Jewish Journal

A new M.O. for Jewish data gathering

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 25, 2010 | 12:16 pm

Brandeis’ JDATA project may be one of the most esoteric bits of news I’ve ever shared on this blog. But it’s certainly a development that Jewish data nerds like me excited.

JDATA essentially applies crowd-sourcing models to the world of Jewish database building. Jewish educational organizations will submit organizational, financial and census data to the JDATA Website, which was funded with $1.5 million from the Jim Joseph Foundation—that must be some Website. This is obviously a lot more cost efficient than sending demographers out into the field. After all, there is a reason the National Jewish Population Survey has only been administered three times in the past 40 years.

The project will, of course, be limited by participation. So just how much upside does it have? I’ll let The Fundermentalist give his take:

The project certainly has the potential to be transformational, and it could ultimately save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in social research. Brandeis is describing it as a gift to the field of Jewish education from Jim Joseph.

The interface seems very usable and, at least in the demo, seems very smooth. The directory alone would be valuable. If it works out as planned, having an up-to-date census of the Jewish educational system will be worth the $1.5 million price tag. Beyond that, if JDATA is able to capture the financial information it seeks, the Jewish world will finally have a price tag for Jewish education.

The project will provide a real number to take to philanthropists. We will know exactly how deep is the money pit we need to fill in order to cover the whole cost of Jewish education. And it certainly could help to inform funding decisions.

“In any other area of social public life, you have a department of education or department of health, or institutions that collect the basic information on what is going on in the sector,” said Leonard Saxe, director of Brandeis’ Cohen Center and the Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at the university. “In our rainbow world of Jewish education, where everybody is a boat that floats or doesn’t on its own bottom, we don’t have the infrastructure to collect even the most basic simple information about what goes on.”

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