Data-Driven Through an Equity Lens

The Social Innovation Summit 2021 Breakout #1 panel called Data-Driven Through an Equity Lens, featuring four panelists: Rachael Weiss Riley, Director of Two Sigma Data Clinic, Michelle Shevin, Senior Program Manager of the Technology and Society Team at the Ford Foundation, Steven Azeka, Program Officer of the Learning & Tech Fund at the Robin Hood Foundation, and Greg Fischer, Partner & Director of Sustainable Investing & Social Impact at the Boston Consulting Group.
Data Clinic, Ford Foundation, and the Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund take the stage at Social Innovation Summit 2021 to encourage equity-driven data strategies

Every year, the Social Innovation Summit brings together actors across the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to build connections, share lessons learned, and inspire each other to take meaningful action in the social impact space.

This June, Data Clinic took the stage to engage in a thought-provoking conversation on how to move toward a more equitable approach to data-driven strategies. Rachael Weiss Riley, Director of Data Clinic, shared insights from Data Clinic’s seven years of pro bono data and tech partnerships alongside Michelle Shevin, Senior Program Manager at Ford Foundation; Steven Azeka, Program Officer at the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund; and moderator Greg Fisher, Partner & Director at Boston Consulting Group.

Demystifying data use was a core theme throughout the conversation: “We’ve been bombarded by a lot of discussion around bias in AI and ML and deep learning, and it becomes really easy to think of equity and data as only relevant to big data,” shared Rachael. “The purpose of this panel is really to ground this conversation and to make it applicable to everyone… Anyone can start thinking about how they might apply data to drive equity in their work.”

Equity is an approach and can be imbued in every step along an organization’s strategic lifecycle and at any level of technical complexity. “It’s about asking questions and being inquisitive in your process. From laying out the hypotheses to getting the right folks at the table to think through the approach and the applications,” Rachael shared.

Throughout the discussion on the use of data, Michelle underlined the limits of thinking of data as a panacea or the ultimate source of truth. “Data is a measurement of something at some time,” she said. “It’s actually meaningless without context. For most inquiries, we don’t need to choose between qualitative and quantitative analyses — it’s ‘both-and’.”

Data Clinic’s approach to partnerships illustrates exactly this tenet. We rely heavily on the contextual expertise of our partners to produce responsible and valuable insights and solutions, as in the case of our partnership with Steven and the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund. “We had different types of questions [about school performance] that we weren’t entirely sure we could address [with data],” said Steven. “As we worked with Data Clinic, we were really able to pinpoint what we can and can’t answer with data in a very valid way.”

Watch the full talk here to hear how these panelists — a practitioner, a funder, and a data-for-good researcher — use data to shine a light on inequities.

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