December 17, 2020 – By Natalie Ward

At the Beeck Center, we use data to better target services, test different strategies, and scale what works with an understanding that data and technology alone is never the answer. The Beeck Center, in partnership with the International Network for Data on Impact and Government Outcomes (INDIGO), collaborated on the inaugural Hack-and-Learn event this fall that brought data practitioners from across the globe together to identify ways to share and work with data to demonstrate impact at scale. 

The INDIGO Hack-and-Learn operated on three different levels:

Community. A diverse group of peers all working toward building use cases for improved data sharing and governance in the social impact space. 

Systems. A collection of people, processes, and tools that maintain an open-source database, data dictionary, and data templates that enable new impact bond projects to share their data.

Data. Multiple master datasets containing information on social impact bonds and social investments to turn into insights and visualizations that display outcomes. 

The Hack-and-Learn brought together a community of peers with a shared interest in data and social outcomes. I got involved to help an initiative called The Skill Mill to leverage data on its social enterprise program to improve monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes and attract investors to their work. The Skill Mill works in the UK to keep young people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system from reoffending. We were tasked with helping investors see the value of social impact bonds (SIBs) as a new type of investment opportunity for social impact organizations like The Skill Mill. 

We used data and data visualizations to show outcomes for investors who want to support efforts to keep high-risk young people out of the criminal justice system. Through collaboration with the local and central government, social investors, and local employers, The Skill Mill aims to combine paid jobs with training and mentoring for high-risk youth giving them opportunity and purpose within their local communities and keeping them out of trouble. Currently, The Skill Mill is funded by a SIB backed by Big Issue Invest, the entity managing the bond and issuing payments to The Skill Mill. SIBs are pay-for-success models, meaning The Skill Mill gets paid for effectively and successfully preventing young people from reoffending.

Data visualization of investment plus technical assistance timeline
Screen capture of prototype data visualization created during Hack-and-Learn.

 

I dug into The Skill Mill data template to find answers to questions like: 

  • What key data points must we collect to evaluate the outcomes of SIBs?
  • Are the existing data definitions robust, clear, and concise for reporting?
  • How can data from project spreadsheets be transformed into visualizations showing an investor’s flow of money throughout the SIB?

By the conclusion of the Hack-and-Learn, our team identified how data from The Skill Mill project can be collected and interpreted to better display outcomes achieved through the program. The Skill Mill initiative has collected robust data on the 224 young people employed through the program who received wages, training, qualifications, and hands-on work experience over the 6 months they are enrolled. Through data collection, sharing, analysis, and visualization, social enterprises like The Skill Mill can communicate the outcomes of SIBs to investors. Incentivizing investors to consider innovative financing models such as SIBs is a powerful way to finance programs that are proven to make a strong impact within local communities. By providing investors with data on the results of pay-for-success programs, investors can make calculated data-driven decisions regarding how to invest capital within communities to make a lasting and effective impact. 

Exploring the SIB model and measuring outcomes-based approaches through data collection and analysis is a key component of reimagining social change. Coupling fair financial models with the power of data and technology has the potential to develop an entirely new data-driven ecosystem for impact investing. It is the role of social impact practitioners to determine what data should be collected and how to best monitor and evaluate the outcomes of social enterprise programs through analysis, visualization, and prototyping. When investors can leverage data and visualizations to view the flow of capital from funders to the community, the positive impacts of SIBs on the life of an individual becomes evident. 

The Beeck Center operates on the belief that we are stronger together and that building a collaborative environment is pivotal for achieving impact at scale. A core value at the Beeck Center is collaboration and the Hack-and-Learn event in partnership with Indigo allowed for the Center to increase collaboration on a new level through learning from more partners, talents, and experiences in the social impact space to identify innovative ways to leverage data for social good. 

 

Natalie Ward is a student analyst at the Beeck Center. She earned a Masters of Science from Fordham University and is interested in how technology, data, and science can be used to improve social outcomes. She is currently seeking a full-time role on an innovative team. Connect with Natalie on Twitter or LinkedIn to learn more about her work.