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Focused efforts from public and private-sector organizations strengthen 'data for good' movement.
Data has transformed the way organizations operate, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits. And now the "data for good" movement is exploding across both private and public-sector organizations. Gartner research indicates that "social media mentions of data for good have increased 68% in the last year" as the general public becomes more aware of how data can make a positive impact on society.
Private sector companies like multinational telecommunications company, Orange, are establishing projects that use data-driven insights to further social good efforts. Through Orange’s Project OPAL, the company created a governance committee, in partnership with local governments, to regulate how data is collected, anonymized, and protected. This allows them to share aggregated indicators derived from call details records with social impact organizations in a safe and secure way. In Senegal, this data was recently used to assess literacy rates based on text message use, helping social impact organizations make resource allocation decisions around literacy programs.
Historically, NGOs and nonprofits haven’t had the resources to invest in sophisticated data infrastructure or large teams of data workers. Now, with the cost-efficiency and flexibility of cloud computing, these organizations can develop sophisticated data environments, without massive on-premise investments, paving the way for more data-driven social impact initiatives.
One practical example is the emergence and growth of data commonwealths—platforms for sharing and collaborating across organizations to achieve a common goal. The Hutch Data Commonwealth, for example, "is a multi-disciplinary team on a mission to empower Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers with innovative data science tools, infrastructure capabilities, and collaborations to accelerate their research." In an article for GeekWire , Matthew Trunnell, Chief Information Officer and Executive Director of the Hutch Data Commonwealth shares how the cloud serves as the "foundation of a scientific data commons." The cloud becomes the place where we convene and collaborate, a place where everybody comes together for the common good." The commonwealth relies on partnerships with other research institutions and technology providers with data at the center of its mission.
Data commonwealths allow organizations to share data between themselves and with the world in a way that is safe and secure—and in a way that protects the privacy of any individuals from whom the data is collected.
Neal Myrick, Global Head of Tableau Foundation
These partnerships, either through public and private-sector projects or commonwealths, require a foundation of trust. Organizations are assessing the critical elements of a successful partnership, including legal implications and governance standards involved with sharing data. This includes assessing privacy risks and instilling protections around sharing personally identifiable information.
A recent report from the Governance Lab at the NYU Tanden School of Engineering primarily focuses on the challenges surrounding sharing social media data between private and public-sector organizations, but its principles apply to a variety of data sharing partnerships. GovLab predicts that more organizations will appoint data stewards to drive data collaboratives under the notion of ensuring "a due process to respond to data requests; a system for filtering or prioritizing certain kinds of information; and a method to ensure that the data being released matches public needs and demands."
Access to a wealth of diverse data sources under the proper controls—like in the case of Fred Hutch—can create a transformational impact. While challenges remain in these large-scale, collaborative projects, the "data for good" movement is a testament to the altruistic potential of sharing data. Advancements in technology, increased data literacy, and a focus on collaboration are creating an opportune environment to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.
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