RightsCon is this May 16-18—here’s what we’re presenting, and looking forward to!

Our team will be attending and presenting a session at RightsCon Toronto 2018 next week. RightsCon is a global summit series that gathers over 2000 technologists, human rights defenders, policymakers, and anyone else interested in the intersections of digital technology and human rights. The summit is organized by AccessNow, an international nonprofit dedicated to defending digital rights around the world.  

  RightsCon will take place this year in Toronto from May 16-18. For more information, visit:  https://www.rightscon.org/ 

RightsCon will take place this year in Toronto from May 16-18. For more information, visit:  https://www.rightscon.org/ 

With hundreds of sessions on transparency, civic technology, data protection, digital inclusion, and philanthropy, the Powered by Data team is thrilled to be participating in this year’s summit!  We will be co-presenting with Lucy Benrholz (Digital Civil Society Lab) and Arisha Khan (Youth in Care Canada) in a session on Inventing Digital Civil Society. Specifically, we’ll be discussing our new administrative data work, which involves the development of a data policy agenda in collaboration with a diverse coalition of civil society leaders.

In this blog post, we highlight three RightsCon sessions that are particularly relevant to this current work—and that we’re looking forward to attending next week!

1) Creating community capacity to respond to smart city initiatives to support data justice and human rights in a connected space

How can the public be equipped to respond effectively to the development of tech projects in their communities? This question is particularly important in light of recent large-scale tech projects that raise questions around privacy by threatening to collect and sell user data. This workshop focuses specifically on community capacity building in the context of Sidewalk Labs, and the Google sister company’s plans to build a technology-driven “smart city” neighborhood on a section of Toronto’s waterfront. We are very interested in methods for community capacity building around technological literacy, given our work on developing a data policy agenda in partnership with civil society. We’re interested in hearing about governance and policy approaches for facilitating cross-sector organizing; these are learnings that we hope will complement our own multi-stakeholder coalition work.

2) Why tech won't "fix" our criminal justice system: An Abolitionist Perspective

This workshop explores the idea that high tech tools (think: predictive policing, ankle monitors, risk assessment algorithms for determining sentences) only serve to modernize the criminal justice system, rather than abolishing the underlying oppressive systems that underlie the Prison Industrial Complex. We are excited that this workshop will address the critical distinction between using technology to optimize a fundamentally unjust system, versus using technology as a mechanism for justice and transforming oppressive systems. As technologists working on responsible data infrastructure development, this is a dichotomy that we strive to keep top of mind in our work.  

3) From the Amazon to Saskatchewan: Tools of Indigenous Autonomy and Solidarity  

This session will explore how non-Indigenous tech teams can collaborate with Indigenous communities on digital initiatives while centering Indigenous rights.  The discussion will be facilitated by Jen Castro from Digital Democracy, and will examine examples of successful collaborations with Indigenous communities on both local and international levels. We’re really looking forward to learning from this session, especially in the context of our collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders in our administrative data-sharing policy coalition.  As we move forward in this policy work, we are committed to ensuring there is ongoing dialogue around Indigenous data governance.

Some other sessions we’re hoping to check out include a session on digital surveillance on marginalized communities, one on government intelligence sharing, and a panel exploring the intersection of data, power and marginalization—that will unpack the question of who gets to access, interpret, and use data.

Interested in reading more about the jam-packed program for RightsCon? You can explore the full schedule here.  We’re looking forward to sharing back our learnings. And if you’ll also be at RightsCon, be sure to say hello; our team will see you there!

An open dialogue approach to open data: Powered by Data at Open Government Week

Powered by Data is participating in Canada’s Open Government Week, which takes place from May 7-11, 2018.  Open Government Week is a week-long international celebration of government transparency, accountability, and civic participation—and we’re excited to be travelling to Ottawa to participate tomorrow!


