Thriving data cultures prioritize inclusion, collaboration, and transparency over command and control. They work iteratively vs. trying to "boil the ocean." But of course, this is easier said than done, right?
Dec 2022 How to fuel innovation with agile data governance
Build the most meaningful, collaborative and abundant data resource in the world in order to maximize data’s societal problem-solving utility.
Advocate publicly for improving the adoption, usability, and proliferation of open data and linked data.
Serve as an accessible historical repository of the world’s data.
If this is your first exposure to a Public Benefit Corporation, I’m so happy that data.world is the one that gets to be your introduction. In 10 years, we think that the question will be “why aren’t you a public benefit corporation” rather than “why are you?”
A PBC is similar to a traditional corporation in that it is a for profit corporation with shareholders who own the company and its assets. The key differentiator is that a PBC also has a clear mission to consider the impact of its actions on society. This means that a PBC can make decisions to do the things “for the good of humankind” which are set forth in its charter (and are given the legal protection to do so). As a result, a PBC can balance that mission with the pursuit of shareholder returns rather than being forced to maximize shareholder value at all costs.
While we are incorporated in Delaware since it was one of the early adopters of the PBC structure, we have since had a hand in bringing this structure to Texas, and look forward to the day when it becomes the accepted norm among new businesses globally.
As a part of our PBC status, we’re obligated to give periodic updates to our shareholders on the status of our PBC purpose. However, we feel very strongly about the value of transparency and strive to be as open as we can with our community, which is why we’re sharing this report with all of you.
As a data-driven organization, we felt the best way to share our progress was to look at what we’ve done for each component of our PBC public benefit purpose:
1. Strive to build the most meaningful, collaborative and abundant data resource in the world in order to maximize data’s societal problem-solving utility,
2. Advocate publicly for improving the adoption, usability, and proliferation of open data and linked data, and
3. serve as an accessible historical repository of the world’s data.
Building the most meaningful, collaborative and abundant data resource in the world in order to maximize data’s societal problem-solving utility
We’ve undertaken an ambitious journey to unleash the potential of data by bringing together that data and the people who are interested in it. We’re happy to report some of the advances we’ve made on this front.
Since the beginning of data.world, we have devoted resources to making sure that US Census data is available and linkable without charge to our members. This includes response rate data for the decennial census and other data. We also continue to collaborate with the US Census team on events and support our members on their use of this demographic data in their own data projects.
We continue to invest our time and efforts in sourcing and hosting high-value communities and datasets with a goal of promoting social good, social change, or other impactful areas. We believe this data can help researchers and data enthusiasts of all kinds identify, understand, and combat challenges in today’s social landscape. In this vein, we continue to develop a resource type we dubbed a “Data Resource Hub” which helps to aggregate and feature high value data around a particular subject. Our first initiative on this front was for the Coronavirus pandemic, and we are continuing to explore other large societal issues for which data can help inform, educate, unite and provide solutions.
One recent release on this front was the work that data.world led around Policing in America. This was a collaboration between data.world, The Data Foundation, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), Forward Cities, Spot Crime, and Microsoft. This project worked to systematically improve evidence about how the American people view the criminal justice system and police forces.
If you have a topic where data aggregation would help to aid social change, we want to hear about it!
While data itself can shed light on an issue, its power is limited without things like context, provenance, and the array of metadata that is generated in the course of a data project. We’ve been building tools and integrations that allow organizations and individuals to have a clearer understanding of their data, and share that understanding with an audience. Highlights here include expanded capabilities around data lineage, data governance, and automated data linking, but check out our constant updates for more examples and up-to-date development.
data.world continues to be dedicated to providing data journalists with the tools and data they need for critical reporting. In 2019, the AP Data Team even won the prestigious Chairman’s Award for their data work, which is hosted on data.world! The Associated Press was our first customer, and we’re proud to help them share their work with member newsrooms and the world.
A number of collaborative communities have started and grown on data.world. They use our platform to make data collaboration and sharing easier and more effective. Makeover Monday is a prime example, with over 13,000 participants and growing. The group runs a weekly data visualization exercise to help their community collaboratively improve their data visualization skills. Other groups have continued to join data.world (eg. Workout Wednesday, Sports Viz Sunday, Blacks in Analytics, etc), and we enjoy supporting any group that wants to collaborate in public around data!
With the continued rise of both need and scrutiny around social activism, of all kinds, data-driven research is a necessity. Individuals and organizations alike have used data.world to share their data with a broader audience to promote change and evidence-based decision making.
Between our members, our efforts, and related communities, data.world now has well over 500,000 datasets on the platform available to the public at large free of charge and that number continues to grow.
