How We work - Hitchhiker's Guide to CorrelAid

some thoughts on how we work internally.

tl;dr: If you have a cool idea you want to implement at/with CorrelAid, we will support you with resources to make it happen. You are free in the design and in your decisions - a team of 20 people will be there in calls and on Slack to support you. You can always contact Frie or Johannes with your idea.

Our goal with CorrelAid is to democratize the potential of Data Science. In practice, we achieve this by supporting a network of over 1000 dedicated data analysts in Germany, by giving them the opportunity to grow, and by organizing pro-bono data science projects for civil society. But how do we work internally? This is an overview of how we organize ourselves at CorrelAid, how we work and which principles we follow.

Our principles

The way we work together in the Core Team is strongly influenced by principles. We did not establish these at some point, but they developed over time and are the result of almost five years of experience. Here are the three most important ones, in my opinion:

  1. Flexibility: We are almost exclusively - except for three employees - a team of volunteers. We do the work on CorrelAid alongside our studies, our job and our other commitments: Someone has to write their final thesis for a few months, goes on a semester abroad, or generally has a lot on their mind. No problem. We want everyone to be able to get involved, whether it's a small internal project for a week, a pro bono project that lasts 2 months or a blog post every half year.

  2. Entrepreneurship: For us, innovation means developing many ideas, making many plans. And then we think about what can actually be implemented and what will be implemented. Doing is more important than planning. We support every internal initiative in which committed people can apply their skills, have fun, and grow at the same time. Flexible commitment also means that it's okay if these internal projects are temporarily put on hold or abandoned because of a lack of time resources or a change of plans.

  3. Diversity: Data science is a field with many structural and hidden diversity problems. We want to be a community for everyone: No matter if you have years of experience or just attended a statistics course at university. No matter what background. And no matter in which part of Germany (or Europe) you are. For many of our internal projects you don't have to know 3 programming languages, you just have to share an interest in statistics and data science with us. One of the things I am very proud of at CorrelAid is that we are such an attentive and open-minded team, open to all interested people and their ideas.

Our organization

We are formed as an association ("Verein" in German). In practice, however, the official organs of the association only have a secondary role. Instead, most of the structures we work in are informal, always potentially changing and ad-hoc. In the following, I will briefly explain our most important structures:

Structure

The Network

Our network consists of all analysts who have registered on our mailing list and would like to get involved in projects for civil society organisations. If someone has registered with us in the network, they will get all the project call for applications but also additional information on how they can become active with us beyond individual data4good projects. Currently there are about 1000 people registered in our network. Once a year we organize a Data-for-Good-Summit, where our whole network is invited to come together, to organize workshops, and to network ( see Data-for-Good Summit ).

The CorrelAid Teams

In order to structure our work and keep decision making processes short, our internal work happens in teams. Examples of teams are: #projects, #education, #fundraising, #infrastructure, #lc-team. The teams are the first point of contact for people who want to get involved in the organisational side of CorrelAid. The teams and their responsibilities are re-defined every year at the strategy meeting (see Strategy Meeting).

The Core Team

The Core Team consists of all people who are involved in the organization of CorrelAid by being an active part of a team. The Core Team is not a defined team with a fixed size, but is constantly and organically changing. Everyone who takes or wants to take responsibility in any form (whether for a temporary internal project or over a longer period of time) is part of the Core Team. At the moment we have about 20 people working with us at different intensity. The most important communication channels for the Core Team are the biweekly Core Team Call ( see Calls ), our Slack Workspace ( see Slack Workspace ) and the annual Strategy Meeting ( see Strategy Meeting ).

The Project Teams

Our Core Team does not carry out projects. Our project teams do that. When we have defined a good data project together with an organization, we send a call for applications for it to our network. We then staff the project with a diverse a team as possible, bringing together all the skills needed for the project. Then we provide training on project flow and data security and provide the project team and the organization with the space and time to meet in person at a kick-off workshop. The structure of our projects is a topic for its own blog post. So far, we have announced and carried out about 5-10 projects every year. In the future, we aim to increase this number even further in order to do even more good with data science.

