Data Evidence-Use Learning (DEAL)

ONN is leading the development of a Data, Evidence-use, and Learning (DEAL) strategy for the Ontario nonprofit sector, in partnership with other sector leaders.

The DEAL strategy

Data is a sensemaking tool that can help us tell our stories and build a plan for a more sustainable future for the nonprofit sector and our communities.

ONN is leading the development of a Data, Evidence-use, and Learning (DEAL) strategy for the Ontario nonprofit sector, in partnership with other sector leaders.

The overarching goal is to ensure that the Ontario nonprofit sector’s data is ethically used and appropriately harnessed to support learning and data-driven decision-making. The strategic use of data and knowledge in, on, and by the sector will ultimately support better programs and services, public policy development, and outcomes for communities across Ontario.

A strong data strategy must be built by engaging our knowledge holders – nonprofits, governments, academic and research institutions, and communities.

The DEAL Strategy will lay the foundation for a more effective nonprofit sector and contribute to the well-being of Ontario’s diverse communities. Systemic changes, lead by the nonprofit sector, would be more data-informed and equity-focused.

The DEAL strategy will build upon work that has been done by the sector’s data champions like Mowat, Powered by Data, and Alberta Nonprofit Network, and collaborate with data and learning initiatives to amplify their efforts and to mobilize the sector’s collective knowledge. Nonprofits are stronger when they learn together and from each other.

Goals of the DEAL Strategy

Nonprofits need a system that allows us to share our data ethically and effectively. This includes administrative data – the data we collect and use as part of our ongoing operations, as well as data collected by different levels of government about and for the nonprofit sector. We also need to build a system that works with the principles of open data to ensure that data is freely, legally, and technologically accessible.

A few goals of the DEAL strategy:

  • Help nonprofits learn from their own and others’ previous projects and programs: what has been attempted, what were the results, how were the results measured, and what are the limitations of the findings.
  • Support the development of public sector data sets fostered by sector-led and academic-partnered research and evaluation initiatives.
  • Design the strategy with and for nonprofits to ensure it is informed by the practical realities of the sector and communicated broadly and effectively.

Is this the right time to create a DEAL strategy?

We have known for some time that the nonprofit sector’s knowledge infrastructure requires more resourcing and attention, but the global pandemic has made the challenge all the more pressing. In responding to new and increased needs of communities as a result of the pandemic, many organizations have developed both internal data systems and shared organizational data to identify needs, coordinate activity, and serve the most vulnerable.

The pandemic has forced the questions: how much more could our sector do if there was easy access to reliable, standardized open data? Or if research and evaluation reports were easy to find so current approaches could be created based on tried-and-true data on what works and what doesn’t?

DEAL strategy principles

Good data practices are people-centered and rooted in equity, transparency, and accountability. They can help nonprofits advocate for community ownership and control over their data and its use.

The DEAL strategy will follow these guiding principles:

  • Development of data and knowledge must be equity-focused, rights-based, democratically-governed, decentralized, and participatory.
  • Initiative must build confidence and capacity in the nonprofit sector in terms of data and information management.
  • Include a role for foundations and governmental funders so that we can align data systems and practices, and allow us all to learn from each other.
  • Reflect the principle of “data for good” and work to undo the misuse and harms caused by the inappropriate collection and use of data. It should promote democratic engagement and the protection of rights, including the right to privacy and anonymity as well as the right to be counted.
  • Follow the lead of Indigenous, Black-led, and ethnocultural nonprofits in terms of developing best practices for data use as these communities are disproportionately impacted by the potential collection, sharing, and use of administrative data.

Who will we work with to create the DEAL strategy?

We will work with three sets of stakeholders to build a strong data framework for the sector.

  1. Nonprofits: We will engage nonprofits to learn more about how they collect, share, organize, and value the data they hold, and to support sharing data and data management practices across the sector.
  2. Governments: We will work with governments to encourage the collection and sharing of data relevant to the nonprofit sector, and promote greater collaboration with nonprofits to ensure this process is equitable and accessible.
  3. Researchers and academics: We will collaborate with researchers and academics to support practices that engage nonprofits as partners in data collection and analysis, and to share their research with the sector.

DEAL Strategy Partners

Powered By Data Logo

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Related resources

Funding contributors

McConnell Foundation
City of Toronto
Jumpstart Foundation Logo
Lawson Foundation logo
Ontario Trillium Foundation logo
Laidlaw Foundation logo



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