Data for Social Impact (DSI)

Data for Social Impact (DSI) is an initiative that builds data capacity and collaboration among social sector organizations working to increase impact for and with the communities they serve. By being more strategic in how they engage with data, organizations have an opportunity to advance their missions, increase impact and promote equitable outcomes. The Social Policy Institute offers free programming opportunities for social sector organizations seeking to build capacity in these areas in the St. Louis region and beyond. 

This initiative is supported by Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, and built in collaboration with an advisory committee, the St. Louis Regional Data Alliance, and

Values & Vision

In collaboration with the DSI Advisory Committee, we have developed a set of core values to guide the design of DSI events and materials.

In addition to centering community and racial equity across all focus areas, we are committed to reflecting the priorities of the social sector, meeting people where they are on their data journeys, and highlighting the work of organizations in the St. Louis region that share a commitment to these values.

Key Themes

Based on feedback from a series of learning events and public roundtables, as well as engagement with our advisory committee and other partners, we have identified the following themes to guide our approach.

There are many data journeys

Participants enter the conversation about data for social impact from different starting places and contexts. There is no “right way” to enter, no cookie-cutter process that is right for everyone, and no generic end goal. Each individual and organization will have to map their own data journey based on their unique context.

Some of the best learning happens through grappling

Participants are interested in learning how others in the social sector are grappling with data challenges, both nationally and locally. The word “grappling” is key; participants expressed appreciation for hearing stories of others who are working through difficult problems, even though there may not be a clean and clear solution or template to be shared. The process is more critical than the outcome because solutions are going to vary widely based on context.

Capacity building must move beyond “data people”

There is a broad interest in thinking about how to use data across many roles to effectively to increase impact in the St. Louis social sector and advance organizational cultures where “we are all data people.”  Data fluency and communication are needed organization-wide, from upper management to data analysts through all levels of staff.

It is important to get beyond the buzzwords

It is clear that shared language is needed for talking about data science for social impact, and that language needs to be accessible.  Having a clear, straightforward language that everybody can understand is especially critical in the social sector, where jargon will likely deter people from engaging in the conversation.

Centering equity and community engagement is essential

Participants were eager to learn more about equity and community engagement in data practice. Polls conducted during the roundtables showed room and desire for growth in these areas for the participants. Of particular interest was finding out how to get the right people at the table when analyzing and evaluating equitable practices.

“Whether or not you think you’re working with data, data is impacting you. Data is being collected that speaks to your job, that speaks to your caseload, or that speaks to your clients if you’re doing direct service capacity. There are opportunities to use data thoughtfully and strategically, no matter what your role is.”

Samantha Stangl, Data Analyst, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, WashU Alum

Dive deeper into our work

We are all data people

Even those who have no experience analyzing data can have a role in leveraging it to increase impact.

Beyond the buzzwords

What is “Data for Social Impact,” and why does it matter?