The Board

Every year at our Data-for-Good Conference ( see Data-for-Good Conference ) we have the official general meeting of our association. There, we elect the association's board of seven members, at least four of them women. The board consists of people who are especially interested in the direction and development of CorrelAid and who want to initiate and accompany future projects. Our board members also help to structure our work and keep an eye on the ongoing work.

Communication

The Slack Workspace

All our online communication takes place in our Slack Workspace. We have a channel for all important topics in which we organize our work. In addition, there are channels for technical questions and a channel for interesting links and projects. Our work takes place almost exclusively in public Slack channels.

The Calls

The most important organ in our ongoing work are the conference calls. We different calls every Monday evening at 8pm (UTC + 1):

  • first Monday of every month: General Call

    On the first Monday of the month there is a big call where all teams, but also all interested people from the CorrelAid community can participate. We give updates from our work and onboarding information for "newbies".

  • 2nd and 4th Monday of the month: Core Team Call

    A Core Team Call is held on the second and fourth Monday of the year. This is where the teams exchange information and make decisions together or consult each other on decisions within the teams.

  • 3rd Monday of the month: Local Chapter Call

    On the third Monday of each month, the local chapters exchange views on current topics, challenges and projects.

In the calls we discuss and debate all decisions and decide on the further steps. As we are scattered all over Europe, those virtual in-person updates are important to bring everyone up to date. But of course, in line with our principles, participation is not mandatory at all.

Meetings and strategic planning

The Data-for-Good Summit

Once a year we invite our network ( see network ) to a weekend to exchange ideas, learn new things and plan future projects for CorrelAid. The structure is usually as follows: a public event on Friday evening, a day full of Data Science Workshops on Saturday, and workshops on the development of CorrelAid on Sunday. Everybody can participate regardless of how long they have been with us in the network, how much experience they have in data science or how they want to get involved - data4good projects and/or organizational work. The Data-for-Good Summit is usually held in autumn.

The Strategy Meeting

Also once a year our Core Team ( see Core Team ) meets to review the year and plan internal projects for the upcoming months. This personal exchange is very important to us, because otherwise we communicate exclusively online.

Roles and decision making

So how does cooperation work without fixed departments and hierarchies? How are decisions made? This is perhaps the most important point of our cooperation, which we do not communicate sufficiently: The most important concept is that of self-management. This replaces the concept of hierarchy in our company. In our team, different people take on different roles which they fill out in an independent, self-sufficient way. Some of those roles are formally developed at the Data-for-Good Summit or at the Strategy Meeting. However, more often, internal projects and ideas developed organically upon the initiative of individual Core Team members. The implementation and decisions related to their ideas are primarily the responsibility of the individual persons - with the support and advice of the other members of the Core Team.

A few examples of great internal initiatives: Our Regina in Bamberg takes care of our local group concept. Arndt in Berlin has in the past developed the way we do our projects, and Manuel has brought numerous projects from initial contact with the organization to the call for applications. Jasmin in Konstanz organizes our education sector and is the host of our CorrelAid podcast. Frie in Karlsruhe had the idea to write an R-Package with a small project team and thus introduce people to the topic of R package development. Jan programmed our website and organized hackathons with partners from industry and academia. Thanks to Lena in Frankfurt, we have a unified design guide and you can order cool, hand-embroidered CorrelAid shirt! Thomas has been our source of advice for everything GDPR and data protection. Rahel has organized several events and worked on grant applications. Hendrik, Andre, Andrew, Joel, Fabian, and Liubov have successfullly started CorrelAidX chapters all over Europe. And so the list goes on...

Some (also annoying) tasks have to be taken care of regularly in an association. Konstantin in Mannheim (and before him, Jan K.) submits our tax return every year and manages our finances. Rahel in Berlin curates and sends out our newsletter. Yannik in Stuttgart maintains our blog. Without this continuous and conscientious commitment, our work would not be possible.

The bottom-line is: If you have a cool idea you want to implement at/with CorrelAid, we will support you with resources to realize your idea. You are free in the design and in your decisions - a team of 20 people will be there in calls and on Slack to support you.

Have an idea? Write Frie or Johannes about it!