Data Without Borders: Why I Want To Change The World [Headlines]

Data scientist Jake Porway wants to hook up developers with charities and the developing world. Here he explains why.

It should come as no surprise to readers of Datablog that, as editorSimon Rogers puts it himself, “we are drowning in data.” We suddenly find ourselves with unprecedented access to torrents of data that could be used to better society. However, so much effort in the field of data analysis focuses on projects to improve the lives of people who are, arguably, already quite well off. As Jeff Hammerbacher remarked in BusinessWeek recently, “the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks,” a thought echoed by bit.ly’s Hilary Mason, amongst others.

Many groups are working ceaselessly to improve the world, be it through reducing pollution or fighting for human rights, but they are falling behind in the data game. Companies like Google and Amazon recognize the importance of data analysis and can afford to spend resources on it. However, non-profits and NGOs are often too busy struggling to maintain their operations to worry about what APIs might be available to them.

To help bridge the gap between socially minded organizations and do-good dataists, we started a project temporarily dubbed “Data Without Borders“. DWB is an initiative designed to harness the creativity and productivity we saw in the thriving NY data community and to direct it toward non-profits and NGOs who have few resources for data analysis. Data Without Borders serves as a data science exchange, connecting enthusiastic data engineers with NGOs to help them handle big data problems. People are already spending their weekends playing with data, shouldn’t they get more than a blog post out of it?

We’ll be providing a site where non-profits can submit proposals for projects (aided by our team) that will be connected to generous geeks eager to help. The data world is a new and thorny place right now and we find that many groups don’t even know what they don’t know. We feel DWB has the potential to help organizations at all levels of competency, from NGOs with project-specific goals to non-profits who need someone to show them how to use data in ways they hadn’t yet imagined.

We’re also planning for short and long-term collaborations, from Hack Days to month-long internships. While our initial events will necessarily be local, we ultimately envision a community where non-profits and scientists can collaborate regardless of locale, solving social and environmental issues while bringing interesting problems to the data community.

The idea of social tech is not unique, and we would be remiss not to mention the many groups in this space, such as UshahidiCode for America, and Random Hacks of Kindness, amongst others. We saw a need for Data Without Borders because of the specific skills needed for data collection, analysis, and visualization, but there’s no reason this project can’t one day live under someone else’s umbrella.

We’re incredibly excited to launch this project and anticipate the wonderful collaborations that will come out of this. Whether you’re a non-profit who needs help with data or a socially-minded hacker, come join us in this exciting initiative.

Jake Porway is a data scientist at the New York Times. If you’d like to get involved with Data Without Borders, visitjakeporway.com/datawithoutborders for more information

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