Case study: ODI Membership network

Thu Jan 28, 2021
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The ODI has a global network of over 2,000 businesses, startups, data experts and government leaders

The ODI has a global network of over 2,000 businesses, startups, data experts and government leaders

Summary of the project

To make data work for everyone, organisations and communities need to collaborate on how data is used and accessed to help solve their problems. The ODI has a global network of over 2,000 businesses, startups, data experts and government leaders; helping organisations and individuals to collaborate around their challenges and ideas, and share best practice.

We offer different levels of membership, from supporters who pay what they wish, to corporate members who want their whole organisations to benefit from the network, our training and events.

Current ODI Members include Google, Bloomberg, Co-op, NHS Digital, Microsoft, MoneySuperMarket.com, European Space Agency, Ordnance Survey, Greater London Authority, Glasgow City Council and many more.

ODI Members are given exclusive invites to ODI networking meetups, events run by other members and the chance to promote their work through blogs and talks. Individual and organisation members also get 30% off the ODI annual summit and all courses.

Key facts and figures

  • At the end of the ODI’s first year in 2013, there were 43 members.
  • At the end of 2020, there were 2,214 members.
  • To become an ODI supporter, individuals can pay how much they wish, from as little as £1. They support the work we do and keep up to date with what we’re up to.
  • Individual members get personal invites to our popular networking events, 30% off events and courses, plus our bi-weekly Monthly Muse and Monthly Mingle newsletters sharing special events, networking opportunities and opinion pieces.
  • Organisational members can be SMEs (with 250 employees or fewer) or a corporate (with over 250 staff). This membership signs the whole organisation up as a member, providing discounts on our courses and events, invites to our special networking evenings, and a listing in our members directory.
  • In 2020 we introduced new tiers for charities and academics at half the rate of SMEs to diversify our members.
  • ODI Members span over 20 countries.
  • All industries are represented in our membership network, from agriculture to transport and logistics.
  • ODI Members meet quarterly to share ideas and celebrate best practice.

What is the story/ impact?

Our theory of change focuses on changing the behaviour of companies and governments in their roles as stewards, creators and decision makers. By building a network of people and organisations, we aim to build a culture of openness and trust around data. People in both the public and private sector are looking for ways to become more innovative, harness data’s potential to improve decision making, and make processes more efficient. These innovators need to be equipped with the skills to manage change, engage with stakeholders, advocate and communicate their vision, and translate data into impact. Peer networks like the membership network help us to deliver this support while extending our reach.

Our aim was to build a global network of connected people and organisations to educate, showcase success and enable collaboration between companies and governments around the use and management of data. From 43 members in our first year (2013), our membership has now grown to over 2,000 people and organisations. Our vision is to be the strongest international network for data innovation that brings together companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem. This will enable people to make better decisions using data and manage any harmful impacts.

ODI members benefit from being connected with a group of peers facing similar challenges, and from learning through exchanging stories of both success and failure. We act as a convenor for our members. We encourage the building of relationships through face-to-face and virtual engagement using platforms that enable members to self-organise, engage others and take ownership over actions.

In 2015 we carried out a recruitment drive to increase membership. We began offering ‘pay what you can’ supporter membership, whereby individuals can pay as little as £1 to become an ODI member. Although individual supporters increased, levels of engaged organisations decreased, so in 2018 we developed a more targeted strategy, where we aimed to recruit more corporate and individual members, and encourage more active engagement across the network. We started to invite non-members to join our networking events, to encourage new members. We also captured interest on our website through a pop-up form and automated email campaigns. We set up a Slack channel in 2020 to encourage ODI Members to share their own projects, ideas and events. The aim has been to have fewer but more engaged members, and this has proven to work as annual revenue has increased at the higher levels of membership, and attendance at our ODI Members events has been greater than ever.

What was challenging?

Recruiting new Pay What You Can Supporters on a large scale led to passive engagement. With such a low barrier to entry, many ‘Pay What You Can Supporters’ tend to take a passive interest in the ODI – with few of them reading emails, attending events and responding to our opportunities. Therefore, we are now focusing on creating more meaningful engagements with new members who would benefit most from the network, as opposed to setting out to increase numbers alone.

Getting an international reach is an ongoing challenge. The ODI is UK-based, but operates internationally. Although our network spans over 20 countries, this doesn’t yet fully reflect the wider international reach of our projects. For example, visitors to our website over the year span from 215 different countries. We also hold our in-person ODI Members events in London and Leeds, which means that those from other countries cannot yet benefit. However, our events going digital due to Covid-19 has provided us with an opportunity to reach more people in other countries.

Getting the offer right in order to attract new members was more difficult than anticipated. Data skills and best practice span a large range of job titles and roles, from data scientists to company CEO. Because the range of people who would benefit from the network is wide, it has led to us trialling new benefits on an ongoing basis, and having regular meetings with ODI Members to ensure we’re meeting their expectations. An example was focusing our networking events around a particular (non-technical) topic, ensuring that the ‘peer learning’ element of membership was made more prominent in our events.

Finding the right platforms for conversation is challenging. Our members range from highly technical data analysts who use platforms like Slack on a daily basis, to those who rely on email as their main source of information. Although a key feature of ODI Membership is peer networking, it’s been challenging to find digital platforms that all members would feel comfortable using to engage with others outside of the quarterly events.

Integrating ODI Membership with other projects in the organisation. The ODI is delivering on a large range of projects throughout the year, and ensuring that ODI Members are connected and engaged in all our projects over the year can be challenging, and demands ongoing, proactive internal communication with the project teams to ensure ODI Members are constantly at the forefront of their minds.

What went well?

We have increased the opportunities to showcase the success of the network. We have learnt, from conversations with ODI Members, that they want to use the network as a platform to talk about their own projects and services – for feedback and for new opportunities for collaboration. As a result, we’ve offered ODI Members the opportunity to give ODI Fridays lunchtime lectures and write guest blogs on how they’re creating impact using data. We also include success stories in ODI member emails and have held sector-based events that showcase our work in different topic areas.

Offering a variety of membership options increases the potential for more members. In 2018 we introduced three new tiers of membership: supporter, individual and organisation, including discounts for academics and charities. And we clarified and standardised what members get for their money, providing a clear list of benefits for each tier.

Focusing our events on key topics. Our networking events started out as an opportunity to talk to others, but in the last two years we have centred them around a single topic, with expert speakers at each event. This has helped us to engage our members in our research, and to further our mission to increase the skills and capability of our network.

Putting emphasis on quality conversations. Total number of members is no longer our main KPI, we now focus on active engagement, outcomes from conversations, and member retention.

What have we learned 

There needs to be a multi-pronged approach to increasing membership and the effectiveness of the network. We have: invited non-members to networking events and followed up with membership options; included ODI membership in all bids and formal collaborations; offered free membership in exchange for lectures/talks; created lead generation pop-ups on the members directory; implemented a dedicated membership marketing campaign; and recorded networking events and shared them on social media. Membership cannot be seen as a siloed programme, but a core part of the organisation. Once we started to collaborate with business development and our project teams, the value of membership started to be realised – for both our members and for the organisation.

Retaining members as well as increasing membership is important. Offering existing members regular benefits and communication encourages them to renew their membership. It is vital to demonstrate the value of membership, for example via success stories in member emails. Keeping members pro-actively engaged is hard work but pays off through strong loyalty and regular feedback. Regular meetings with members and given them an opportunity to share their own challenges helps to build this relationship.