Data volunteering opportunities, from Newbie to Pro level

There’s many ways to volunteer your time and skills helping causes you care about or to give back to the data community. I’ve listed just a few here and will add more as I find them.

MapSwipe – the easiest way to volunteer with zero skills or experience

MapSwipe is a way for you to help map large unmapped regions to better equip NGOs who help vulnerable communities and respond to crises. You can do this on your mobile device from the comfort of your couch!

I’ve tried this myself and it’s really simple. You swipe through maps and then tap in the gridded section to highlight whatever the task is looking for, usually to identify roads or buildings.

The results of your mapping are validated when at least two other people have identified the same area (so you can relax about submitting poor quality data). The results are then sent to human mappers or machine-learning software to focus their efforts on more detailed identification and mapping.

There’s a good in-app tutorial and more info in their about page.

Missing Maps – hands on mapping from beginner to advanced

Linked to the MapSwipe app, Missing Maps is a way for you to contribute directly to updating Open Street Map data by by adding geospatial information such as roads and tracing buildings.

This requires some setup and training. They estimate it takes about an afternoon to learn how to become a beginner user. Depending on the urgency and data quality requirement, some of the tasks such as that of Turkey and Syria (following the 2023 earthquake) are restricted to advanced mappers, but many are open to all skill levels. The individual mapping tasks are managed via the HOT Tasking Manager.

It also looks like they have Slack forum and other ways to connect with fellow mappers to answer questions about specific tasks and find out how others are handling some specific issues.

I quite like the idea of organizing group map-a-thons with this one.

Provide analysis, training or advice with Catchafire

Catchafire is a platform that connect volunteers with charities and non-profits who need a wide range of skilled assistance. You you can filter skills requirements by data & analytics.

There’s a lot of different help being asked for, but generally seems to fall into:

  1. A 1 hour call to advise on some specific technology, or choice of technology
  2. Helping analyze mailing lists to identify potential board members or;
  3. Provide training (and sometimes setup) of analytics of some kind, be it Google Analytics, PowerBI/Excel dashboarding and so on.

Some time commitments are literally 1 hour long, others may be 10-20 hours per week for a few weeks.

I suspect they get a lot of submissions, but the volume of opportunities is really high and the skill needs are often pretty specific.

If you are good at (or become good at) Board Prospecting, this is what most of the organizations are looking for. Sometimes they just want help to identify potential contacts (seems to be by analysing their mailing list), and sometimes its combined with outreach to prospects, so read the detailed descriptions quite carefully.

Pro-level, Red Cross 510, Statisticians without Borders and DataKind

These look to to be for data professionals and I suspect at all skill levels, but likely with at least working proficiency.

  • 510 is an initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross and they do some really cool work with deploying machine-learning (and other) solutions to help in humanitarian disaster relief.
  • Statistics Without Borders (SWB) contributes to the common good by providing pro bono statistical, data science and analytical services.
  • DataKind has a few chapters around the world and their activities range from weekend-long marathons to longer term engagements and community events.

That’s it for now. I’m keen to hear your experience of using these.

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