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Emerson Faculty Member Working to Bring Data Literacy to Nonprofits

Emerson College Assistant Professor Catherine D’Ignazio wants to make data part of the conversation at nonprofits, not just in the C-suite or the IT department, but at every level of the organization.

To help the cause, D’Ignazio and her collaborator, Rahul Bhargava, research scientist at MIT’s Center for Civic Media, have received a Good Data Grant from the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society to help them build a “toolkit” for nonprofits to learn how to access and use data.

“[It will be] at the basic level of, ‘O.K., you’ve heard of this thing called Big Data, now how do you do things with it?’” said D’Ignazio, who teaches in the Journalism Department.

A year ago, D’Ignazio and Bhargava released an online data literacy curriculum called, which features a number of tools available to journalists and educators that demystify document and data dumps in a playful way.

WordCounter analyzes texts for the most commonly used words and phrases. WTFcsv “tells you WTF is going on with your .csv file,” which helps you categorize rows and columns in a spreadsheet so you can figure out if there’s a story there. SameDiff allows you to compare two or more texts to see how similar they are. ConnectTheDots analyzes your data as a network.

With the Good Data Grant, D’Ignazio and Bhargava will introduce a curriculum specifically geared toward nonprofit managers and staff around so they can better raise money and serve their populations.

“It’s sort of like exposure across the organization of the variety of methods and tools you have of working with data, of understanding what data you actually have and what you can do with it,” D’Ignazio said.

The project kicks off in early February, she said, and will run for a year.

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