Part of the Discovering Data Science Blog Series

The previous post of the ‘Discovering Data Science’ series explored several use cases for improving resource allocation and management in communities with the help of data science. However, understanding the use cases is just the first step toward implementation. How can communities stretch their budgets to build a data science arm to leverage their data appropriately? How can they find help? How can they get started?

US Ignite works with communities to find answers to those questions. In the conversation below, Palak Agarwal, US Ignite Data Scientist, explains the organization’s unique ability to bring together communities and universities to design and execute data projects. With US Ignite’s technical expertise and guidance, these partnerships create a win-win for all involved.

Why does US Ignite believe communities should partner with academic institutions?

Most communities don’t have large teams to deploy for data science tasks or resources to do experimental data work. Through a university partnership, communities work with graduate students prepared with innovative ideas to solve the problems cities face using data. In most cases, academic partnerships can be established at no cost to the community. With little financial risk, communities can get an academic partner whose students will be ready to use the latest technology and concepts out there to help create a proof-of-concept model. In creating most proof-concept models, the students start with a literature review. Next, they look at past approaches and determine how to turn them into a pieced-together solution that fits the problem. 

We used this process in the project with the University of Chicago and the Miami-Dade community. Miami-Dade wanted to understand the economic effect COVID had on the county and if they could use data to talk about the impact and help create policies or other methods to alleviate the losses. The students began with a literature review on economic forecasting, unemployment forecasting, and vulnerability indexing. They found that these topics needed to be studied in parallel to get a complete picture of the effects of COVID on Miami-Dade’s economic recovery and growth. Next, Miami-Dade County leaders shared past approaches they had tried with the students. Together, the community and students designed a proof of concept model that forecasts unemployment by industry and highlights neighborhoods of highest vulnerability as a function of their socio-economic make. You can explore the dashboard by clicking below! 

What role does US Ignite play in bringing communities and universities together

Many cities and municipalities find it difficult to partner with academic institutions because of contractual roadblocks and complications. However, over the years, US Ignite has forged and maintained strong relationships with multiple data science programs at universities across the country. We’ve collaborated on projects with the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, the University of California Berkeley, and more. We take a community’s concept for data analysis and work with graduate students to bring it to life with new data inputs, query options, and visualizations. We play a facilitator role in the relationship between the university and the city. 

How does US Ignite help communities engage academic partners?

First, we work with the cities on a problem statement and ensure that it is a data problem. Once US Ignite identifies the basis of the issue, we look for data sources that can be used and do basic analytics to identify how to proceed with a solution. Finally, we take our approach and talk to universities and academic partners to refine the idea. And in these conversations, we can gauge interest and make partnerships happen!

Can communities rely on student work? What does US Ignite do to ensure quality?

Communities can rely on work completed by students, especially students engaged via an academic partnership facilitated by US Ignite. 

US Ignite can ensure high-quality projects because, after the iterative process of ideation and testing, we take the base work done by the students and convert it into a technical product in-house, using the expertise of our team. 

Working with graduate-level students provides new perspectives on old issues. University partnerships enable US Ignite to get communities access to innovative minds and experiment at a scale much larger than is possible to do within the budgetary restrictions of a small community or nonprofit. 

What are important things for a community to think about before adopting an academic partner?

Partnerships work best when both sides are actively engaged. Has your community thought through a problem statement? Is it a problem that data can solve?

If so, do you have the capacity to dedicate time to working with students to answer questions throughout the project? Universities can offer significant technical expertise around data science and machine learning, but nobody knows your community’s needs better than you do.

How can an interested community get help from US Ignite? Similarly, how can an interested university get involved

Email us or get in touch with any of our team members via email or LinkedIn. Once a community finds a data project and a way to access the expertise of a data science team – be it via US Ignite and universities or corporate partners – designing and implementing data projects that are feasible and sustainable is extremely important. For this reason, the final post of the Discovering Data Science blog series will explore recommendations for gauging if a data project should be pursued by a community.