Andy Fox
Feb 5th, 2015

Since many of the most publicized examples of advanced analytics consider companies in the private sector, we don’t often think about how these techniques apply in humanitarian and nonprofit organizations. Yet, the public sector provides exciting applications of analytics that have a positive impact on the community. For instance, the American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region is currently utilizing data to transform their organization. Most people recognize that the Red Cross supplies aid during large-scale disasters, but many may not know that Red Cross volunteers support smaller local disasters every day and every night: about 1,200 incidents per year in the Chicagoland area alone. Sustaining a pool of reliable volunteers is a unique challenge for Red Cross.

A team of Northwestern University researchers and American Red Cross, Greater Chicago Region stakeholders partnered to analyze engagement of this 24/7 volunteer workforce. Through descriptive and predictive analytics, the team answered questions critical to understanding why volunteers participate: what drives a volunteer to attend an incident, how should the schedule be designed to optimize coverage, and how should volunteers be dispatched to most efficiently support the community. The data made all the difference in tackling this problem; while the notion of volunteer engagement was historically not even quantifiable, the team leveraged readily available enterprise data to first measure, then gain insight on the organization’s most important resource. This work with American Red Cross shows that analytics need not only depend on obscure cutting-edge statistical techniques or algorithms (as fun as they may be). For many organizations, the power of analytics can simply come from viewing a problem in a new, data-driven way.

For more details, see this article and the paper to be published later this year.