Our Approach

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 is developing a set of free programming opportunities for social sector organizations in the St. Louis region seeking to build capacity in these areas.

A key component of our approach is to reflect the priorities of the social sector. DSSI events are designed in consultation with an advisory committee comprised of social sector leaders and are informed by feedback from a series of public roundtable discussions.

Our Values

In collaboration with the DSSI Advisory Committee, we have developed a set of core values to guide the design of DSSI events and materials. In addition to reflecting the priorities of the social sector, we are committed to meeting people where they are on their data journeys, centering community and racial equity across all focus areas, and highlighting the work of organizations in the St. Louis region that share a commitment to these values.

DSSI roundtable series

Our first two roundtables took place in spring 2021. Feedback from participants, the DSSI advisory committee, and event planning partners informed the development and design of a second roundtable series in the fall of 2021. You can watch each of our roundtables in the playlist below.

Guest presentations from each roundtable resulted in valued discussions in breakout groups and participation in Jamboard exercises. In particular, these demonstrated a desire from participants to develop deeper, more involved data capacity at their organizations, as well as wanting to better understand how to promote and implement equitable data practices within their organizations.

Informed by our community and advisory committee, our key themes identified during our roundtables will lead our development of resources and learning events in 2022. To learn more about how our roundtable series is informing our future DSSI work, read our roundtable report on the first two roundtables.

Key themes

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.

DSSI Focus Areas

In consultation with data.org, the St. Louis Regional Data Alliance, and local and national stakeholders, we have identified potential focus areas vital to supporting social sector organizations working to increase their capacity and impact with data. These focus areas will form the foundation of our upcoming trainings as well as a set of self-paced, online learning modules to be launched in fall of 2022.

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 Science for Social Impact,” and why does it matter?