SWB Guidelines

Guidelines For Statistics Without Borders In Choosing Clients


Introduction and Purpose


Statistics Without Borders (SWB) has had opportunities to perform pro bono statistical consulting work for non-profit organizations of various sizes, some of whom may have access to in-house statistical resources. The purpose of this document is to provide guidelines for SWB volunteers when determining the appropriateness of assisting organizations and government agencies with statistical needs.

The mission of SWB is to achieve better statistical practice, including statistical analysis and design of experiments and surveys, so that international health projects and initiatives are delivered more effectively and efficiently. We therefore seek opportunities to provide statistical assistance in situations where the client does not have adequate statistical support, or where our expertise exceeds what is available to the client. We also seek to build statistical capacity in international health by increasing our clients’ ability to deal with the statistical issues they face in a sustainable way, particularly by working directly with counterparts in other countries. However, we want to avoid displacing paid workers, and we also want to avoid the possibility that our assistance would give a client unfair advantage over a competing non-governmental organization (NGO) in getting a contract or grant.




In all instances, SWB volunteers must receive the approval of the SWB Chair or Co-Chair before accepting a project on behalf of SWB. When an SWB volunteer approaches or is approached by a potential client, the volunteer should try to assess the following factors when determining whether to perform pro bono work, and provide this information to the Chair/Co-Chair. Alternatively, this information could be obtained during contacts between the SWB Chair or Co-Chair and the client. In some circumstances, it may be difficult to obtain this information until work has started:

    1. In-house statistical resources

        a. Client has access

        b. Client has no access

    2. Financial means

        a. Client can afford statistical support

        b. Client cannot afford statistical support


    3. Is client attempting to off-load work?

        a. Client is a paid employee or contractor who is expected to do the work

        b. Client is not a paid employee or contractor


1. In-house statistical resources

The SWB volunteer should attempt to determine whether the client has access to in-house statistical resources. SWB does not wish to perform time-consuming work when the client already has the capabilities, nor do we wish to replace paid workers with unpaid volunteers. If the client does have such access, we will only provide assistance if it relies on the specialized expertise of an SWB volunteer, and only if the assistance requires a one-time or modest amount of effort.

However, since our goal is to build statistical capacity, we will seek opportunities to help improve in-house statistical capabilities. As there may be instances where in-house resources are available, but the client is unaware of them, we will also attempt to facilitate connections and to improve understanding (e.g., by translating a client’s problem into “statistical language” and by translating a statistician’s results into words understandable to the client).

2. Financial means

Where feasible, the SWB volunteer should research the client in advance to determine whether the client is a for-profit or non-profit organization, and whether the client is large enough to be able to afford to hire statisticians. If the client can afford to hire statistical help, and if the request is not of an urgent, specialized nature, the SWB Chair or Co-Chair will suggest that the client should use a paid statistician. We may, for example, refer the client to the ASA’s directory of statistical consultants or to the ASA’s Statistical Consulting section, whose members can assist the client in finding appropriate paid help. 

3. Is client attempting to off-load work?

The SWB volunteer should determine whether the client is already capable of and expected to be performing the work requested of SWB and whether the client is being compensated for that work. If it appears that the client is attempting to off-load work, SWB will decline the request. If a client is contracted to perform a statistical analysis, and if they accepted the project knowing that they did not have adequate statistical capacity, we do not wish to provide free help while the client is being compensated. We will instead suggest that the client should subcontract the work to a paid statistician.

If instead the work appears to be beyond the client’s expertise, and the client is in a resource-limited setting (i.e., does not have access to other statistical resources), the SWB volunteer should first determine whether it is possible to instruct the client in the necessary statistical methods, so that the work can be performed properly. If the SWB volunteer determines that the statistical methods needed are too complex or specialized for the client, SWB may decide to assist, provided that a sufficient number of SWB volunteers are available and can devote enough time and effort to the project. We will also ask that the client fully disclose SWB’s role and contribution to their employer or to the organization that contracted with them.


Exceptions to the Guidelines


There may be occasions where SWB will want to agree to do work even though the above guidelines are not met.. One such situation would be where our contact is not fully aware of their need for statistical help. They may see that it is of some minor benefit, but not important enough to go to the trouble and expense of getting paid help. Thus, if we did not provide help, they would not obtain statistical assistance. After or while doing the work, SWB should try to convince the organization of the need to get paid statistical help in the future.

A second situation is where there are some long-range benefits from SWB getting involved with an organization. For example, SWB has done some work for a client who certainly has the financial resources to get paid help (though perhaps not the will to do it). However, by helping this organization with their initial request, it gave SWB potential access to some NGO country offices in Africa that can use our help, and that don't have access to statistical expertise. On that basis, it likely made sense for SWB to get involved.

A third situation that merits SWB involvement, as mentioned above, is to build greater statistical capacity in an organization, despite the above guidelines not being met.




It is understood that situations may arise that are not covered by the guidelines above. In those situations, the SWB Executive Committee will need to carefully consider whether a project should be undertaken. The Executive Committe will be preparing a document which can be given to clients, explaining things that SWB won't do, e. g., programming, and data entry, and indicating that SWB resources are limited.