INFORMS Open Forum

Data availability of OR Application at non-profit organizations

  • 1.  Data availability of OR Application at non-profit organizations

    Posted 27 days ago
    Dear all,

    My team and and I want to contribute to society by (pro-bono) applying OR to a problem at hand for a non-profit organization. As a preparation for this, I'd like to hear about your experiences on the topic of data availability and quality at non-profit organizations versus businesses.

    Thank you very much in advance for sharing!

    Kind regards,
    Steffi

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    Steffi van den Hanenberg
    Partner DataLane || Process Optimization Expert
    DataLane BV
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  • 2.  RE: Data availability of OR Application at non-profit organizations

    Posted 26 days ago
    On the basis of my experience with INFORMS Pro Bono Analytics, I would say that this depends to a great degree on the size of the nonprofit. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, it also depends on whether the project involves data that the client had a reason to collect (and keep) prior to the genesis of the pro bono project.

    A number of our projects are with very small nonprofits, started by a "social entrepreneur" and frequently with a total staff in the single digits. A common pattern with many of those clients is that the first project is to help the client to identify what data they need, how to collect it and possibly how to store it. There follows a period of time (say a year) where the client is collecting data and there are no consultants involved. Once a reasonable amount of data is on hand, consultants (possibly the same ones, possibly new ones) can help with the analysis of the data.

    In some cases, some of our smaller clients have had some data already, but collected in a rather ad hoc manner. It might be in the form of paper records, or it might be in spreadsheets scattered across two or three computers.

    Some of our larger clients, in contrast, have had a reasonable amount of data on hand, either in spreadsheets or possibly even in a database. I can't speak to how "clean" that data was, since those of us on the PBA committee help set up the projects but don't actually work on them. So, to use a somewhat arbitrary example, if you are working with a national-level organization for helping the hungry, you might find "corporate quality" data, but if you are working with a local food pantry run by five people you will likely find little or no data (and the data you do find will assuredly not be in the form of a relational database).

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    Paul Rubin
    Professor Emeritus
    Michigan State University
    East Lansing MI
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  • 3.  RE: Data availability of OR Application at non-profit organizations

    Posted 13 days ago
    Thank you very much for your extensive input Paul! I am new to the Informs community, so was not aware of the existence of INFORMS pro-bono analytics. I appreciate the introduction.

    Kind regards, Steffi van den Hanenberg

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    Steffi van den Hanenberg
    Partner DataLane || Process Optimization Expert
    DataLane BV
    ------------------------------