Here you will find links to stories, examples and case studies with discussion questions.

Building Capacity to Use Data

Some foundations are helping nonprofits build the capacity to use their own data (and other sources) to improve their programs.

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Bayes Impact

Data scientists at Bayes Impact analyzed Seattle’s arrest data to recommend improvements to police beats.

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Data Science for Social Good

Data Science for Social Good: scientists analyzed enrolment data to help Chicago Public Schools efficiently allocate school funding.

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DataKind volunteer data experts used innovative technology to collect prices in real time to measure inflation to guide Kenya’s monetary policy.

Case Studies with Discussion Questions

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Using Online Data to Inform Program Strategy

The Knight Foundation partnered with Quid, a data analysis firm, to find publicly available information on public, private and philanthropic investments in “civic tech projects.” They used this to inform a taxonomy of civic tech, to map the sector, and to share funding information, as well inform their own funding decisions.  More information is available at

Discussion Questions

  • How can a process like this extend the reach of landscape mapping?
  • What other data sources are needed to inform the strategy?
  • What are the costs/benefits of inviting community access to the raw data?

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Social Media as an Input to Evaluation

UNICEF, WHO, and Indonesia’s government partnered with UN Global Pulse to measure parents views’ of immunization as expressed on social media content and metadata.

This baseline measurement will allow the agencies to evaluate the efficacy of a campaign educating the public about the importance of immunizing.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the demographic limitations inherent in this dataset that the evaluators should consider?
  • What other data sources are needed to inform the evaluation?

Privacy in an afterschool program

A foundation funds an afterschool club to issue ID cards and digital readers to help keep track of program users. The digital system replaces the old paper sign-in sheets. The club had been tabulating the paper sign-in sheets each week to calculate total attendance (for grant reporting), and throwing away the originals. With the new digital system the program, individual records (including detailed information for every visit by every youth) are stored on servers going back five years. It’s much easier for the club to do its grant reporting, and individual program options have been able to offer sequential classes as they can track kids over the years.

Five years later, there are a number of violent interactions between police and neighborhood kids, which spark local protests. Protesters are arrested, and, among them, several youth are taken into custody. The digital records from the club’s attendance system are called for as evidence in the subsequent trials. The children and the families hadn’t been aware that their participation in club activities would be retained and made available in this way.

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways is the digital recordkeeping a boon to the program?
  • In what way is it a liability?
  • What should the club do differently going forward regarding its data practices?
  • How could the Foundation help the club be good stewards of digital data?

Computational Social Solutions

The development field is investing heavily in using computational data to find new solutions.

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DataForDevelopment: innovation challenge that invites data scientists to use a mobile dataset to discover solutions to challenges facing developing countries

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Data-Pop Alliance

Data-Pop Alliance: convenes, trains, and implements social sector data science projects

Foundations' Open Data Efforts

Some foundations are focused on making their digital data practices align with and accelerate their overarching strategic pursuit of mission.

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Gates Foundation’s Global Health Data Access Principles

Gates Foundation’s Global Health Data Access Principles: grant agreements default to encourage grantees to publish findings widely.

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Hewlett Foundation’s Policy of Openness

Hewlett Foundation’s policy of openness means grant agreements default to promote data-sharing.

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Open Educational Resources Program

Hewlett Foundation: Open Educational Resources program includes funding openly-licensed online curricula.

Making Data More Useful

Several efforts exist that focus on making existing data more useful to more users. These are often partnerships involving many organizations.

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The F.B Heron Foundation

The F.B Heron Foundation funds shared data platforms for use by entire sectors. Some of them provide benchmarking information and others are creating industry industry accounting practices that put monetary value on externalities such as environmental harm.
For more information:

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The World Bank Data Visualizations

The World Bank data visualizations promote data use by making publically available data on geography, financial health, and other statistics easy to see and interpret.

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International Aid Transparency Initiative

International Aid Transparency Initiative warehouses online standardized aid information from providing and receiving countries.

New Digital Data Sets

A few foundations have separately invested in producing new digital data sets for use by the public, policymakers, and researchers.

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Feedback Labs

Feedback Labs is a collaborative effort of several nonprofits gathering and using constituent feedback – often through mobile phones – to improve their work.

More information:

Screenshot of Through a single search box, users can search for statistics on children’s well-being from a variety of original data sources like the Query System, Census Bureau, and others. (Funder: Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health)

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County Health Rankings

County Health Rankings: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded this data aggregator, which pulls data from numerous sources to rank counties by how healthy they are (using a score based on weighted metrics).

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KidsCount Data Center

KidsCount Data Center: an Annie E. Casey Foundation-funded project that allows a one-box search for a wide range of data on children’s well-being.

New Tools for Data Use

Some foundations are helping nonprofits improve their organizational effectiveness by providing them with new tools for data use.

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Fusion Tables

Fusion Tables facilitates meshing datasets. Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office gives sample use cases for nonprofits.

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Kimonify’s tool takes unstructured data and makes it structured.

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Tableau Software

Tableau software enabled Louisiana health providers to serve needy people more efficiently.

New Types of Enterprises

New types of enterprises are being built entirely around digital data.

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Trimble’s GIS tool helped volunteers find more produce to glean and deliver to food banks in San Jose.

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CrisisCommons’ online community coordinated crisis response to Japan’s earthquake.

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Creative Commons

Creative Commonsfree, legal tools facilitate the sharing and use of content.

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Wikimedia Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation hosts and enables the creation of free content.

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Mozilla Foundation

Mozilla Foundation develops software, makes grants, promotes education and openness.

Sensor-Based Data

Data from sensors – some as far away as satellite imagery, others as close as wearable tech – are providing new insights about human behavior.

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Glucose-Reading Contact Lenses

Glucose-reading contact lenses developed by GoogleX will make it easier for diabetics to monitor their health and avoid dangerous extremes in blood sugar

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Satellite Sentinel Project

Satellite Sentinel Project: the Harvard Humanitarian Institute, through a combination of on-the-ground reporting and satellite imagery, facilitated the coordination of crisis response in Sudan

Using Government Data Sources

Some philanthropic strategies focus on opening up or creating new representations of government data sources.

Screenshot of aggregates information from police agencies across the country to summarize crimes by type in a specific location, plotting crimes on a map.

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Open Development Initiative

UK- and Kenya-based Open Development Initiative provides research and analysis so decision-makers can use data to address poverty.

Screenshot of gathers data from government databases for research.