Data Scientists Do Good for Charitable Groups

Data scientists are convening in Chicago this weekend, putting their smarts to work for local charitable organizations. This is the fourth DataDive event since the initiative debuted last fall in New York City, with subsequent events in San Francisco and Washington, DC.

DataDive is representative of the growing outreach trend among business professionals. Think Doctors Without Borders, CIOs Without Borders, and Engineers Without Borders, for example. DataDive's organizer, New York City-based DataKind, is all about "using data in the service of humanity." That sounds a bit corny, perhaps, but I like the concept. It's exciting to think about what a group of data-savvy analysts can achieve in a weekend.

"It's so clear we're living in the middle of a data revolution," Jake Porway, DataKind's executive director, told the Chicago Tribune. "The cost of analyzing data has dropped so low that the average person can download terabytes of government data... and, from their bedroom, fire up a thousand computers to process it."

Why not harness such power and put it to really great use for those who can't do it themselves? I see no reason not to. The outcomes of the DataDive events in New York City and San Francisco have been pretty cool.

As reported by the Tribune, in New York, data scientists created data maps so that the New York Civil Liberties Union could readily visualize the locations of "stop and frisk" incidents and determine whether blacks were disproportionately targeted by the police policy. In San Francisco, data scientists teamed with Mobilizing Health, a group that connects rural patients with doctors, to assess patterns in cellphone requests made by community health workers and monitor trends in doctors' prescriptions.

In Chicago, 100 data scientists will team with the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, the Children's Memorial Hospital, and Enlace, a community support organization. The city itself will participate in the DataDive, and the federal government is sending representatives, too, according to the Tribune, citing an official statement from Chris Vein, deputy CTO for government innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

The Chicago data dive is a great example of what can happen when government agencies make troves of data more accessible to the public, and when concerned citizens, data scientists and community organizations come together to take advantage of those data sets.

While DataKind grows in reputation and spreads its goodness, one of things Porway said he'd like to do next is "make social-oriented data science jobs competitive with comparable positions on Wall Street," according to the Tribune. "Not everyone gets the warm fuzzies from doing quant stuff. But we really want to provide opportunities for every level of engagement to work with us," he said.

As a native Chicagoan, let me extend an open-armed welcome from the City of Big Shoulders to DataKind and all its affiliated data scientists.

If a DataDive came to your city, what sorts of organizations and projects might the data scientists team with? Share your ideas on the message board below.

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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Re: Community benefits
  • 5/15/2012 4:52:51 PM

Hi Daniel -- that's a good point about data mishandling or misuse. I would certainly hope that the volunteers don't take advantage of any access to sensitive data they might be privy to as part of the process! I would assume there are agreements that they've got to sign to such, but who knows! I'm curious, any DataDive-like initiatives that you know of in your neck of the woods?

Re: Access to unique data
  • 5/15/2012 3:08:12 PM

It could.  Homelessness is a very emotional subject.  Sometimes solutions are counter-intuitive and having analytics can provide a real foundation so decisions and solutions are made more clearly. 

Re: Access to unique data
  • 5/15/2012 1:37:21 PM

Hi Seth,

In other words, an analytics solution to San Francisco's homeless problem would have national and perhaps even global implications.

Re: Community benefits
  • 5/15/2012 8:46:17 AM

Yes and I think go beyond their own boundary and has been an asset to many other non profitable associations. This is a good sign for both parties since it will indirectly catch the public eye

Re: Access to unique data
  • 5/15/2012 2:39:35 AM
1 saves

Seth, every year local and federal governments are spending millions of dollars for data analysis and public study. In such cases governments can make use of such voluntary services from Data scientists, against any common problem to arrive at a suitable statics or solution.

Community benefits
  • 5/15/2012 2:32:56 AM
1 saves

"New York City-based company DataKind, is all about "using data in the service of humanity." That sounds a bit corny, perhaps, but I like the concept"

Beth, "for the service of humanity", that's more important. We have to welcome such social activities for the community benefits. But at the same time it's important to make use that such vital datas not get misused or commercialized.

Re: Access to unique data
  • 5/15/2012 1:16:16 AM

:)  Living in San Francisco, I would love to see DataDrive work on our public transportation system and additionally help address the enormous homeless problem we have in the city.  The city spends about $200 million a year trying to get homeless people off the street.  Unfortunantely, San Francisco is the destination that other cities send their homeless to.  

Re: Access to unique data
  • 5/14/2012 11:52:36 PM


I suspect the good outweighs any possible bad here. Besides the information provided from such organizations can be used in many ways, including many positive projects.

Access to unique data
  • 5/13/2012 9:30:54 AM

Sharing of data by government can give data scientiststs access to data which cannot be created by anyone else. However, I also see this sharing of data a bit in a negative way as it provides opportunity to corporations to use this data for their profit in a hidden way.

Nonetheless, it needs to appreciated that the data scientists will use their art for the good for mankind. 

Re: Volunteers ever needed when Data Scientists Do Good for Charitable Groups
  • 5/12/2012 7:29:05 PM

Thanks, Beth - I just signed up through the website, & look forward to getting involved in upcoming events !   

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