We have been invited to speak about our consultation work for Canadian Heritage, where we provided recommendations on how they could best leverage Open Government to better achieve their mission.  In our presentation, we’ll share details on our two stakeholder consultations to help them identify high-priority datasets to release openly, determine use cases for their open data and information, and provide recommendations for optimizing the discoverability of open, digital content. We’ll be joined by two representatives from Canadian Heritage: Sean O’Donnell, (Grants and Contributions Centre of Excellence) and Nicole Frenette (Policy Research Group), who will be speaking on how our consultations have influenced their work.

We’ll highlight two important approaches we brought to this open government work:

(1) Engaging with Canadian Heritage's stakeholders directly, rather than the online open data community and building capacity for their meaningful engagement, and

(2) Adopting an integrated approach that aligns open government with a department’s existing mission and services.

Open Dialogue: Stakeholder capacity-building

For this work, we understood that rather than simply engaging with the existing open data community, it would be important to engage directly with Canadian Heritage’s stakeholders to understand their needs and use cases around open government. These stakeholders stand to benefit most from this open data and information. In our initial outreach to academic, cultural, and civil society stakeholders, we learned that most had a low level of awareness around open government. In order to receive quality feedback from stakeholders, it was necessary for us to build their capacity for meaningful engagement. As such, a key feature of our approach to open government consultations for Canadian Heritage involved educating stakeholders through briefing materials and one-on-one conversations prior to our central group consultation.

Aligning open government with existing organizational objectives

There are many common hurdles to open government initiatives: this kind of significant organizational culture change is difficult, and open government initiatives are often underfunded. Our work with Canadian Heritage validated our proposal that open government offers more internal value when it can be aligned with broader organizational objectives and policies. For example, we explored how open government could be aligned with the department’s existing grant-making, research, and digital government activities.

We have been implementing these two key approaches to open government in our work with other governmental departments and agencies, and we’re looking forward to discussing these ideas further during tomorrow’s presentation.

Interested in watching the livestream?

If you’re interested in learning more about our work with Canadian Heritage and our organizational approach to increasing impact through open government, be sure to join the webinar at this link on Wednesday, May 9 from 10:30 - 11:30am EST.   

A full report on our first stakeholder consultation on open government for Canadian Heritage can be found here.

We're excited about administrative data-sharing! Here's why

Behind the scenes at Powered by Data, we’ve been quietly working on a new project focusing on administrative data-sharing that we’re very eager to finally share with you!  

Okay. We know what some of you may be thinking: why are the folks at Powered by Data so enthusiastic about something that sounds so...dry? Well, 1) because we’re nerds, and 2) because we think that administrative data-sharing presents a very cool new avenue for tackling a range of pressing social issues. In this blog post, we’ll highlight how this kind of data-sharing can offer innovative solutions to problems that nonprofits are currently working hard—and sometimes struggling—to address.

Unique problems, shared solution

A non-profit working with recent offenders wants to better understand the impact its interventions are having on reducing the reincarceration rate of their program participants. Over the years, nonprofits often lose direct contact with participants, and so it is extremely difficult to track their long-term outcomes.

Survivors of interpersonal violence have complex service needs—often requiring access to a combination of housing, mental health, and social assistance services. They need to navigate a fragmented system of service providers, which can be a confusing process.

An organization focusing on First Nations child welfare wants to better understand how First Nations youth in care navigate the system; they need evidence to build a case for change. Currently, they have to file dozens of Access to Information requests, accessing data through First Nations child and family service agencies on a case-by-case basis.  It is slow, inefficient, and deeply frustrating.

These scenarios are markedly different, but administrative data-sharing could help address each of them in a unique way.  

But first: administrative data—what is it? Not survey data, not open data

Administrative data refers to records that government and social services keep on the people they serve—information collected for operational purposes. Examples could include: physician visit records, high school completion records, or tax returns.  Because this data is not collected for research purposes, administrative data is different from survey data (so if you’re thinking of census data—nope, that isn’t administrative data!) And since this data often consists of person-level records that contain private and sensitive information, to protect confidentiality, it cannot be made openly available. Administrative data isn’t open data, either.

