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Posted 25 October, 2016 by Alix Dunn

A Temporary Transfer: Data and Technology Fellowship at Open Society Foundations

Over the past several years, The Engine Room has worked with a variety of philanthropies to better understand the changing landscape of data and technology for social change. We think that support organisations like The Engine Room are well placed to inform philanthropy about the data and technology needs of the social sector. We see our own funders as peers with whom we work to better understand how data and technology can increase impact in the social sector, without causing harm or exacerbating inequalities in existing power relationships.

This year, I am happy to report, I will be taking some time to work more closely with Open Society Foundations. The Information Program of the Foundation has a diverse portfolio focused on both the uptake of data and technology tools by the social sector and addressing the social implications of the rise of data and technology in society. The Information Program team at OSF has been a key ally since the founding of The Engine Room. We share several goals, the most salient being the responsible data agenda and an interest in developing a vibrant and nuanced data and technology ecosystem for the social sector.

My work with the Information Program will be structured as a fellowship, running from November 2016 to April 2017, and will focus on three main areas of investigation:

  • How Open Society Foundations can build internal systems to support its diverse program teams and staff to support the effective use of data and technology to increase impact
  • What is an effective balance between experimentation in emerging technology and necessary infrastructure of data and technology support ecosystem for the social sector
  • Professional development in data and technology that can empower substance experts to incorporate data and technology into their strategies

At the conclusion of the fellowship, I will share relevant findings, and work to package what I learn into helpful public facing outputs.

So what does this mean for my relationship with The Engine Room? Don’t worry, I’m coming back. In November and December, Julia Keseru will be Acting Executive Director while I am working full-time on the fellowship. I will return to my role in January, during which time I will continue work on the research outputs of the fellowship two days a week through April. I have no doubt that the inimitable Engine Room team will keep things moving along at a great clip in my absence. 

Given that Open Society Foundations is a funder and ally of The Engine Room, I have been in open discussion with our board of directors, team, and OSF about the substance and structure of the fellowship to ensure that it does not present conflicts for The Engine Room and does not encroach on our independence as an organisation. This fellowship will be me as an individual working within the Foundation for this period. The Engine Room team will not be working on the research I produce or the support I provide, and OSF will not influence the strategic direction of The Engine Room.  

While I’m away watch out for our forthcoming research on messaging apps for ICRC, our second replication sprint, our annual retrospective, and other exciting projects launching in the next few months. It’s an honor to have a team that can provide space for me to do a deep dive like this, something that we set the stage for previously with Zara’s fellowship at Data & Society, Tin’s research into algorithms as gatekeepers earlier this year, and Maya’s time off in Japan.

Interested in this project and want to talk more about your experiences and perspectives on these issues?
Please reach out!

I will be spending a bulk of November and December talking with a wide swath of funders, practitioners, researchers, and support organisations about their perspectives. If you have thoughts on resources for experimentation versus infrastructure; professional development in data and technology; and how funders are creating space for data and technology in their strategies and planning, I suspect you might be just the kind of person I am looking to talk to.

Photo credit: Maia Weinstock on Flickr

1 thought on “A Temporary Transfer: Data and Technology Fellowship at Open Society Foundations”

[…] program director Julia Kesuru. Julia is temporarily serving as executive director while Alix advises Open Society Foundations on their technology and data […]

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