The RSS initiative, Statisticians for Society has taken a further significant step this year towards increasing the opportunities for RSS fellows to volunteer their skills for good causes.
The Society has always encouraged members to give their time and skills to charities – indeed, one of its four key strategic objects is ‘for statistics to be used effectively in the public interest’. And when the Statisticians for Society initiative launched in 2014, the Society was able to start bringing volunteer opportunities to members across the UK and overseas via partner organisations DataKind and Statistics Without Borders.
However, now thanks to Big Lottery funding, the Society has this year launched a pilot scheme to start directly connecting volunteers to specific roles and projects in small UK-based charities that need help in analysing data, designing surveys or questionaires, or collecting data for research purposes.
‘It’s a very exciting time for the project’, says Amaka Nwagbara, RSS member engagement manager who is coordinating the project. ‘So far, 12 charities have been matched to volunteers.’ Amaka supported a scoping committee of RSS fellows who have been instrumental in helping to formulate the process of the initiative, including drawing up a policy around data sharing, which covers vital aspects such as data security.
A callout in the RSS member newsletter prompted a flurry of interest from members late last year; this was then followed by series of ‘drop in’ meetings where charities were invited to engage with statistical experts who would then identify ways in which volunteer statisticians could be involved in their projects. In June, RSS executive director Hetan Shah talked about the initiative on the BBC Radio4 programme 'You and Yours' which prompted a number of charities to get in touch regarding the initiative.
The RSS has specified that ‘small charities’ are defined as those with an annual turnover of less than a million pounds. These small charities can have a big impact, but lack resources to employ consultants or analysts to interpret data, spot patterns and trends or make future predictions. We are also open to working with socially useful initiatives of a similar size.
A first round of vacancies was circulated to our growing circulation list of volunteers (see our Callouts to Members section of StatsLife), and a further round of vacancies will be announced in due course. The advertised roles were diverse, and spread throughout the country – however, most of the work can be carried out remotely, save an initial face-to-face meeting and possible follow-ups. ‘The projects can vary from being one or two days of work to a couple of weeks, which can be carried out flexibly,’ Amaka explains. ‘We anticipate that most volunteers would be able to carry out the work in their spare time and remote working will maximise the time that they have.’
Once matched with a particular charity, the volunteer and charity usually start proceedings with a face to face meeting. Project proposal forms clearly outline what the volunteer statistician will do for the charity and this is kept on file by the RSS. The RSS also covers volunteers’ travel expenses.
The project is currently in pilot stage, but it’s hoped that this initiative will not only continue but also grow. ‘We’d love more RSS members to get involved to increase our pool of volunteers,’ says Amaka. ‘We would like to see more statisticians helping charities in making a difference. Volunteers can also get involved in other charity roles, such as becoming a board member.’
‘We have had a very positive response from charities so far,’ she continues. ‘Obviously it’s too early to talk about results, but this initiative is a very positive step in ensuring that charities have access to data experts – as well as creating more opportunities for statisticians to volunteer their skills for good.’
Photo shows Statisticians for Society scoping committee members Rob Mastrodomenico and Jackie Campbell interviewing a charity representative at our recent drop-in session in Cardiff.