AI Revolution in Charity Research: A Q&A with Steve Powell of Causal Map

AI Pioneers in the Charity Sector: A Dialogue with Steve Powell of Causal Map

  • Leadership
  • Service Delivery
  • Technology
  • 17-05-2023

In an era of unprecedented technological advancement, artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming not only the way we live and work but also how we approach complex challenges, including those in the realm of charity and philanthropy. Causal Map, a pioneering force in this domain, has harnessed the power of AI to redefine the landscape of charity research and philanthropic initiatives.

In this exclusive Q&A interview, we sit down with Steve Powell, the visionary founder of Causal Map, to embark on a journey through the profound impact of AI on charity research. Over the course of our discussion, we'll explore the transformation of data collection, analysis, and interpretation in the charity sector.

We'll also delve into the challenges and ethical considerations that accompany this AI-driven evolution, shedding light on the imperative of fairness and transparency in the use of AI. From the promising trends that beckon on the horizon to the potential risks of over-reliance on technology, Steve offers a candid perspective on the future of charity research and the role of AI in shaping it.

How AI is Transforming Charity Research and Philanthropy

Q1: How has artificial intelligence transformed the landscape of charity research and philanthropic initiatives?

Steve Powell: At Causal Map, we do two things. Our main tool is an app that helps researchers identify causal claims within interview transcripts or documents. It's a way for charities and NGOs to get an overview of the "causal landscape" – what causes what, in the eyes of stakeholders, like an empirical theory of change. However, a year ago, using Causal Map meant training humans to manually code vast amounts of text. Our other tool, StorySurvey, was based on hand-written algorithms that were difficult to produce and maintain.

Then, the ChatGPT phenomenon happened, and it disrupted our entire business model. We threw away all our software and rebuilt Causal Map and StorySurvey using ChatGPT. This shift has given us valuable insights into the potential and challenges of this revolution.

Q2: Can you share specific examples or success stories where AI has made a significant difference in the charity sector?

Steve Powell: It's still relatively early to identify many published results. However, I'm involved in a forum called MERLTech, which has a Community of Practice on AI and NLP. It's a great place to keep up with what people are starting to do. There are some excellent tools for using Large Language Models (LLMs) to answer questions from a large set of documents, like AIDA.

Most charities and NGOs already use tools like ChatGPT internally to speed up routine tasks. The real breakthroughs are yet to come, and I'm excited to see what the future holds.

Q3: What are some of the challenges and ethical considerations that arise when implementing AI in charity work?

Steve Powell: One of the primary challenges is the potential for AI bias. It's crucial to ensure that AI models are trained on diverse and representative data to avoid perpetuating existing biases. At the moment, training data is often unrepresentative, and it's sometimes made to seem representative and fairer by the use of additional guidelines.

Transparency is another significant issue, particularly in evaluation. Stakeholders need to understand how AI reaches its conclusions to trust its results. I've written about this, and I welcome comments and discussions on these crucial ethical considerations.

Q4: How can organizations navigate these challenges effectively?

Steve Powell: Organizations can navigate these challenges by adopting a transparent approach to AI. This includes clearly communicating how models work and the data they're trained on. Engaging with diverse stakeholders, including those from the communities being served, is vital for providing valuable feedback and ensuring that AI tools are used ethically and effectively. No amount of electronic interaction can replace humans meeting and interacting with other humans. Personal engagement remains essential, and I would caution against letting any data that personally identifies individuals near an AI.

Q5: What do you envision as the future of charity research and AI? Are there emerging trends that are particularly promising or concerning?

Steve Powell: The future of charity research with AI looks promising, with tools becoming more sophisticated and tailored to the sector's needs. AI will likely play a more significant role in data collection, analysis, and visualization, making research more accessible and actionable. One emerging trend is the increasing use of AI in evaluation, allowing for more in-depth insights into the impact of interventions.

I'm most excited about the potential of AI to make qualitative research, which delves into human meanings, easier to conduct at scale and with less influence from individual researchers. AI has the potential to provide us with a balance between understanding and synthesizing meanings quickly, affordably, and at scale. Of course, there are numerous caveats to consider.

Q6: How can individuals and organizations prepare for and leverage these trends?

Steve Powell: Preparation involves continuous learning and staying updated with the latest advancements in AI. Organizations should invest in training and capacity-building to ensure that their teams can effectively use AI tools. Collaborating with tech experts and organizations specializing in AI can provide valuable insights and support.

Leveraging these trends involves integrating AI into research processes where it adds value while maintaining a critical perspective to ensure that technology enhances, rather than replaces, human expertise.

Q7: What advice would you offer to individuals looking to enter the field of charity research or use AI for philanthropic purposes?

Steve Powell: For those looking to enter the field, it's essential to have a strong foundation in both research methodologies and the ethical considerations of using AI. Embrace continuous learning, as the field of AI is rapidly evolving. Collaborate with experts and seek mentorship from those experienced in the intersection of AI and charity research. Always prioritize the needs and voices of the communities you're serving, ensuring that AI tools are used to amplify, not overshadow, their experiences. Genuine human interaction and engagement with the communities you serve are invaluable.

In conclusion, AI is changing the landscape of charity research and philanthropy, offering new opportunities and challenges. With the right approach, AI can be an extremely powerful tool for creating positive change in the world of charity and philanthropy.

Lucy Greewell

Lucy Greewell

Marketing Manager At Energise Technology

Lucy is passionate about writing about technology and third sector insight to help organisations meet the needs of stakeholders and end-users.

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