Data scientists want to contribute to the public good. Social organizations often boast large caches of data but neither the resources nor the skills to glean insights from them. In the worst case scenario, the information becomes data exhaust, lost to neglect, lack of space, or outdated formats. Jake Porway, Data Without Borders founder and The New York Times data scientist, explored how to bridge this gap during the second Big Data for the Public Good seminar, hosted by Code for America and sponsored by Greenplum, a division of EMC.
Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka opened the seminar with an appeal to the data practitioners in the room to volunteer for social organizations and civic coding projects. She pointed to hackathons such the ones organized during the nationwide event Code Across America as being examples of the emergence of a new kind of "third place", referencing sociologist Ray Oldenburg's theory that the health of a civic society depends upon shared public spaces that are neither home nor work. Hackathons, civic action networks like the recently announced Code for America Brigade, and social organizations are all tangible third spaces where data scientists can connect with community while contributing to the public good.
These principles are core to the Data Without Borders mission. "Anytime there's a process, there's data," Porway emphasized to the audience. Yet much of what is generated is lost, particularly in the third world, where a great amount of information goes unrecorded. ...
"On the one hand, we have a group of people who are really good at looking at data, really good at analyzing things, but don't have a lot of social outputs for it," Porway said. "On the other hand, we have social organizations that are surrounded by data and are trying to do really good things for the world but don't have anybody to look at it."
To facilitate these connections, Data Without Borders connects "expert data scientists with social organizations to maximize their impact" through collaborations with organizations in need, fellowships, and weekend data dives. To emphasize the vast disconnect between social organizations and the field of data science, Porway pointed to work Data Without Borders did with New York Civil Liberties Union to analyze and visualize "stop-and-frisk" incidents recorded by the New York Police Department in 2010 to determine whether there was a trend of racial profiling.