Whether it’s civic activism, health research, or citizen journalism, there has been an impressive amount of work done on our platform that is having an impact on some of the most complex problems facing humanity today. A few of our favorites include:
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus data, presented by The Associated Press
2020 Census Response Rate data from the US Census
Crosswalks datasets, to help users connect and translate data
It’s hard to believe that it has already been four years since we hosted the gathering of data science leaders, which resulted in the Data Practices Manifesto. Our goal was to help organize thinking around data practices and develop exercises to bring the power of data to anyone who is interested. We have since donated this initiative to The Linux Foundation, and the initiative continues to grow. It has joined the LF AI&Data umbrella foundation. This aggregation of projects promises to provide new opportunities for delivery and collaboration of data literacy material, including a close partnership with IBM’s OpenDS4All community.
data.world continues to make our enterprise grade resources available to teachers for free to help build the data leaders of tomorrow. During 2020, we extended this offer to include anyone working on COVID-19 related efforts. Our Public Benefit Corporation status is an important part of who we are, and we believe that the proliferation of open data, and the tools for organization and analysis are critical to helping the world solve some of its largest challenges. In addition to supporting education, data.world is looking to expand into many more original research projects, like the Policing in America project. If you have an idea for a research project, or an existing project that has stalled, with social impact potential, definitely let us know as we’re looking to invest time and resources in helping more of these projects to grow.
While we feel that data is a resource best shared openly with the world, we also realize that there will always be data that either needs to be private or restricted in its applications. Licensing of data is complicated and obtuse, and we’ve spent time helping educate people and organizations on thinking through licensing implications so that data can be shared with the broadest set of people possible, but still have assurances that people will use it in accordance with the owner’s wishes. Whether this is just a private dataset shared within an organization, a dataset that bridges worlds of open and private with the new updated Community Data License Agreement (CDLA-permissive), or a dataset built for the improvement of all humankind under the Creative Commons, we promote options that can maximize the data’s value for data owners.
Even before we publicly launched, we have been on the road advocating for open data from the White House Open Data Initiative to the UN World Data Forum, and that pace has only increased in recent history. Whether this is collaborative data events, or providing infrastructure to private events and organizations, we’re trying to make sure that data, especially semantically linked data, is a tool that anyone can employ to make the world better. We’d love for you to join us in this effort, if you would like help promoting an event, preparing a talk, or just knowing where the best data events will be, feel free to drop us a line. There is also a wealth of knowledge inside of data.world, so if you need a speaker for your event, please reach out for a list of some of our great orators for your keynotes.
Data should be easier to find, understand, and use. We make data “meaningful” using Semantic Web technology. We built our platform on top of semantic and linked data technologies to bring their power to the masses without the high learning curve and other steep barriers to entry. We often liken it to the early days of the web, when writing a webpage was a difficult task, until tools like content management systems and user-friendly web design tools made it a simple thing that anyone could do. We are striving to make all data easily linked and for that technology to be accessible to the broadest group of people possible. This improves data discovery and interoperability so people and machines can unlock its value faster. We’ve built a network where new datasets energize and enhance everything they connect to. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Linked Data is one of the core tenets of the Semantic Web. The idea is to form relationships between data, similar to the relationships that were formed between documents by the World Wide Web. These relationships will be not only consumable by humans, but meaningful to machines. While these concepts are not new, historically they have been very difficult to use in practice. By building our platform entirely on Linked Data and Semantic Web technology, we’re making it easy for both humans and machines to consume the vast collection of open data available on data.world. When each dataset that is added to the network increases the incremental value of every dataset on the platform, the network effect can be an incredible multiplier for people solving the world’s most difficult problems.
While changes in the world have relegated in-person events to a “wait and see” status, data.world has continued our mission to bring relevant and timely information direct to users via a series of monthly and one-off webinars. Feel free to browse our catalog of past content, or join us for “Catalogs & Cocktails”, a podcast for data people.
We realize that advocating for the use of open data means more than just talking about it. It also includes making tools and documentation that help people walk the walk. We work hard on our open APIs and integrations so that people can use our platform to power the next generation of data applications. We have open sourced many of the integrations we have built and encouraged others to do the same. Anyone can use the open side of our platform for free, so we’re leaving the door wide for people to be able to utilize the power of open, linked data, and semantic web technology without the steep learning curve of days past.
By most conservative estimates, there are more than 18 million open datasets available today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these data are hard to find, harder to access, and difficult to work with. data.world is working hard to change all that with automated data ingestion from many open data platforms, APIs that allow for automated upload of data by anyone who has data to share (whether atomic, or streaming), and integrations to many of their favorite tools. We also believe that the data ecosystem should provide tools and storage to more than just open data. Many organizations are using data.world to collaborate on data internally, while being able to capitalize on the world of open data at their fingertips.
