Organizing an Online Data Dialogue

The Local Chapter Berlin hosted its first ever Online Data Dialogue event on June 11th, 2020. In this post, we discuss our steps for organizing an online data dialogue, the lessons learned, and what we believe could be improved next time.

2020-08-12 | Liam, Melinda, Vadim, Sylvi, Alex (CorrelAid Berlin)

Organizing an Online Data Dialogue

The Local Chapter Berlin hosted its first ever online Data Dialogue event on June 11th, 2020. The event was a big success involving two NPO’s (GoVolunteer and Amadeu Antonio Stiftung) and ~20 volunteers providing the team with a lot of valuable experience and feedback. Below we discuss our steps for organizing an online data dialogue, the lessons learned, and what we believe could be improved next time. We hope this blog will encourage other local chapters to organize an (online) data dialogue!


Reaching out to NPOs

Our first step was reaching out to potential NPOs. We created flyers in both German and English (using Canva, see the CorrelAid design guide) that provided a brief explanation of the Data Dialogue format. We sent these flyers to NPOs using predefined e-mail templates around 1 month before the scheduled event. In total, we contacted five new NPOs (where we had no existing contacts), as well as two NPOs with which CorrelAid already had some relationship. The NPOs familiar with Correlaid were both interested in participating in the June event, but we had less success with new NPOs. While one of the new NPOs was interested in the Data Dialogue format, they felt there was inadequate time before the event to prepare a data challenge pitch (described below). Contacting NPOs early in the planning process (2-3 months before the event) would have allowed us more time to liaise with NPOs and help them establish their data challenge pitches.

Working on the NPO’s pitch

A key part of a Data Dialogue is the NPO’s data challenge pitch, where each organisation gives a short presentation on the data challenges they face and lays the foundation for the brainstorming sessions. We established a dedicated contact person for each of the two participating NPO to advise on the pitches and streamline the communication process. It was the contact person’s role to guide the NPOs to focus their pitches on a clearly defined topic suitable for a one-hour brainstorming session. Designing the pitches took quite some input and this process could have been more easily achieved by providing a template for the NPO to structure their pitches. For future Data Dialogue events we have created a survey for NPOs to fill out at the beginning of the process, and template slides that can help give more guidance to the NPOs about how to approach their pitches.

Setting up the discussion/brainstorming sessions

We next needed to recruit CorrelAid volunteers to participate in the brainstorming sessions. We planned for a total of 4 brainstorming groups (2 per NPO), each with 4-5 Correlaid volunteers, one dedicated moderator and a representative of the NPO. For each brainstorming group we provided a Google jamboard for creating post-its during brainstorming and a Google slides outline to track the results of the session, which included a template for the final discussion and guiding questions. All these tools can be used by multiple people at the same time and can be accessed without the need for an account.

To recruit volunteers we sent out a Correlaid newsletter to get interested data scientists and moderators registered for the event (we recommend Eventbrite for event registration). At the time of registration the NPO pitches were not finalised, so the newsletter included the name of the NPOs but no information about their data challenge. We had a long discussion about whether we should ask for the expertise of the volunteers who signed up so we could assign them to the most appropriate brainstorming groups. We decided against this because we wanted to make the event accessible for those new to CorrelAid and not place any expectations of expertise or skill level. For all those interested in moderating a session we organized a call two days before the event and discussed how to guide the discussion and use the provided tools (Meeting slides here).

Of the 19 volunteers that registered, 12 showed up on the night, with an attrition rate similar to that expected for in person events (50%).

The event

The event was run exclusively on Zoom. We sent out the link to all the registered volunteers, the moderators, and the NPOs a week in advance. We started the event with a short introduction to Correlaid, followed by the NPO data challenge pitches (5 minutes each) and a short introduction to Zoom. After this we separated into our brainstorming groups for an hour of brainstorming and finished the event with a 5-minute presentation of the results from each group. We expected the event to run for around two-hours (agenda), and this was achieved even with delay caused by waiting for people to join the call.

CorrelAid’s head of Community Management, Isabel, was the ‘super-host’ of the Zoom event. She allocated people into the break-out sessions and let them back in when they dropped out of the call, she gave the brainstorming groups a time reminder halfway through the session and was also the “photographer” of the event (taking screenshots of the discussions). The ‘super-host’ position was essential to keeping the event running smoothly.

At the end of the event, we recorded a short interview (5 minutes) with the NPOs in separate Zoom breakout rooms, which allowed us to get direct feedback from the NPO representative when the event was still fresh in their minds.

Feedback & Lessons learned

In addition to the debrief interviews with NPOs, we also sent around standardized feedback questionnaires to all the participants and NPOs. Of the 5 participants who filled out the form all were satisfied or very satisfied with the event, although there may be some selection bias, (Fig. 1); however, we found that the time given for questions and the tempo of the event had the lowest satisfaction levels (Fig. 2).

Screenshot of a horizontal bar chart. 60% are very satisfied with the event, 40% satisfied. Response options "very unsatisfied", "unsatisfied" and "neutral" are all 0%.

Using this feedback and our experience as organizers of the event, we identified a number of aspects where we believe these events could be improved in the future.

  1. Targeted allocation of volunteers. We decided to randomly allocate volunteers into brainstorming groups to avoid losing time and ending up with unequal group sizes; however, with random allocation some people ended up in a session that didn’t match their area of expertise. For future events we will ensure that the registration form includes the topic of the NPO’s pitches and allows the participants to indicate which session they would prefer to attend. This will require that the preparation of NPO data challenge pitches is finished at least a month in advance of the event.
Screenshot of a horizontal bar chart about various aspects about the event: moderators, content, materials, format concept, involvement of participants, relevance, time for questions, tempo. the feedback overall is good, very good or ok, except for the aspect "time for questions" where 20% said it was bad.
  1. Streamline the creation of data challenge pitches. The process of data challenge pitch creation was the most time consuming aspect of the Data Dialogue format, both for the NPOs and the organisers. The process could be greatly improved if we use the newly created NPO survey and data challenge pitch guidelines to guide the NPOs in working out their data challenge pitch.
  2. Extended brainstorming time. We found that one hour was too short for the brainstorming session. A lot of time was spent clarifying the problem at the beginning of the sessions and we believe an additional 15 minutes (75 minutes in total) would improve the session outcomes.
  3. Involve the project team. The ultimate goal of a Data Dialogue event is to create full projects, and this process will eventually require the input of the CorrelAid project team. We recommend involving the project team in event organisation once you have identified the participating NPOs to allow brainstorming ideas to be quickly adapted into CorrelAid project proposals. Part of this project creation process could involve an additional ‘prototyping phase’ after the Data Dialogue event has ended, where participating data scientists can further work out an action plan to tackle the data challenges and then present their projects to the NPOs at a follow-up meeting. More details about this extended format can be found here.


We believe the Data Dialogue is a great format to reach out to NPOs and we are excited to try our new ideas for this format soon! We found that this event format adapted well to the current remote working situation and we hope that more local chapters will use our tips to organise their own or joint online data dialogues! We are happy at LC-Berlin to collaborate!

Liam, Melinda, Vadim, Sylvi, Alex (CorrelAid Berlin)

Liam, Melinda, Vadim, Sylvi, Alex (CorrelAid Berlin)

Liam, Melinda, Vadim, Sylvi and Alex are CorrelAid volunteers and active members of the Local Chapter Berlin. They organized the Online Data Dialogue together.