Using Data for Social Good

October 03, 2014 by Nate Williams

There’s a burst of really interesting things happening in data science these days.  One of the more exciting ones is the growing movement to utilize open data to make government more responsive, accountable and effective.

The floodgates of civic data are wide open, and a wide range of significant data sets are already available directly to the public.  Open your web browser and you can find civic data from the Federal Government to cities, such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

But what to do with all this data?

Well, that’s the beauty of it – open data is free to use in any way imaginable; the sky’s the limit. And, typical of early movements, there’s no established path yet.  Civic data projects are sprouting up with a flourish of impromptu collaborations and spontaneous work.

Recently, an exciting project launched in our own back yard aimed at gathering the best efforts in the local data science community. They’re calling it “The Chicago School of Data”:

The Chicago School of Data is less of an academic discipline and more of a method for cooperative, data-driven progress united by one key principle—that data, as public good, is one that is at the service of all people, not a select few or special interests. Moreover, that cooperative method doesn’t require its players to be major organizations or government bodies; any resident who uses data or works to improve lives is a part of the Chicago School of Data.

In addition, several new programs have been organized at research universities to help infuse data science into public policy. For instance, the University of Chicago recently opened a Center for Data Science and Public Policy and started a fellowship program for using data science for social good.  And this has spawned a similar initiative at Georgia Tech.

Check out the real world impact a little data magic can have in reducing the lingering tragedy of lead exposure in kids:

Going forward, the potential for leveraging open data to improve our cities and social services is really boundless.  By using data for social good, we can have better public health, safer communities and more responsive government.

We can’t wait to see more of these kinds of projects and support this work.