Debbie shows the power of data science

31 August 2018

On Wednesday I attended a prestigious event celebrating the success of the Data Lab MSc Placement Programme. To our enormous delight data science student, Debbie Maltman, scooped first prize for her fantastic work with Volunteer Scotland.

Debbie image personalWe have been looking at the power of data science to provide insights around volunteering for some time, which culminated in a 'quick start' project with the Data Lab at the end of last year. The Data Lab work was an eye opener and showed in many ways the value of our data (and data science expertise) not just for our organisation but also for the wider third sector. When Data Lab suggested we be matched with a student to deepen this work (for a further 12 weeks over the summer) we saw this as a great opportunity.

I wrote a brief and submitted it to the programme (MBN Solutions were the match-makers in this process). Once we'd been matched to Debbie we met up to shape the project in more detail (identifying all of the key outcomes we'd look for but also thinking about what Debbie needed from her time with us).

There was an important academic aspect to this as Debbie's report was a critical part of her Masters degree. Throughout the process, we would meet with Debbie's academic supervisor, Kepa (from the University of Stirling's MSc in Data Science for Business) several times. These engagements were a great opportunity to question methods and challenge assumptions - I was pleasantly surprised just how industry and outcome focused these short meetings were.

We were clear that we were looking for this project to positively influence online search behaviour. As such, I really needed Debbie to help us to gather the evidence and insights, help plan and construct a live experiment and test out her hypotheses (no small task!). The initial focus for Debbie would be on our online data but after a few weeks Debbie began to dive into other sources of insight, including the Scottish Household Survey.

"I've never met anyone with more passion for data."

With the content experiment underway, Debbie provided additional outputs which had wider implications than simply our online channel. She introduced us to Decision Trees and Logistical Regressions as well as Anovas, Manovas and others. More importantly, through these statistical tools and approaches she provided another view (and at times challenged the perceived wisdom) on the key factors for why individuals volunteer, how often they volunteer and how much of their time they give. She also helped to enrich our existing persona work on who are Scotland's volunteers.

We have begun to use these outputs to discuss and brainstorm with our data partner SCVO (and we intend to build on and disseminate this work more widely). Debbie introduced our small team to some of the key skills and knowledge which has moved our insight and experimentation capability from the rudimentary to a much more enlightened understanding. Just as important Debbie has been a wonderful ambassador for the power of data science within an organisation. We hope we can continue this aspect of her work with as much vigour and passion. 

The value in individuals like Debbie is not solely for large organisations with product portfolios and mass-market advertising budgets. It's every bit as powerful for the types of organisations we find in the third sector (small organisations like ourselves, albeit we have a national brief). Through Data Lab and MBN Solutions we've been fortunate enough to tap into this rich talent pool.

When Debbie delivered her 5 minute presentation to the 200 or so attendees on Wednesday, she summed up beautifully the impact of her time with us. When she was awarded first prize from more than 70 placements across Scotland she struck a blow for the potential for data science being applied more widely across the third sector. 

Collectively we often have fantastic data, we certainly create an enormous collective impact, it is clear we could all do with some expert data science input to make the very most of things. 

Thank you Debbie. 

From everyone at Volunteer Scotland.

Tags: Research
Categories: For Organisations