Photos provided by The Bike Brigade
Written by Angela de Burger
The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“We go with the flow, using an iterative process that allows us to continually experiment, adjust and improve,” shares Rachel Wang, Executive Director of the Bike Brigade. Tracking and using data this way allows the group to operate efficiently and measure the social impact being created by their collective work.
The organization has developed quickly, emerging in March 2020 from a need in the early days of the COVID pandemic to ensure that community members who would benefit from a little support were able to receive what they needed, when they needed it, thanks to the efforts of community volunteers. In the beginning, that included items such as food, medication and personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks.
They had a lot of requests and they came in quickly, so to keep all of the logistics organized the group started tracking data through a dispatch app in June 2020. The app is completely open source on GitHub so anyone can access, learn more and contribute to it, if they desire. By January 2021, the Bike Brigade was registered as a nonprofit, supporting community members in need by connecting partner organizations to bike delivery volunteers in local neighbourhoods.
Rachel describes the big picture as “mobilizing people on bikes to ride in solidarity for more equitable and resilient neighbourhoods.”
Digging deep to understand what matters
In 2021 alone, the Bike Brigade worked with 38 partners, completing 12,940 deliveries to 1,954 unique recipients thanks to 472 volunteer riders. The deliveries being completed by bike reduced GHG emissions by 9.23 tonnes – the equivalent1. of two gasoline-powered passenger vehicles NOT being driven for one year!
How can they provide such precise statistics about their work? And do numbers alone adequately describe their true impact?
From its earliest days, the group began developing an in-depth social impact data dashboard that tracks not only activity statistics, but information such as the carry capacity of volunteers and any training completed. Their goals are to measure impact through numbers and dig deep to figure out what the numbers tell them, combining that information with qualitative information collected as well.
Their plans to collect more qualitative data using testimonials, feedback forms and even arts-based methods will add depth to their impact tracking efforts and facilitate more community-informed decision-making and strategic planning.
Meaningful growth isn’t about increasing numbers
Rachel shares that when they review their data, they want to determine the story it’s telling and not simply look for numerical increases month over month.
“At one point we saw the number of deliveries increasing and the number of recipients receiving deliveries decreasing,” says Rachel. “That raised questions for us at first but upon further review, we realized that fewer one-off deliveries were happening. Recurring deliveries and deeper relationships were being made between our partners and the people using these delivery supports. Increasing community connectedness is what this work is all about, so we’re very grateful to be invited into these spaces to build relationships as well,” she adds.
Developing a social impact data dashboard
Within a few months of starting up, “a unicorn named Max Veytsman came to volunteer with us,” shares Rachel. She adds, “he’s a tech specialist who believed in what we were doing and knew the ins and outs of what might be needed in terms of creating a dispatch app and a data dashboard that would support our various needs.” After two months, Max had created their dispatch application to send out delivery details and communicate efficiently with riders.
Reaching out to his own network, Max then introduced Serena Peruzzo to the Bike Brigade and her skills in building dashboards came in handy, to say the least! They custom-built exactly what was needed to track data that would inform weekly operations and future planning.
The dashboard includes information such as: the number of active riders, returning riders and new riders, the number of delivery recipients and kilometres traveled. Additionally, they are in the process of developing climate impact tracking indicators to further enable them to speak about the effect of their work from that perspective.
Rachel says the Logistics Team connects regularly with Max, and an entire tech team of volunteers, to assess and update the dispatch application (including the dashboard) as they go. It’s an ever-evolving system that aims to meet ever-evolving needs.
Enhancing skill sets to develop further capacity
Many Bike Brigade volunteers offer their valuable skills to the organization. In the case of data collection and assessment, Max got the ball rolling and now others are learning from them. Rachel says, “I’m building my own skill set through what Max and the other tech folks offer; they make it easy for anyone on the Logistics Team to dive in.”
Additionally, the group hosted a Canada Summer Jobs youth placement, a position that worked with the tech team to develop even more capacity for the organization.
Formal research partnerships
“We’ve also had opportunities through Mitacs to participate in two different studies in partnership with both the University of Toronto and York University,” says Rachel.
One study examined the factors that enable, and limit, volunteer commitment to learn how mutual aid organizations can better support volunteers and foster sustained engagement. The aim of the second study was to examine the experiences of QT and BIPOC volunteer bicyclists, in order to increase the organization’s capacity and inform their Anti-Oppression Framework.
Through these studies, Rachel says that useful recommendations and critical reflections came forward. They also helped inform which methods of data collection – both qualitative and quantitative – were most effective in engaging their riders.
Although the Bike Brigade has already started to act on the study recommendations, they have not yet had the capacity to publicly communicate the information that came from the research. Stay tuned!
Credible data provides the Bike Brigade the ability to share their impact with multiple audiences. Primarily, they use it internally for logistics planning, assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of activities, and sharing info through their weekly “Brigade Journal” report.
Externally, the data is used with partners to inform planning for delivery supports, as well as for reporting to stakeholders.
Connecting their local work to global efforts is on their radar as well, including linking to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To date, they have found some of the indicators overlap when compared to the Bike Brigade’s daily activities, however they believe their work most closely connects to SDG #11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
“This is an area under development, with the idea that it may be a way to communicate about our work from not only a local point of view, but that it’s also connected to efforts happening all over the globe,” says Rachel. For example, she notes that Relief Riders in cities across India were a source of inspiration for some Bike Brigade riders, as well as similar initiatives in Seattle and Budapest.
Capacity is one of the biggest challenges they face in communicating more information, more often. Rachel shares that as the group’s capacity increases, she hopes they will be able to put more resources into communicating the impacts of the Bike Brigade’s work.She encourages anyone who is interested in joining the Bike Brigade’s volunteer-led Communications Team to reach out by email: email@example.com
Creating their future with the support of their social impact data dashboard
The Bike Brigade is made up of passionate people who are committed to building community. Their quick start and ongoing commitment to making a difference is supported by having the data they need at their disposal.
Rachel believes their social impact data dashboard allows them to see what’s happening daily, as well as creates a future opportunity to reliably communicate the positive impact the organization makes on its community.
“As we navigate our own identities and respective privileges, we have the opportunity to make an even bigger impact as the Bike Brigade community. We will continue to support our partners in addressing the systemic roots of food insecurity and oppression, and deepen our understanding of how dismantling these colonial structures and narratives intersects with movements for Indigenous sovereignty, Black liberation, migrant rights, human rights and climate justice. The Bike Brigade has accomplished a lot, but there is still much work to be done,” Rachel concludes.
For more information about The Bike Brigade: