90% of all data ever created has been generated in the past couple of years (1). Most community leaders recognize the effectiveness of using data to make decisions and increasingly lean on data science techniques to set and achieve strategic goals and objectives. In the midst of this move toward data science, it is critical for communities to develop a foundational understanding of:
- What data science provides and what a data scientist does
- Why and how data science is relevant to communities of all sizes
- What impact leaders can achieve by bringing data expertise to the table
- How communities can partner with technology nonprofits to explore data challenges and opportunities
- How university partnerships can help communities create a data science dream team
To provide answers and insights on this topic, and with this initial post, we launch the “Discovering Data Science” blog series. Below we offer quick answers to these questions and further invite all community leaders to follow this blog series for additional insights, advice, and examples of data science in real projects in communities.
Data Science Defined
The data science field applies advanced analytics techniques and scientific principles to extract valuable information from data. The extracted information can be used to make decisions, create strategic plans, and much more (2). Disciplines within data science include data mining, data preparation, machine learning, predictive analytics, and data visualization. Experts in these areas make sense of collected information and, most importantly, package their findings for the easy consumption of decision-makers.
In simpler words, data science uses trends and knowledge from data to help users build an understanding of their ecosystem and make better predictions and stronger decisions.
Data in Communities
Data is ubiquitous. Savvy community leaders have figured out methods to use data to guide, improve, and inform projects with the limited resources they possess. For example, in the weeks following the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the US, healthcare professionals in Boston switched from riding public transportation to driving personal cars. This created a great demand for parking spaces. To help meet the need, Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics used Google Maps to count parking spots in city-owned assets (like public schools). The city then put the new-found parking options on a simple map and provided it to healthcare workers.
Boston’s example demonstrates that local communities sometimes need to apply data science techniques to obtain operational insights in-house or with very limited financial resources. Luckily communities can also seek help from external sources to accomplish data analysis, regardless of their operating budget or data expertise.
In Chicago, for example, the city used volunteer data scientists from Allstate to optimize the restaurant inspection process. Using predictive analytics, the city deployed an algorithm to help predict which restaurants were likely to fail inspection. These predictions helped prioritize establishments for inspection which helped to make the best use of the limited number of restaurant inspectors available.
In addition to corporate partners, university partners can deliver the capabilities of a data science department to local governments at a fraction of the cost. Over the past three years, US Ignite has facilitated partnerships between accredited universities and local governments to field the communities’ data science needs with graduate and undergraduate students. Through capstone projects and internship opportunities brokered with schools like New York University (NYU), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), University of Washington(UW), and the University of Chicago, US Ignite has helped communities meet their data challenges, while also giving students real-world experience in civic engagement and applied data science.
For example, currently students at NYU are working on a National Broadband tool to help communities compare their broadband access to other communities. Using this tool, communities can learn about the approaches others take for broadband planning and better understand the expected socioeconomic growth from expanded broadband access. With millions of Federal dollars on the horizon dedicated toward broadband expansion communities need to be equipped with these types of tools to understand the need and projected impact on the community.
Deepen the Data Science Discussion
Through this blog series, we will offer more information, insights, tips, and most importantly examples of data science use for communities. Our goal with these posts is to educate community leaders on what is possible through data science, and, with the right partners, how accessible it can be.
(1) Reichental, J. (2020). Smart Cities: For dummies. (p. 206). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
(2) Stedman, C. (2021, August 20). What is Data Science? the ultimate guide. SearchEnterpriseAI. Retrieved September 15, 2022, from https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterpriseai/definition/data-science