Data Science Volunteering: Ways to Help

No matter the field in which you hold some expertise, sharing your skills to benefit the lives of others or supporting non-profit organizations that try to make the world a better place is a noble and time-worthy personal pursuit. Many opportunities exist in data science to contribute to meaningful projects and crucial needs from your local community to a global scale.

By Susan Sivek, Alteryx.

Alteryx recently featured two nonprofits that benefited from the hard work of data analytics students in the Alteryx for Good Data Challenge held at February’s Alteryx Inspire conference in Sydney. The competition, co-sponsored by Alteryx partner RXP, brought new analytic approaches and insights to these invaluable organizations.

Though a major goal of the AFG competition was to help the organizations with their data needs, participating also benefited the students, who gained new skills with real-world problems and added to their personal networks. (You can hear about their experiences in this podcast episode!)

No matter what career level you’re at, you too can participate in “data for good” events and activities. Whether you’re established in or aspiring to a data career, there are plenty of opportunities for you to contribute. You’ll get experience in new domains, new portfolio projects, and new connections with other data enthusiasts, plus you’ll feel great about contributing to a good cause!

While there are many general tech-related causes out there that you can join, we’ll look here at those that are primarily data-oriented.


Organized Projects


Join a short- or long-term analytics or data science project or collaboration run by an established organization to advance a good cause:

  • DataKind (U.S.) and Data for Good (Canada): Offers global volunteer opportunities for data science and analytics consulting, project management, event planning, and more.
  • Data Science for Social Good: Reviews and scopes data science projects needed by “social good” organizations, then connects volunteers with the projects.
  • Catchafire: Provides a place for nonprofits to advertise skill-based volunteer needs, including data analytics projects.
  • Statistics Without Borders: Organizes data professionals to help international causes through their statistical expertise.
  • United Nations Volunteers: Recruits volunteers from all backgrounds to assist projects supporting peace and development worldwide — currently including opportunities focused on spatial/GIS and data visualization.


Hackathons and Competitions


Sure, you could enter a data competition to seek fame and (maybe) some fortune… but why not choose one with a purpose that benefits others, too? Data-focused hackathons (aka datathons or data challenges) for good causes can offer both. These events are planned and coordinated by different organizations and on varying scales in terms of the number of participants, prizes, and resources. Here are a few places you’ll find these events:

  • The Alteryx Community! For example, the Women in Analytics group has mobilized recently for the Women in Data Hackathon, run in partnership with TrueCue. It’s awesome to see Community members band together and collaborate, both longtime Community folks and newer ADAPT participants. Registration is closed for that hackathon, but keep an eye out for future opportunities. Other online communities, like LinkedIn and Facebook groups for data professionals, will likely share posts about similar events.
  • Kaggle competitions: Sure, many Kaggle competitions focus on for-profit companies’ data and needs, but there are sometimes opportunities to look at nonprofits’ data and offer solutions for them. For example, this competition looks at social and environmental issues in cities to address questions around sustainability. Another competition, coordinated by medical organizations, focuses on diagnosing pulmonary embolism based on image analysis. Both of these offer substantial cash prizes!
  • DrivenData offers both competitive data science contests with prize money and “practice” opportunities for those seeking a gentle introduction to data competitions. Topics range from cancer diagnosis to hate speech memes to wildlife protection.
  • Devpost also offers some competitions focused on crunching data for a cause, some with prize money. Check guidelines carefully, as some competitions require student status or residency in a certain place. There are even competitions focused on high school students, so if you’re starting your data explorations early, check it out!

You might also have an opportunity to help out with an event as a judge, mentor, or coach. Through our own Alteryx for Good program, I recently served as a judge for a data case competition run by the Information Systems & Business Analytics Students Society at the University of Auckland. It was inspiring and fun to see these impressive students apply their Alteryx skills, their critical thinking, and their analytic mindset to the challenge.


Open-source Opportunities


Even if you are fairly new to data science and coding, think about lending a hand to open-source tools to make data science better for everyone. It’s worth your time for the lessons you’ll learn, the contribution you’ll share with the world, and the items you can add to your work experience. (Read some tips for choosing a project and sharing your work on your resume.)

  • For example, here's a guide to how you can contribute to both the code and documentation for scikit-learn.
  • For more options, check out this list of open-source machine learning tools and libraries.
  • And hey, we’d love to have you contribute to Alteryx open-source code and Alteryx Innovation Labs’ open-source projects!


Choose Your Own Data Problem Adventure


There are plenty of challenging problems out there that you can address, even if you prefer to operate independently or can’t commit to a competition or organization. Come up with your own project and find publicly available data that could help you address it in some way, whether through modeling, data visualization, app building, data storytelling, or any other approach. For example, we recently shared lists of data sources related to COVID-19 and to issues around racial injustice, but there are many other possibilities out there.

You might also have a nonprofit in mind that you’d like to help. Regardless of the tools you want to use to help them, think about the best way to approach them and how you’ll collaborate, as explored in this guide.


Help Others with Your Alteryx Skills


If you’ve already built your Alteryx skills, consider signing up with the Alteryx for Good Co-Lab. This program connects Alteryx pros with nonprofits and educators who need a helping hand with data or with teaching or using Alteryx.

Whatever your background and skill level, there’s a good cause out there that would be grateful for your time, effort, and expertise — and you’ll benefit, too.

Original. Reposted with permission.


Bio: Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is a writer and data geek who enjoys figuring out how to explain complicated ideas in everyday language. After 15 years as a journalism professor and researcher in academia, Susan shifted her focus to data science and analytics, but still loves to share knowledge in creative ways. She appreciates good food, science fiction, and dogs.