Students and Ann Arbor residents banded together with local nonprofit organizations this weekend to discover ways to better interpret and use institutional data in A2 Data Dive, an annual community event.
Four nonprofits — SafeHouse Center, Summer in the City, Ozone House and 826michigan — contributed institutional data for the programmers to analyze. The data provided was anonymous on an individual level. Data Dive featured 102 volunteer programmers, consisting mostly of graduate students in the School of Information.
Jackie Cohen, A2 Data Dive coordinator, said the emphasis for the event this year — the third time it has been held in Ann Arbor— was to encourage skill-sharing between participants. The event was founded by Nikki Roda and Claire Barco, both 2013 graduates of the master’s program in the University’s School of Information. They were inspired to create the event after Roda attended an event in New York hosted by DataKind, a New York-based nonprofit that has inspired similar events at colleges across the country.
“We’ve really shifted the focus a lot towards education and students teaching one another and sharing data manipulation skills, instead of focusing mostly on what DataKind does, which is bringing data analysis service to organizations that need it,” Cohen said. “We do that too, but we’re focused on education.”
At the event, participants were separated into four rooms, each of which corresponded to one of the participating nonprofits. Maintaining a focus on education, one room was also specifically designated for participants with little to no experience with formatting data. They were guided by more experienced participants.
Information graduate student Hannah Brookhart, who participated in the education session, said she appreciated the career experience the event provided.
“I’m really interested in archiving data,” she said. “I’m at the School of Information to become an archivist so I thought that this would be a great place to learn how to manipulate data and also analyze it. It was really great actually; I did things that I didn’t think that I could do.”
Students with previous programming experience also said they felt they gained experience from the event. Information graduate student Madeleine Filloux, who worked with 826michigan during the event, said she saw A2 Data Dive as a good opportunity to work with real data from organizations.
“In class we do projects, but it’s a whole other thing to deal with data that companies have actually been collecting because it might be less well formatted or more messy,” she said. “It’s kind of the real side of data that you don’t always see in class.”
Meanwhile, representatives from the nonprofits involved in the event said they appreciated that they were able to help students gain experience while also having their data analyzed.
This was Ozone House’s second year at A2 Data Dive, and Allie Schachter, the organization’s grants and evaluation director, said they will participate again.
“[Data Dive] helps us sort of be able to better show our impact by building these visualizations for us that we don’t have the familiarity with, the software in-house to do,” Schachter said. “It’s great data, which we love to share with the community to show, you know, representing issues of young people we see in the community and who’s calling us, and the ongoing needs of the youth.”