As the needs of the data community continue to grow and evolve, we’re happy to share the results of our fast pace of innovation. While many of these development efforts are fueled by our enterprise customers and end up available to our data community, we’re always interested in what features open data practitioners may need. Feel free to drop by our community Slack and talk to us about any feature ideas you might have for the open platform.
Just as software development has established rules for keeping track of changes to code, data needs to be tracked in order to be able to determine whether a dataset has changed, cite specific versions, and set expectations about how each version will differ. While data.world has always tracked the changes to a dataset, and exposed versioning functionality to our users, we continue to make it easier to track and revert changes to your datasets and projects. We feel this is an important step in the sophistication of data work and will continue to iterate on this functionality over time.
While our PBC benefit purpose is very explicit around the data ecosystem, we feel that the principles established there should hold true in all aspects of our lives, and we work hard to participate in our communities in the best ways possible.
The data.world crew volunteers in a number of different ways individually and as a company. Prior to the pandemic, we volunteered regularly in support of the Central Texas Food Bank and SAFE Alliance. While the pandemic curtailed our in person company engagement, we’ve been able to support our homeless community by providing care packages as well as conduct letter writing campaigns targeting residents in low income nursing homes and hospitalized children, who were particularly isolated due to the pandemic.
data.world has supported a number of initiatives both as a company and in support of causes which are meaningful to our employees. We also have a number of initiatives that have benefited worthy causes. In 2019 and 2020, these causes have included B Lab, Blackland Community, Code2College, GirlStart, GiveDirectly, Stand with Austin, The Andy Roddick Foundation, the Anti Defamation League, NAACP, Tree Folks, and Watsi. data.world continues this tradition by having a quarterly charitable giving match for a featured, employee-selected, charity. In addition to these efforts, data.world now also uses sharebite for catered lunch that donates meals to children in need via City Harvest for every meal ordered.
Companies and communities benefit when businesses build diverse teams. We believe that building the best team possible means hiring the best candidate from a pool that represents a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, and we’re pleased to report that our commitment to diversity has resulted in increasing the diversity of our team. The proof is in the pudding and continues to yield encouraging results which include:
- Named one of Austin’s best places to work every year since our inception in 2016 through 2021
For a full list, visit our Awards & Recognition page
We are also happy to report that we were one of the first companies to be independently certified by SameWorks that we provide equal pay for equal work. SameWorks conducted a third-party audit of our workforce compensation based on transparent standards in determining our qualification for this certification.
In addition to being a Public Benefit Corporation, data.world is also a Certified B Corporation, and has been named to the “Best for the World” list two years running. BCorporation.net describes a Certified B Corporation as:
“Individually, B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. Collectively, B Corps lead a growing global movement of people using business as a force for good.™ Through the power of their collective voice, one day all companies will compete to be best for the world, and society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity for all.”
I was initially intrigued by B Corporations learning that two of my favorite brands – Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia – were B Corporations. The seed was planted.
Once I became a Henry Crown Fellow (a Fellowship with The Aspen Institute), I met Neil Grimmer, the founder of Plum Organics, who was also a Fellow in my class. Neil was very inspirational and had turned Plum Organics, a baby-food brand I knew well with my children, into a B Corporation. I started to learn more and more and then met the founders of B Lab, who created the B Corporation movement, and learned that they were also Henry Crown Fellows. Their story was also very inspirational. That got me connected to Rick Alexander, who is B Lab’s General Counsel, and was responsible for the legal creation of the Public Benefit Corporation structure in Delaware. As he sent me more information to become educated on the structure and B Corporations in general, I realized it was a more evolved way of “being” as a company – a more evolved way of capitalism.
I had served on the Board of Conscious Capitalism and had been very involved with their movement, and here was a well-defined legal – and highly tangible – method of being with the B Corporation movement. So I discussed it with my co-founders, Bryon, Jon, and Matt, and they all agreed that it was the right move for us to become a B Corporation. We discussed it with our lead investor and Board member, Jason Pressman, and he agreed and the rest is history!
We converted from a C Corporation to a Public Benefit Corporation on July 11, 2016 – the day we launched data.world to, well, the world. And it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. The way that the community, potential employees, universities, government entities, and, yes, other corporations react to us once they learn we are a B Corporation is very positive. I would say it has really impacted our internal culture as well. Along the journey, we were fortunate enough to participate in testifying to help Public Benefit Corporation law get passed in Texas. And we’ve been named to the top 10% of all B Corporations in the world for two years in a row.