Strata Conference Sparks New Ideas for Using Big Data for Good


Direct Relief’s Research and Analytics Associate, Jen Lemberger, is at the O’Reilly Media, Inc. Strata Conference held Feb. 26-28 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference brings together leading minds in big data. Below she explains how what she has learned at the conference so far will lead to new tools, ideas, and approaches for Direct Relief. You can follow her on Twitter for live updates at @LemInTheWorld.

A passion for Direct Relief’s mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty, disaster, and civil unrest, is what I bring with me as one of the more than 2,000 attendees at the Strata Conference this year. Our commitment to data analysis stems from finding more creative and effective ways to drive that mission.

On Feb. 25, an article came out on Fast Company’s CoExist site detailing our work during Hurricane Sandy with the “big data” company Palantir, which helped Direct Relief respond more effectively to the most pressing needs immediately after the storm.

That same night, Palantir’s Philanthropy Team Lead, Jason Payne, spoke to a pre-conference gathering of attendees of the Strata Conference. He emphasized the importance of data philanthropy and bringing to bear the best businesses processes to the efforts of nonprofits, government, and development.

The Strata Conference’s theme – Make Data Work – is of upmost importance for organizations like Direct Relief and the work we do every day bringing health to our partners across the world.

A common theme that I heard in the first two days of the conference was that data and analysis without subsequent action is pointless. Stewart Collis of aWhere phrased it as, “We do monitoring and measuring to improve our understanding, which allows us to act.”

As caretakers of the data – and particularly data for good – our team is obligated to bring crucial information and analysis to those who can make changes and those who will be directly impacted.

While some sessions were about the process of data collection and analysis, a number of others were about data visualization and the stories our data can help us tell. In one compelling session (Think Like a Data Journalist: How the Guardian Turns Data into Stories Every Day) Simon Rogers and Fielding Cage provided insight into the variety of data visualizations the Guardian newspaper produces, from the London Olympics to US gun control laws.

Rogers’ version of the action theme was, “If you don’t understand what’s going on in the world, you can’t improve.” Coding and design ideas from these sessions will enhance Direct Relief’s ability to narrative our work and that of our partners through visualizations such as our Global Fistula Care Map and Diflucan Partnership Program.

In the Data Driven Business section on Tuesday, I was in the audience as Palantir’s Ari Gesher spoke to the Strata audience about use of data in emergency response by Direct Relief, Palantir and Team Rubicon (a volunteer disaster response organization made up of veterans) during Hurricane Sandy.

Because of Palantir’s philanthropy, both Direct Relief and Team Rubicon benefited from integration of disparate data sets, high-quality on- the-ground hardware, and a streamlined response process. The partnerships were so successful during the Sandy response that our three organizations have jointly made a long-term Commitment to Action at this year’s winter meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

Today is the last day of the Strata Conference and there are far too many sessions that I would like to attend than are possible. I will return to Direct Relief with new tools, new ideas for approach, and invigorated purpose. With abundant data in our hands, sophisticated tools to deploy, and high impact outcomes to produce I believe more than ever that we can improve the world through informed action and compelling communications.

Editor’s note: The Global Fistula Map was migrated to the Global Fistula Hub in 2020 to better understand the landscape, known need, and availability of fistula repair services around the world.

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