Starting a programme of strategic data use workshops

From October 2022 to March 2023 I’m going to be running workshops with charities from across the sector. This blog is part reflection, part a space to bookmark resources. Next year I’ll follow it up with “Ending a programme of strategic data use workshops”

It’s really important that we value and defend academic work which has no immediately obvious societal or scientific impact. Universities should be a space to innovate, to fail, to document the past, and to build ideas and tools for the next century. In defending niche and obscure interests, a friend of mine said: “At some point, you will need an expert opinion on a matter”. Despite holding this view, I found myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable with moving further towards theory and away from practical application as I wrote up my PhD thesis. I think it’s because I was theorising work that made a significant difference to people’s lives, and it felt like a cop out as I stood on the sideline thinking about epistemology, semiotics, and institutional theory. I know that it wasn’t a cop out and that good theory helps us to make sense of and act in the world, but I couldn’t shake this feeling that I should be doing something practical with the product of four years of (publicly funded) writing, thinking and speaking.

To resolve this tension, I applied for ESRC funding to run a programme of tailored workshops with charities between October 2022 and March 2023 to help them think about how to use data to achieve their strategic aims and build relationships. It’ll draw on the case studies and learning from my PhD, and help me turn some of the theoretical framings and insight into tangible toolkits and approaches for growing an organisation’s data maturity. I’m fortunate to be working with some great partners (NAVCA, UKCF, Superhighways, ACF and BVSC) to help run the workshops and recruit participants and I can’t wait to get going. I’m also a bit nervous; what if someone feels the workshop was a waste of their time, or there are questions that I can’t easily answer? For a small organisation, giving two hours of unfunded time is a big deal and I want to get it right. I’ve done similar work before, but this feels like a step-up in scale and exposure to criticism. I know enough to deliver the workshops, but this is definitely a learning journey for me as well as the participants.

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