Data Insights Generate Big Wins for Kids via Donors Choose and Looker

There are first graders who haven’t read "A Cat in the Hat" because their classroom doesn’t have a copy of the book.

And there are fourth graders who are supposed to be learning about science, but their teacher is unable to access microscopes, lab notebooks or even geodes. 

Giving Back with Analytics and Data Science

Why are we talking about this on CMSWire? Because there’s an organization that leverages data analytics and data science to connect classrooms in need with citizens who may be willing to help. And we’re not talking about mega-contributions from billionaires, but tens or hundreds of dollars from ordinary people like you and me.

This is accomplished via Donors Choose, a crowdsourcing, matchmaking website where teachers in need can make requests for contributions for specific projects and donors can easily contribute right there on the site.

One hundred sixty-five thousand teachers at 43,000 public schools have used the site to post over 300,000 classroom project requests, inspiring $220,000,000 in giving from 400,000 donors who performed over a million search queries and made more than a million donations.

And all told, 10 million students -- most from low income communities, and many in disaster-stricken areas -- have received books, art supplies, field trips, technology and other resources that they need to learn.

Not Leaving Donations to Chance

While some might assume that any organization that has as compelling a mission as pairing children in need with education would have donations pouring in the door without much outreach and effort, this is not how Donors Choose has achieved such amazing results.

It’s not a “if you build it, they will come" scenario. Instead much of the organization’s success is achieved via putting insight into action or, in other words, putting the right giving opportunities in front of the right donors at that right time.

To do this you need to crunch data, lots of data, and Donors Choose has plenty (hundreds of terabytes) at its disposal. There’s information from donors, projects, project giving, public resources and so on. While a team of data scientists could certainly generate all kinds of interesting insights from that information, Donors Choose only employs one, Vlad Dubovskiy. That was a problem until (after many false starts) he found a solution; namely Looker, a data discovery tool which uses a proprietary language called LookML.

With the tool, 90 percent of Donors Choose’s users can run queries (called “looks”) that deliver the data right in the browser. “It connects live, and runs in database, so there’s no latency,” said  Dubovskiy.

With a tool like that, why do you need a data scientist?

“Aren’t you worried about your job?” we asked Dubovskiy. But we didn’t arouse any concern. “You need a data scientist to predict what will happen in the future,” he explained. And with a solution like Looker, he can focus on those kinds of questions instead of delivering on query after query.

Insights Donors Choose has Uncovered Using Looker

Donors Choose and Looker today introduced the Giving Index, which reveals 2013 trends in educational needs and charitable giving across the country. The index was created through Looker’s powerful analysis of data, which in 2013 alone includes nearly 340,000 donors, $60.2 million in donations and over 130,000 school projects.

Dubovskiy noted that key findings include the prevalence of location-based giving, greater contributions to benefit younger students, and increasing emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects in higher grade levels.

While we could go on and tell you more, Donors Choose and Looker have provided us with an Infographic to share with you. Suffice it to say, the picture tells the story.


Hacker Alert: Donors Choose Opens Its Data Through Looker

Effective today, is opening up public access to 100 percent of their anonymized data through Looker. As part of its Hacking Education initiative, Dubovskiy says that approved researchers, journalists and citizens will be able to instantly access, explore, visualize and share insights on more than 20 million records of marketplace data, which will be combined with data on public education.

This is a prime opportunity for interested, qualified parties (being tech-savvy is not one of the requirements), to get a look at Looker and to glean education insights about the current state of giving and need in U.S. schools and to help.

Aspiring BI Pros, Here’s a Win/Win

For anyone who’s eager to get into data science or big data analytics, this may present a prime opportunity to challenge yourself; after all, the tools and the data are all there. And, provided that Donors Choose lets you in through its gates, we challenge you to discover an insight that will help kids learn better.

Title image by Shawn Bierman (Shutterstock)