Why are we interested in these kinds of government and social service records if they can’t be made open?  Although administrative data cannot be released openly, these datasets can be “linked” between government ministries. This means that previously discrete personal records can be joined up, resulting in a richer dataset. Data-linking could look like matching an individual’s health records with their education records; and then doing that for a whole set of people.

Administrative data can also be shared in an anonymized, aggregated format between government, nonprofits, or academic researchers. For example, imagine a youth education nonprofit receiving statistics on high school graduation rates of a cohort of interest—calculated from data accessed through education records. You may already be able to see how access to this kind of knowledge could be game-changing for organizations wanting to better understand the long-term outcomes of their service-users.

Opportunities of administrative data-sharing for the social sector

If we revisit our three opening scenarios, administrative data-sharing presents a unique solution to each issue.  We’re excited about the ways this could promote new opportunities for measuring program outcomes, providing more collaborative care in the social service system, and supporting evidence-based policy.

Outcomes Evaluation

In our first scenario, what if the nonprofit working with past offenders could know how many of their program participants were re-incarcerated five, or ten years down the line? This is already happening outside of Canada. The Justice Data Lab—a service run by the Ministry of Justice in the UK—helps access and analyze data about the reincarceration rate of these organizations’ service users, by accessing administrative data through the Police National Computer database. These findings allow organizations to develop a richer understanding of the program’s potential impact on reducing imprisonment.

  The UK's Justice Data Lab helps nonprofits working with those recently incarcerated access and analyze data about the reoffending rate of these organizations’ service users.

The UK's Justice Data Lab helps nonprofits working with those recently incarcerated access and analyze data about the reoffending rate of these organizations’ service users.

Integrated Service Delivery

In our current siloed system of social service delivery, it can be exhausting for individuals with complex needs to access services in a comprehensive way.  Development of a shared administrative data infrastructure across different services could allow for more collaborative care, more streamlined referral processes, and increased service consistency.  This is already happening to some extent in Toronto, where Reconnect Community Health Services facilitates the integration of over 100,000 client records across community mental health, community addictions, and community support services in the city.

Evidence-Based Policy

Canada lacks a coordinated national system for collecting administrative data on children in care, making it difficult to get a full picture of First Nations youth navigating the various services in this system. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (led by Dr. Cindy Blackstock) have expressed a need for coordinated administrative data sharing in the child welfare system to support their policy education work. Administrative data-sharing could begin to address the siloed nature of child welfare services, which currently acts as a barrier to understanding and addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in care.

Is this kind of data-sharing happening in Canada yet?

Administrative data-sharing is already happening to a limited extent in Canada—Alberta’s Child and Youth Data Lab, or the Research Data Centres by Statistics Canada—are some examples. However, despite the wide range of opportunities offered by this kind of data-sharing, in general, there are policies in place that prohibit the linking of administrative data across government databases here. This gets even more complicated when we consider that services in Canada are divided across provincial and federal levels. And of course, any effort to change these policies would need to account for potential risks around privacy, digital security, and data-driven inequities.   

Cover page - Admin Data - General.png

So far, there has been no coordinated policy agenda for increasing social impact through administrative data use in Canada—but we’re excited to play a role in potentially changing that.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing our plan for researching and co-creating a policy agenda around administrative data sharing with a diverse coalition of key stakeholders in Ontario’s social sector. We’ll also be writing about some of the ethical questions and risks associated with this kind of data-sharing—and how we hope to address them through a coalition-building process anchored in equity and inclusion. Stay tuned!

Interested in learning more, in the meantime? Download a PDF of our full issue brief on administrative data.

Powered by Data is grateful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their ongoing support and partnership in developing this initiative.

We’re co-hosting an Open Data community hub! Join our online discussion.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) launched their new Knowledge Centre.  The Knowledge Centre will be an online platform for stakeholders in Ontario’s nonprofit sector to share knowledge and exchange ideas and resources.  

