Should your NGO hire a data scientist?

Farmers and scientists work together to gather essential data that will help them prioritise and monitor climate-smart agricultural interventions. Photo by: Nguyen Duy Nhiem / CIAT / CC BY-NC-SA

BRUSSELS — ONE’s global policy director, David McNair, has some advice for nonprofits looking to hire a data scientist: Be patient.

When the advocacy organisation was hiring a data scientist themselves, McNair said, they were looking for someone not just to create nice infographics but rather “a data-driven culture from start to finish.”

The NGO prides itself on “getting the facts right,” often going back to source data when writing reports to deepen its impact with policymakers. But when ONE began its search last year, it found the job market challenging — partly because data science pays so well, McNair explained, but also because it’s hard to find someone who combines “the technical skills and the ability to communicate that to a nontechnical audience.”

Candidates fell into two camps: Those from hedge funds and nuclear scientists with multiple doctorates who were “incredibly well equipped to do the technical work, but who just couldn’t communicate at all;” and great communicators who “didn’t inspire confidence” technically. In the end, having resisted the many high-cost recruitment agencies offering to find the right person, McNair found someone with both skill sets.

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About the author

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.