Toronto Talks Data

by Sarah Moreau, Social Impact Manager at Investing for Good

I’ve been back in London for a week now and thought I’d take some time to reflect on the SIAA conference I attended last week in Toronto. I am still thinking about the speakers I heard, the workshops I participated in and the people I met; oh and Canadian peameal bacon sandwiches.

It was my first time in Toronto and my first SIAA conference. Knowing that one was sure to be in the depths of a chilly autumn and the other contain an agenda packed with great content, I packed a woolly hat, a hastily purchased city-guide and a red pen to circle all of the different break-out sessions I wanted to attend. Needless to say my hat wasn’t woolly enough, I didn’t manage to complete half the “must dos” in the guide and my agenda was soon so covered in red pen as to make it illegible.

After walking around the usefully gridded city on Sunday, I was ready to get stuck into the conference (and grateful that it was in a beautiful and crucially, heated, venue).

The theme this year was Talking Data and had over 30 speakers who held seminars, panel discussions and workshops on the subject of how we look at data, and how we communicate and report it. My heavily annotated agenda quickly became useful as I had to make a series of Sophie-like choices between the different sessions on offer. Highlights for me included presentations on the importance of data visualisation, the importance of good evaluation, the different ways in which one can build a report and present information using one same data set, and a panel discussion on progress towards standardisation in the space of social investment.

It was incredibly useful to meet people conducting similar work, to hear that we are facing similar challenges and understand the different ways in which these organisations and people are dealing with them; and it’s generally always interesting to hear what people are working on. From a personal standpoint, I was particularly keen to find out what other organisations are doing in the space of social investment. At Investing for Good, I am carrying out some research on the practices on Impact Measurement in the UK social investment marketplace, so Karim Harji’s session on Social Impact Measurement Use among Canadian Impact Investors was of special interest. It was very helpful to understand the research methodology that was used, what obstacles the research team encountered and how they managed those.

The first day was brought to an end with a keynote speech from Adrian Hornsby (full disclosure, Adrian works closely with Investing for Good and is a sometime coffee-break friend in our offices in London). His speech pulled many of the themes from the workshops together, asking the question of how heterogeneous forms of data can be collated, aggregated and searched through for patterns across social investments. Adrian’s speech was an insightful and absorbing contribution to one of the most engaging and friendly conferences that I have attended.

I’m sure that all of the attendees will have gone back to their respective countries (and there were people who had come from every far-flung corner of the globe from Istanbul to Sydney, and even a couple of hardy souls from Montreal), with some new perspectives on social impact measurement and hopefully a new zest for work. I know I certainly have. That and a vague but persistent craving for bacon sandwiches.


Find out more about SIAA’s 2014 Annual Conference  the Talking Data blog series.

 

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