We’re excited to share that Powered by Data will be co-hosting the Knowledge Centre’s online discussion on all things data in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector. We’ll be doing so alongside Ben McNamee, Director of Measurement, Evaluation, and Business Intelligence at the OTF.

 Open Data community hub hosts, Ben and Michael! 

Open Data community hub hosts, Ben and Michael! 

We are committed to creating a welcoming space for anyone curious about the role of data in the social sector—you don’t need to be an expert to participate in the discussion. For those who are new to this topic, we’ve already written an Open Data 101 post, and provided an introduction to the Open Government Partnership. And in the coming weeks, we’re looking forward to diving into discussions about the utility of open grants data, talking about how administrative data could help evaluate outcomes of social programs, and exploring the power of data to support evidence-based policy. We’ll also look at best standards for data sharing, and discuss how we can bring an equity and inclusion lens to conversations around data in the social sector. 

We’re hoping this can be a space for open dialogue, asking questions, and sharing ideas. We’re excited to be part of building this new online community and we’re looking forward to hearing from all of you.  

Visit the Open Data community hub, and join our discussion! You can also follow #OpenOTF on Twitter for updates.

Exciting news! House of Representatives passes bill requiring electronic filing of nonprofit tax returns

 Image source:  Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Our mission of increasing the availability of data about, and for, the nonprofit sector may seem ambitious—but it’s actually quite easy to identify some key datasets that can be leveraged by the sector to increase its impact and efficiency.

The T3010 tax filing dataset, the primary dataset containing comprehensive financial and activity information on Canadian charities, is a key example. This data has been publicly available by paper or datatape since 1975—and has been transcribed and made available online or by CD-ROM on request since 2000. In 2013 this data was finally released publicly by the CRA under an open data license. T3010 records have acted as a valuable source of information about the sector for government, academic researchers, and charities themselves.  The open release of this data has put Canada on the map as a global leader in the effort to build a more transparent and information-driven nonprofit sector.

The United States is catching up. A parallel effort is being led by the Aspen Institute and their Nonprofit Data Project regarding Form 990 non-profit tax returns—which for a long time, were only available for purchase from the IRS as non-searchable images. In 2016, electronically filled Form 990s were released openly as machine-readable, searchable data by the IRS. However, a significant portion—about 40%—of 990 forms are still currently filed by paper, and at this time, data from these are not openly available.  

As such, we were excited to hear that earlier this week, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the electronic filing of Form 990 tax returns.  This bill would also require data from these forms to be released openly in a machine-readable format. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

This would be a huge step forward in nonprofit transparency for the United States. We want to congratulate Cinthia Schuman Ottinger and the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project for their work in continuing to push for this reform.  We’re cheering you on from up north!

P.S. We're looking into the practice of collecting and sharing of charity tax or registration data in other countries with our colleague Elizabeth Bloodgood. Be sure to join our mailing list if you’d like updates!

Thank you Nick, and all the best!

Powered by Data recently said goodbye to our Director of Policy & Communications, Nicholas Salter. Besides wanting to wish him the best of luck, we’ve also learned a lot during this time and we wanted share some of those lessons.

Nick Salter.jpg

Nick joined Powered by Data in 2016. At that time, the initiative was still in its early days. Powered by Data was launched by Ajah in 2013 but it only become a Tides project in 2015, and Nick joined as our first full-time employee.

Almost as soon as Nick came on board, he took over leadership of our first conference, Transform the Sector, which explored the data needs and opportunities of the nonprofit sector. What started as a modest couple of half-day workshops supported by Ontario Trillium Foundation, turned into a sold-out event which strained to welcome 300 interested participants. We added Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab and Mars Discovery District as partners, and the resulting success led to what is now an ongoing popular-education and coalition-building project focused on improving ethical data sharing between the nonprofit sector and government(s).

Also under Nick’s Policy and Communications leadership, we were recognized as leaders in Canada’s Open Government community, we produced an key report on Canada's future in the international open government movement, and our director was invited to serve on the inaugural Multi-stakeholder Open Government Forum, recently established by the federal government.

