Volunteering in this way is something of a tradition in other professions such as law, and many RSS fellows have expressed interest in establishing something similar within their own profession. The RSS has listened to fellows and added it as a key activity in the Society’s long-term strategy.
The Society is now in a position to announce the launch Statisticians for Society. It has partnered with two organisations to facilitate the initiative: Statistics Without Borders, an American Statistical Association-formed group (which already has members from Britain and other parts of the world) which works primarily on international projects, and Datakind UK, a charity which works to utilise data science for public good and pair up data scientists with other UK charities.
Opportunities currently offered by these organisations are varied and can range from assisting with small local projects to helping on international programmes in far-flung places around the globe. Volunteers can work for the benefit of disadvantaged/vulnerable people or on animal welfare or agricultural programmes. In many cases, work will involve gathering and analysing data so that these organisations can carry out their work more effectively, but volunteers can also work in more of an advisory or training capacity.
By partnering with existing organisations, the RSS has an ‘in-place structure’ for fellows to participate in volunteer projects. The Statistics Without Borders membership has grown since its inception six years ago to 1,200 members. ASA executive director, Ron Wasserstein said he was ‘pleased’ with the new partnership to expand SWB’s work. ‘SWB epitomises ASA emphasis of statistics’ service to society,’ he said. ‘It also serves the important function of informing a wider audience of what statistics is and the important contributions statistics makes to so many aspects of society.’
DataKind brings a unique approach for volunteers to engage with good causes. It organises ‘DataDive’ weekends - events which pair up data scientists with selected charities. DataDives usually involve three or four charities, all with specific data issues; and all participating data experts (around 100 were present at the last one) are able to roll up their sleeves and help to bring value to that data. Participating charities include Oxfam, Community Voluntary Action Tameside, The Key and Buttle UK. The next event is due to take place at the RSS in October. ‘DataKind allows UK charities to use the data they have to improve the service they provide, says DataKind’s chair of trustees, Duncan Ross. ‘We are here to show that data can be used to change the world for good, not just to make money.’
Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS, said: 'We are delighted to launch Statisticians for Society to help our fellows give their time pro bono to good causes, as has been institutionalised in other professions such as amongst lawyers. We are really pleased to be working with Statistics Without Borders and Datakind UK and encourage our members to get involved and feed back to us on how we can improve the scheme.'
The Society hopes that all members will consider getting involved in this programme. For those wishing to find out more about the opportunities available, further information is available on a dedicated page and a flyer is available to download here.