Reflection on The Minerva Collective's first Data Co-op

It’s been a little while in the making but last Wednesday we did it. We held our first Minerva Collective working group which saw over 50 analysts, social sector workers and passionate data scientists offer their skills, expertise and time to use data to deliver social impact.

There was a definite buzz in the room as Anthony and I, both co-founders of The Minerva Collective (along with Whitney Komor in the USA) were joined by Ryan Peterson, CTO of Data Republic, to open the event.

Since launching in November last year, the Minerva Collective team has been busily forging relationships with charities and NFPs to identify social issues that could benefit from greater access to data, the development of data products and analyst time. On Wednesday we were excited to finally launch some analytics working groups with our member volunteers, giving them secure access to relevant charity and corporate datasets via Data Republic’s platform.

Data Republic’s CEO Paul McCarney, who led the incubation of the Minerva Collective in October 2016, was as moved as we were, saying;

“This makes it real. Watching 50 analysts and NFP leaders get accredited on our platform and actually get their hands on data to work on a real social issue put a lump in my throat.”

After some pizza and completion of the required registration and accreditation, our member volunteers were split into four working groups and given a ‘hackathon style’ challenge to work on while they became acquainted with and analyzed the data on Data Republic’s secure analytics workspaces.

Combating Violence Against Women

The Minerva Collective has recently launched a data for good initiative aimed at combating violence against women.

During our working group on Wednesday, member analysts got the opportunity to access anonymised data from domestic violence charity, DVConnect.

Queensland based DVConnect are an essential service to tens of thousands of DV victims each year in a world where, sadly, domestic violence is an epidemic. De-identified data regarding location and frequency of domestic violence incidents, issue escalation and information about counselling/support provided to victims was made available for our analysts to try and identify trends which resulted in the best long term outcomes for victims.

They used R, Tableau and SQL and a number of analytics techniques including PCA with a view to helping increase the efficiency of the NGO as well as starting to understand, through a data driven approach, which approaches worked best.

Volunteer, Mushin Karim told us:

“I enjoyed meeting like-minded data professionals at The Minerva Collective. I am looking forward to seeing how our team will integrate the data and collaborate to uncover insights and build products that have a positive impact in the community.”

Founder and CEO of DVConnect, Di Mangan, had this to say:

 “Domestic Violence is such a serious issue affecting all Australians from all walks of life. We couldn’t be happier to have the support from analysts from varying backgrounds helping us to tackle this. Our agency being the busiest domestic violence crisis response service in Australia is so consumed with meeting the immediate safety needs of women and children that we often don’t get the opportunity to learn from the data we capture. Thank you so much to the Minerva team for facilitating this amazing activity. We are so excited to see what you all come up with.”

Billions of rows of grocery purchase data to understand societal wellbeing

Our third working group was able to leverage the Minerva Collective’s close partnership with Data Republic to access data from WorldSmart, a corporate Data Contributor in the Data Republic ecosystem who have access to grocery and liquor basket data from Australia’s largest independent grocer network.

The group had access to billions of rows of data from WorldSmart, including: all grocery purchases made, nutritional value, time of purchase and customer demographics for independent grocers. The group looked to merge creativity and data analytic skills to use this rich dataset to infer metrics around health, isolation and financial stress, which will be used to help develop Minerva’s flagship Data Product for Not-for-Profit Organisations.

Helping young people through Mental Distress

Fewer than 30% of young people experiencing mental distress receive the help they need, and ReachOut, a leading youth mental health service, seeks to tackle this by providing a wealth of online resources. Lorraine Ivancic, who leads data analytics efforts within ReachOut, led a group brainstorming ideas as to how they can best understand survey data to provide a better service to people visiting the website. Lorraine enjoyed the event and felt there was much potential in using analytical talent to help ReachOut.

“It was fantastic to be in a room full of skilled and talented people who want to use what they know to help others. Being part of a brainstorming session with people and sharing their enthusiasm and ideas was just brilliant.” 

Learning stream - Docker

For balance, the final working group, led by Anthony, focused on Docker, an open platform for containerisation, allowing developers to build and ship apps. The task was to create images for Python and R notebooks for use in future Minerva projects, as well as documentation for new users. This stream catered for those who were interested in learning a new skill or wanted to share their knowledge and expertise.

The Future: what’s next?

The Minerva Collective will be running these events on a monthly basis. We are passionate about using data to help change the world, and would love for you to join the movement.

In addition to progressing the existing initiatives, sessions will also include:

  • Mini-hackathons where data is cleaned and prepped for further analysis,
  • Clinics for social sector organisations to drop in and ask data-related questions, and
  • Planning sessions for wider community events.

All of our sessions are open to volunteers who are interested in becoming part of The Minerva Collective.

We try to keep all sessions hands-on and it’s a fantastic way for our members to help a charitable cause, while enhancing analytics skills and networking with like-minded professionals.

We hope you are as excited as we are for the future of this movement, please go to our website, or watch this space [meetup page] for further info...

We’d love to see you at our next event.


Mike Allwright

Co-CEO, The Minerva Collective


Get Involved: Data For Mental Health Project

At Data Republic we believe that data can change the world for good - and I’m not just talking about better business outcomes. I am lucky to have the millennial’s dream job of establishing Minerva as a separate not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to using data for social good.

While we’re finalising details for the official launch of Minerva, the team at Data Republic and I have started working with ReachOut Australia* to develop our pilot social good project. I want to share what we’ve uncovered so far to spread the word and recruit support for this worthy cause.

About ReachOut

ReachOut is the world’s first online mental health service, established 18 years ago. They provide practical self-help tools and support to help 1.3 million young Australians every year to get through tough times.

I’ve been shocked by some of the things I’ve learnt in my conversations with the team at ReachOut about the scope of mental health issues we face in our country. Did you know that in Australia suicide is the leading cause of death for males and females between the ages of 15 and 44**? The leading cause! That means if you have a teenage son or daughter, suicide is sadly statistically the most likely reason they will not reach adulthood.

In a mental health system that’s struggling to cope with the existing demand, getting the right help to more people is the challenge is trying to solve. Timing is another factor for ReachOut as there is clear evidence that receiving help early in symptom development is critical to reducing both the severity and duration of mental health problems. Unfortunately, the average time between onset of symptoms of a tough time and someone proactively seeking treatment is 10 years. This means the system can’t wait for people to come to it; the help needs to go to people directly.

A path forward using data

If ReachOut can proactively provide its self-help tools to more young people showing early symptoms of a tough time, fewer young Australians will develop severe, long-term mental health problems and the number of lives lost to suicide will decline. This is the ambitious challenge we, at Data Republic, are attempting to solve with our first Minerva project.

Building on the hypothesis that symptoms or early signs of a tough time could be identified through behaviours captured in de-identified proprietary data, Data Republic is exploring the possibility of a scoring system which would enable ReachOut to prioritise and direct relevant content to people who are likely to need it.

All data exchanged or analysed as part of such a project would be completely de-identified, with strict security protocols enforced through Data Republic technology on the access, analysis and permitted use of the data.

We take the ethical, legal and technical considerations of pursuing a sensitive project of this kind very seriously, and are working closely with ReachOut and several of Sydney’s leading Data Scientists to solve these challenges.

While it won’t be easy, we see this as too critical an opportunity to shy away from. If we can do this we can, quite seriously, save lives.

Want to get involved?

If you’re a Data Geek and would like to get involved in this project or discuss another data for social good project please get in touch!