 Transform the Sector Conference, February 2017

Transform the Sector Conference, February 2017

There are two things that we’ve learned from Nick that have become core to our work.

The first is an appreciation of the role of communications to our work as data experts. We thought we understood that fully, but 5 years in, we continue to be amazed at the difference between successfully executed comms plans and lacklustre ones. Comprehension is still a block for many promising initiatives, and data and technology is still often viewed with mistrust in the nonprofit sector.

Secondly, we have seen the light — and by that we mean the difference between comms serving in a supporting role, versus communications being used strategically to achieve specific organizational goals. We started our work with Nick thinking that we need to have case-studies,  newsletter, blog posts, or social media “just because” everyone else does it. We’re now converted to seeing a communication strategy as a powerful tool to achieve specific partnership development goals or to advance specific policy goals.

Nick - thanks for everything you’ve done for Powered by Data and we’re hoping that you continue to share your communication and policy expertise with the nonprofit sector for years to come.

Powered by Data is Growing! Job Posting: Communications Lead

Powered by Data is a nonprofit project on the Tides Canada shared platform. We work with charities, nonprofits, funders, and governments to help them better use, share, and learn from data. We are a leading organization in the world working on how technology and data are used by the nonprofit sector as a whole. We are focused on building coalitions of nonprofits, funders, and governments to use data and technology for public benefit. We see an opportunity to advocate collectively for specific infrastructure projects that could be true game-changers for data-enabled social impact in Canada.  

A major focus of our work is in working with diverse partners across the non-profit sector. To support that, we need help putting our thoughts to paper and then disseminating them to the right stakeholders - so we are looking to add more communications capacity to our team to help do that work.

You’re a listener, and a doer - as the Communications Lead, you’ll be responsible for the content we need to create for external audiences - the communications pieces, proposals, and research that drives our work. This looks like actively learning about complex new topics and transforming the messy ideas from our discussions into concise, clear materials that resonate with our target audiences - funders, nonprofits, and governments.

Specifically, your responsibilities will consist of:

  1. Implementing our Communications strategies - by developing and publishing content on our website, blog, Twitter, and other channels
  2. Supporting our partnership development work - by helping to write persuasive grant applications, project proposals, and relevant communications materials.
  3. Supporting our coalition-building and other projects - by drafting reports and other deliverables, as well as presentations and slide decks that quickly and effectively communicate our work and its impact

Relevant Skills & Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in relevant field preferred
  • 3-5 years experience in a role focused on writing and developing content
  • Demonstrable experience developing content tailored to specific audiences
  • Experience in the non-profit sector and/or public policy a strong asset

Location: Montreal
Working hours: Full-time
Compensation: 40-55K/year

How to Apply

Together with your resume, please forward a 1-page cover letter that includes your responses to the following questions:

  1. How do you relate to Powered by Data’s vision?
  2. What interests you most about this position?
  3. How would your skills and experiences (personal and professional) translate into success in this position?

Please send your resume and cover letter to hr@poweredbydata.org by January 22nd, 2018. If you have questions about the role, please feel free to reach out to us at the address provided above.

We are hoping to conduct interviews at the end of January. If you will not be available for some or all of that time period, please mention this in your cover letter.  The ideal start for this role is the beginning of February.

Employment Equity

We believe in the need for experience, knowledge, and guidance from marginalized and oppressed peoples within any progressively oriented organization. People with disabilities, women, Indigenous peoples, members of racialized groups and members of other historically marginalized communities are encouraged to apply. If you would like to be considered for employment equity please indicate this on your covering letter by including the statement “I would like to be considered for employment equity.” No further elaboration is necessary, but you are free to add more information if you would like. Where candidates don’t differ significantly in terms of other desired qualifications, priority will be given to those being considered for employment equity.


Transform the Sector: Call-out for short term communications contract

Earlier this year, Powered by Data hosted Canada’s first national conference on the digital data needs of the social sector.  Transform the Sector brought together 300+ people from across the country and around the world, and generated new insights on shared opportunities and challenges in this area.


