors goals of changing things on a global level. Her advice, be honest about your goals and strategic plan, along with a realistic timeline.
These three presentations were the perfect setup for our (really Dave) presentation on how Pro Bono Analytics can help nonprofits. We were talking to someone at lunch who said, people must be knocking down your door, how do we qualify? And then asked us to confirm the pro bono part. We told him we were in need of projects for our 600+ volunteers. By the time I walked home, he had already reached out.
I believe that this might a watershed moment, not just for Pro Bono Analytics, but for the profession as a whole. The nonprofits were nodding in agreement, they talked about how excited they were about the day and what they were learning. Lay people are finally understanding the power of analytics, and it is awesome! The more I learn about operations research and analytics, the better the stories I can tell, highlighting the amazing work our members are doing saving lives, saving money, and solving problems.
Plus, we danced.
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