Making Sense of Information to Help You Help People

By chance, I stopped by our favorite neighborhood independent bookstore, Politics and Prose, earlier this month.  As is the case every night, an author was speaking, telling us about his book and taking answers from a very challenging audience.  This night the speaker was Daniel H. Pink and his book was To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us Pink made the observation that before the Internet, accessing information was the challenge of our time.  Information was primarily found in books, or in libraries or locked away in a file cabinet.  This created the situation of “asymmetrical information,” with some individuals being fully informed about a subject, while others were essentially in the dark, with no clue.
This gave sellers (and others such as experts like professors and lawyers) an advantage in any relationship and gave rise to the warning – caveat emptor – or buyer beware.  Today, we can pretty much find out whatever we want about a subject through a little searching on the Internet.  The power is starting to tilt toward the buyer. But, Pink says this new world poses another problem: “We must wade through a mass of material flowing at us every day, selecting what is relevant and discarding what is not.  Trouble is, most of us don’t have any method to attack the madness.”
I thought this was a pretty good description of what we are trying to address at the Center.
All of us interested in disaster relief and disaster philanthropy can find loads of news stories, reports, and research papers on the Internet, but not always the data we are looking for. Worse, how do we make sense of all this? And for most of us, what really matters?
At the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we are collecting content in three ways:  from content we create; from material we aggregate from friends and partners; and finally from content that we commission.
From my friends at GuideStar’s Donors Edge, I learned about the importance of  turning data into information and ultimately into knowledge.  From my friends at Markets for Good and Sunand Menon, founder of New Media Insight,  I learned to put a name to this effort: the KID (Knowledge, Information, Data ) Model  – the transformation of raw data into informed decisions. This is how we look that those three areas:

  1. DATA. On an ongoing basis, we are creating and aggregating the most important facts and figures we can find about disaster philanthropy.  During Superstorm Sandy, for example, we posted data collected by the Foundation Center on what foundations were supporting Sandy relief and what activities they were supporting,  as well as other  facts and figures about Sandy relief efforts.  Every week we post new data on crisis and relief efforts around the world.  Our service to you is that we are collecting  all this data from around the world and putting it in one easy spot to find:  the CDP web site. In fact, we were gathering so much data that we have developed a new design to break information down into more usable pieces.
  2. INFORMATION is processed data.  In the words of Pink, data can all too often become just a “mass of material.”  We want to help you make sense of the data. That’s why  so much of our work is devoted to helping make sense of all this data.  On a regular basis, you’ll find thought pieces from the staff of CDP and from other experts that analyzes this data and puts it into context.   Other examples on the drawing board include charts, classifications, polling and forecasts.
  3. KNOWLEDGE is processed information.  Ultimately, we want to turn this information into knowledge that we can share with the entire nonprofit sector.  Our mission is to transform the world of disaster philanthropy – to make it more effective and efficient.  To do that we’ll need to share our insights and convictions with others in order to make change. Here we’ll also share best practices and research.

Our hope is that as you think about disaster philanthropy, you’ll think about CDP’s commitment to KID:  collecting important and relevant data, analyzing it and turning into information and ultimately transforming information into knowledge that shares our expertise and awareness of best practices.
At the end of the day, our test is whether CDP was able to help you make an informed and confident decision.

Robert G. Ottenhoff