Following several months of reflection and consultation, we’ve developed a new framework for understanding our role in enabling evidence-based social impact. We’ve also identified a number of high-potential interventions that have the potential to be game-changers for the social sector, dramatically increasing our capacity to accelerate social change through ethical and effective sharing of government administrative data

We see enormous opportunities for this kind of data sharing to improve our understanding of social problems, enhance service delivery, and revolutionize impact evaluation.  That being said, sharing data at this scale raises ethical questions that must be explored with direct participation of the communities that will be most directly impacted.

Over the next several months, we will be convening funders, service providers, and beneficiary advocate groups to explore the potential - as well as the risks - of sharing data in these ways.  We will host three stakeholder-specific group consultations, before bringing together representatives from each group in a cross-stakeholder roundtable.  

We are looking to hire a communications specialist on short-term contract, to help create briefing materials for these three stakeholder groups.  This contract would involve writing approximately 10 pages of text over the next two months, in collaboration with our staff.  The right candidate will have experience writing about complex issues to make them accessible and engaging for diverse audiences. They will also have demonstrated capacity to deliver high-quality work on tight deadlines - and be available to start as soon as possible.

If you’re interested, please write to us with some thoughts on how you would approach this work, and what you think you would need (time, support, resources) to deliver an outstanding final product.  We are looking to work with an experienced professional, and have budgeted $50/hr for this project - but could go above this rate for the right proposal.  Before making a decision, we will also ask candidates for a CV, references, and samples of previous work.

Questions?  Want to apply?  Get in touch: hr@poweredbydata.org

PBD goes to Italy for G7 Meetings on Big Data

Our resident PhD and all around amazing Partnership Development Director, Leslie Cheung, is headed off to Italy to participate in the I-7 Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centered Innovation meetings. Those meetings are being held as part of Italy's G7 Presidency. The following is the first of several blogposts Leslie will be writing to document her travels:


Getting Ready for the G7 in Italy

by Leslie Cheung


Thursday, September 21st

Always the prepared traveller, I started packing my suitcase on Monday. Since then, I have been slowly adding things that I will need for my trip to Turin (Torino to the Italians).  I have never been to Northern Italy, and in addition to looking forward to all the delicious cuisine coming my way, I am buzzing with excitement about the upcoming activities planned over the next week.  

As part of the Italian G7 Presidency, on September 25 Turin will host the first meeting of the “I-7 Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centered Innovation”, in which I was asked to participate and advise on one of this years core themes: Big Data.

I am proud and honoured to be part of this all-female delegation chosen to advise on the innovations and accompanying values that governments will need to proactively manage as the opportunities with Big Data grows. As a former academic, with a background in social policy and social work, I am bringing forward a perspective that focuses on the potential social impacts of big data and the role that governments and civil society actors can play in leveraging this data to improve the delivery of social services and its social outcomes.  

As one of the I-7 Innovators, I am expected to call governments to action by drawing attention to the gap between the current potential of technological advances and the actual adoption from institutional organizations. I will specifically be talking about the potential of linked administrative data that is collected by our governments at an individual level.  These data can help better evaluate and improve the outcomes of social programming in a number of domains.

I will also be speaking more specifically on two of these domains at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation (ITC-ILO) in Turin on two separate panels in the days following the I-7 event.  

The first panel is part of the Academy on Social Security, where over 160 international participants will attend to learn about Big Data innovations in social protection.  The second panel is a interactive learning brown bag session about Big Data and the Future of work, as part of the Shifting Mindsets Series hosted by the ITC-ILO.  

This forces des femmes to the I-7 did not happen by accident. Women’s voices are vital to the success of any policy, but globally, our voices are often not thrust to the forefront. I commend the effort that was put into building the Canadian team, and hope that this purposeful representation will continue to extend to other often marginalised voices, including, but not limited to those of people of colour, indigenous communities, religious minorities, and queer communities.  

I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the team, and hopefully they will join me in celebrating our fierceness!

Follow along on my adventures @lesliePhD.