Watch: Bloomberg’s D4GX data scientists and nonprofit hosts share key lessons learned

A panel discussion during Bloomberg’s D4GX Exchange highlights how data science can influence social good.

The 2016 edition of Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange brought together researchers, policymakers and industry executives for a full day of discussions, panels and networking. During the event, NYC Media Lab Executive Director Justin Hendrix caught up with participants from this past summer’s immersion program, in which the Lab teamed 5 NYC university data scientists with global nonprofit organizations to explore new practices and process for data science applications. The conversation recapped each collaboration, while the teams reflected on their experiences — particularly how and why access to real-world data-sets is important for road-mapping future research experiments. Below are some key lessons the teams learned throughout the #D4GX immersion program…

BLOOMBERG® photographs taken by photographer Craig Warga at the Data for Good Exchange held at Bloomberg’s offices located at 731 Lexington Avenue on Sunday, September 25, 2016 selected by Bloomberg.

Understanding the impact of data can encourage nonprofits to stay on mission…

Philadelphia’s Benefits Data Trust holds the mission to make access to public benefits — such as affordable health care and education — simple, comprehensive and cost effective for the nation’s residents. According to Matt Stevens, the nonprofit’s Analytics Manager, focusing on data research has already greatly impacted the organization’s ability to provide care. In 2015, BDT helped vulnerable Americans access over $110 million in annual benefits and services that will allow individuals and families to reach financial stability.

Anshul Pandey of NYU Tandon School of Engineering recognized the tech savviness of BDT, and noted that the nonprofit was well beyond simply working in spreadsheets. Pandey saw opportunities for BDT to reshape how data research is contextualized in academic institutions, noting that his work in Philadelphia would make a relevant case study for future researchers. Focusing on the organization’s important real-world impact will encourage more scientists to work in the social good sector.

Xavier Gonzalez of Columbia University’s Data Science Institute mentioned the strength of BDT’s mission-driven staff, and that designing a data analysis plan would need to continue to assist the organization in remaining focused on their unified goal. Pandey and Gonzalez were able to implement a new open source visual analytics tool which will streamline how the staff accesses user’s personal information, helping them to better understand the needs of each community member they serve.

Data can influence social, political and entrepreneurial activity…

Bruno Bondarovsky of Mayor Paes’s Administration in Rio de Janiero, presented on a project his team did in consultation with Bloomberg Associates (BA), a new portal that streamlined the procedures for obtaining a business license. Specifically, Brazilian entrepreneurs faced difficulties in obtaining business licenses because much of the city’s government process was paper-based and necessitated face-to-face meetings. In Brazil, the average time to get a new business license approved by city municipalities was 83 days. The new portal, Rio Mas Facil, launched in June 2016, automated the licensing process and reduced bureaucracy and corruption vulnerabilities. Almost 17,000 business licenses have been issued online via Rio Mas Facil, most in 1–2 days, an incredible impact. The format was drawn from a NYC system begun under the Bloomberg Administration. Recently, a second phase of Rio Mas Facil was begun when BA introduced this project to Bloomberg LP’s D4GX event.

Cristian Felix, Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science at NYU Tandon School of Engineering was assigned by D4GX to work with Bruno to develop ways to leverage the robust data being generated by Rio Mas Facil. Cristian designed a complex system that can help Rio’s City Hall understand how to best use the data, especially by business license type, geographic region, and declinations. For example, Felix showed how assessing geographic data can help the city see which business types are growing in which neighborhoods. The goal of the D4GX engagement will be to see what the data shows about this initiative is helping to expand business activity in Rio.

BLOOMBERG® photographs taken by photographer Craig Warga at the Data for Good Exchange held at Bloomberg’s offices located at 731 Lexington Avenue on Sunday, September 25, 2016 selected by Bloomberg.

Data is human…

“Behind the 1’s and 0’s are people’s needs.” — Alix Deschamps

MakeSense is an online network that brings together activists in 128 cities across the world. Alix Deschamps, the organization’s Chief Technology Officer, spoke about their thriving community on Facebook, which helps users of the platform network and organize their social projects. While Facebook’s massive reach is beneficial, MakeSense wanted to migrate users back to their own website, which offers similar networking capabilities.

Columbia University’s Travis Riddle has a background in researching group interactions, which he now applies to social media. While hosted by the Mexico City branch of MakeSense, Riddle analyzed the organization’s user data to learn about their behavioral patterns. His approach also explored user psychology, which allowed MakeSense to get a better understanding of their user’s personal motivations. This more cognitive approach to data helped Deschamps and his team realize that behind each data-set is a real person, with social impulses and emotional incentives.

BLOOMBERG® photographs taken by photographer Craig Warga at the Data for Good Exchange held at Bloomberg’s offices located at 731 Lexington Avenue on Sunday, September 25, 2016 selected by Bloomberg.

An outsider’s perspective is valuable for local communities…

“The data is what’s telling the story… not the person analyzing it.” — Margarita Wells

The cities of Greater Miami and the Beaches, a member of 100 Resilient Cities, depend on their natural environment for their great quality of life and tourism-based economy. To keep their waterways safe for residents, visitors and wildlife, environmental professionals like Margarita Wells, the City of Miami Beach’s Environmental Resources Manager, rely on concrete scientific data and its objective analysis to inform their management decisions.

Having never worked in environmental planning, Agustín Indaco of CUNY Graduate Center was able to explore an entirely new aspect of science. Indaco created a system to gather data from Biscayne Bay related to algae blooms and correlate it to water quality data collected over the same time period. Understanding algae blooms and their connection to pollutants from urban uses influences how the cities of Greater Miami and the Beaches can better manage their stormwater to reduce the potential for future algal blooms.

Wells found Indaco’s “outsider perspective” refreshing and valuable. Bringing in a researcher who could impartially analyze data, especially one without deep ties to the research area, will lead to better management decisions.

Watch the recap videos below…

Data For Good Exchange 2016: Immersion Day & Municipalities (Miami Beach & Rio de Janeiro)
Data For Good Exchange 2016: Immersion Day & Non-Profits (Benefits Data Trust & MakeSense

Please contact Amy Chen, Manager of Partnerships at NYC Media Lab, with any questions about this program /

NYC Media Lab connects university researchers and NYC’s media tech companies to create a new community of digital media & tech innovators in New York City.

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