At FFEN we like to take the time to recognize the individuals who make our work possible. Today we'd like to highlight the contributions of Dianne deJolsvay, a longtime volunteer and leader whose work in data analysis has paved the way for one of FFEN’s most exciting logistical tools: The Food Sourcing Analysis or FSA.
Dianne first joined FFEN as a board member, bringing a knowledge of business processes to her role. But it wasn't until after her tenure as a board member that FFEN leader Carolyn Kohrs would approach her with our very first efforts to collect and parse data for the purposes of improving food shelf operations. “We just kind of had a mess of data,” says Dianne concerning those first interactions. “[Carolyn] said I would love to get it into categories. So I took that and said ‘well, if it comes in Excel I can do a bunch of stuff’--it really was a lot of Excel work. Figuring out how to filter that data and look at it in different ways.” Even the methods for collecting the data from food shelves was far from straight-forward: “The very beginning was paging through invoices and trying to figure out how much [food shelves] were paying,” she says of the program’s beginnings. “At that point we didn't even have standard categories! One of the things from that first big project...we figured out what data to ask for and in what format...” Right away, Dianne saw that there were conclusions to be drawn from the numbers simply in terms of what kind of products food shelves were purchasing and the costs of freight associated with them. “I remember that being one of those aha moments.” The first of many to be gained from this new, analytic approach. But it was time to expand the project's scope. After all, if the data from a single food shelf could yield these kinds of insights, what could be learned by comparing the results from several? The first comparative analysis took place in the spring of this year and involved six different food shelves in Crow Wing County, Minnesota. This was followed by a second and even larger analysis of 15 food shelves, although this analysis was conducted internally by FFEN as a proof-of-concept. The result? Dianne and others at FFEN quickly discovered that the practical workarounds of a single food shelf could often be applied to the entire sector as solutions to ongoing and shared challenges. “I think this organization has seen some needs that either weren’t recognized or nobody knew how to fix them--like the communication between food shelves...[the FSA] enables them to do that.” The current Food Sourcing Analysis is a powerful resource for food shelves looking to better understand their operations and maximize their positive impacts. It benefits from FFEN’s expanding network of food-shelf partnerships, features increasingly sophisticated graphics, and continues to evolve to meet the needs of food shelves across Minnesota. Currently, Dianne is helping to lead a whole new group of data analysis volunteers and anticipates further innovation for the program: perhaps a database centered approach, with user-friendly inputs and better, more efficient methods for sorting large chunks of information. She suspects that FFEN’s culture and values will inspire these new members the same way that it's motivated her own work over the years: “Feeling like you're valued. Your skills are being used. Feeling like you have ownership...To create something because it didn’t exist before--that’s special.”