Data matters to the nonprofit sector and the communities we serve. It helps to connect the dots across different sources of information about how communities and people are doing- whether it’s jobs, economies, service use, available space and much more. It’s important to our policy work as as sector- like evaluation, funding reform or labour force development- because it gives evidence and provides context for the state of the sector and the diverse communities we serve.
Data also helps us anticipate future trends. The possibilities opened up by technology in the last 5 years are groundbreaking: we can use data differently now, sharing and mixing it to get deeper insights.
Many governments and businesses are starting to use data intensively and the nonprofit sector needs to be part of this movement. There are practical ways for nonprofits to better access and use data for public benefit work.
A Data Strategy
Accessing and using data in a new way opens up an important opportunity for Ontario nonprofits. So, we’re figuring it out together: ONN is convening research and discussion to determine the nature of a data strategy for the sector. Our role? We’re not a data expert, but an active convener, working with many stakeholders in the nonprofit sector, as well as some colleagues in government and the private sector, to figure out what such a strategy might look like. We know we can’t do it alone. Do you know of a great example of data work in the sector? Contact Heather Laird at firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected.
ONN and PoweredbyData are partners in creating and developing a data strategy for Ontario’s nonprofit sector, along with the help of dozens of other organizations.
Towards a Data Strategy for the Ontario Nonprofit Sector
The case for a data strategy: 7 things data can do for our communities
- Learn and communicate about impact
- Deliver more responsive initiatives
- Collaborate more efficiently and effectively
- Diversify and stabilize our funding
- Free up time and money
- Step-up our role in the policy development process
- See the bigger picture
- The sector and government are noticing how data can support community benefit work. New reports and events, hackathons and plans are focused on how the nonprofit data movement is growing across Canada.
- In Ontario, we’ve got a mature and organized nonprofit sector with multiple leaders able to step forward.
- An enabling policy environment and good quality data about the sector to get us started
- A tech-savvy and knowledgeable work force
- Success to build on: a strong history of coordination to develop innovative data projects, like social planning councils, 211 services and more
Effective use: Nonprofits should put data to effective use to serve their communities – not just collect it, but proactively use it.
Responsible use: Data should be created, collected and accessed responsibly and ethically, with attention to power dynamics that could mar the use of data and with respect to the privacy and safety of those involved.
For public benefit (not for profit): Nonprofits and governments should be committed and able to access data for public benefit use.
- Standards: Data standards matter because they ensure data is published in a way that allows it to be used by others. Standards give us ways to categorize, sort and store data so computer programs and people can access and process.
- Policy: Legislation, regulation and other rules govern what groups can and can’t do with data, defining ownership and costs, and the use of data for public benefit work. Evaluation and measuring success are also impacted.
- Skills & Resources: It’s one thing to make data accessible, but a key part of the strategy is developing the sector’s capacity to manage and use data.
- Leadership: No single organization can create a data strategy covering goals and approaches across subsectors and organizations. We need the leadership of many organizations to invest their time and energy to articulate priorities, develop and test new initiatives as we go. This includes setting the stage for financial investments in the short and long term.
In addition to this more systematic approach, a number of partners including ONN have continued to explore and work on the following the short-term actions:
- Examine the need for community asset mapping and how opening community resource data like 211’s data could meet those needs, with consideration for the particular opportunities and challenges faced by 211 providers.
- Examine the opportunity for the creation of an accessible, regularly updated online registry of nonprofit corporation data.
- Follow up with Economic and Social Development Canada about their recently stated interest in data literacy as part of the federal government’s recently published Open Government Partnership.
- Create a list of priority data sets which should be made accessible by the Government of Ontario through its Open Data initiative.