Four data projects from Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange Immersion Fellowship work to bring positive change in communities through on-the-ground research.

Bloomberg Associates’ Rose Gill Hearn and Giuliana Carducci present their Immersion Fellows Program work at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange 2019 Conference

For the past four years, Bloomberg and NYC Media Lab have worked together to support the Bloomberg Data for Good Exchange (D4GX) Immersion Fellowship Program, which recruits and pairs Ph.D. students studying data science with nonprofit organizations and municipalities around the globe. The selected Immersion Fellows receive a grant and work directly with Bloomberg Philanthropies supported non-profit and civic partners on an issue key to their missions.

2019 showed a shift in the type of data being used. Instead of working with existing datasets as seen in previous years, the 2019 Immersion Fellows were often tasked with completing surveys, conducting field research, and merging data from multiple sources to better understand the real-world impacts of data. This ability for students to step outside of their labs to work on the ground is a key component of the program.

“The results are a reminder that data is founded in something tangible,” said Victoria Cerullo, Data for Good Exchange Conference Director at Bloomberg. “Data is human, it’s environmental, and it incorporates factors that non-profits and cities are dealing with on a regular basis.”

Of the four projects completed in 2019, two were developed in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono, government consulting firm that was formed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The team gives consulting, guidance, and advice to cities in the U.S. and abroad through expertise in policy and urban development.

“The D4GX program is a great combination of city experts who say ‘I have a problem’, and a data scientist who can build a tool that helps craft a solution,” said Rose Gill Hearn, Principal, Municipal Integrity at Bloomberg Associates.

Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange conference and the Immersion Fellowship Program shows what can happen when technologists, non-profits and researchers pool together their knowledge to bring positive change to communities.

Read on to learn more about the outstanding data science projects completed this year.

In Bogotá, Colombia, an open data platform can promote citizen engagement in urban development projects.

Public infrastructure affects the way citizens live, work, and engage in cities. From building new schools and educational spaces to parks, offices and roadways, construction initiatives help to create vibrant ecosystems for urban citizens.

In a capital city like Bogotá, Colombia, it is important for city-dwellers to have a voice in urban development. Working with city officials and Bloomberg Associates, Xavier Gonzalez, MS in Data Science from Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, helped to build a public platform that encourages strong communication between citizens and the government, while increasing transparency about construction projects.

Merging key data collected from 52 city agencies, 20 local districts, and 4 health subnetworks, the platform monitors the execution of projects and creates searchable data visualizations. Citizens are encouraged to browse through open construction projects, understand how their tax dollars are being distributed, and send feedback and suggestions to city administration. On each of the construction sites themselves, citizens can scan a QR code for immediate access to the information housed within the platform.

Tatiana Mendoza, Oversight Officer for Public Procurement in Bogotá’s Veeduria District, believes this project will help increase citizen trust and lead to more impactful policy decisions. Further, the platform can help Bogotá gain feedback for the safe, cost-effective, and environmentally-sustainable execution of infrastructure projects.

Project Participants:

Xavier Gonzalez, MS in Data Science, Columbia University Data Science Institute (Fellow)
Tatiana Mendoza, Oversight Officer for Public Procurement, Veeduria District de Bogotá
Rose Gill Hearn and Giuliana Carducci, Bloomberg Associates

A household water quality survey may lead to public health recommendations for citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Following two devastating Category 5 hurricanes in 2017, the U.S. Virgin Islands needed community support to rebuild. For many citizens, considering the public health implications of cistern water systems, already actively in use across the Islands, was not necessarily top of mind.

As described by Gauthami Rao, an environmental microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cisterns are essentially pools of publicly-accessible water that are collected from gutter systems in homes. Following a pilot study of 25 households in 2017–2018, 96% of households indicated they used some form of treatment to filter cistern water. Yet, treatment methods varied from household to household. This same pilot also found that 64% of households tested positive for E. coli in cistern water — a shocking percentage that could lead to a much larger public health crisis.

Collecting more data became essential for making accurate and safe recommendations on water treatment. Matthew Harrington, a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), supported this initiative, and went door-to-door with community leaders and scientists to test the water quality within 400 households.

“When you’re behind a computer, the numbers look really solid, but when you’re out in the field, you realize there are really specific problems that are important to know in order to do good analysis,” said Harrington.

At the federal level, insights gained through data collection could mean changes in policy. And for non-profits like Love City Strong, the community group that is influential in bridging citizens and government, the data can be used to raise money for public education and intervention.

Project Participants:

Matthew Harrington, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (Fellow)
Gauthami Rao, Environmental Microbiologist, Centers for Disease Control
Stephen Libbey, Program Manager, Love City Strong
Mandy Lemley, Water Scientist, Love City Strong

Measuring meaningful impact for boys and young men of color by analyzing data from interrelated sources.

When considering racial disparities for youth of color, it is important to understand how multiple public support networks are connected. The My Brother’s Keeper initiative was launched by President Barack Obama to help solve the challenges that boys and young men of color face as they move through multiple public programs like education, health, housing and juvenile justice.

Yet, one issue commonly faced by activists and municipal workers working to improve these systems is the lack of collaboration between city and government agencies. Datasets from varying public programs haven’t started to integrate with one another, making it difficult for changemakers to understand the unique experiences of youth as they move through programs that, while separate on a policy level, are very much related in everyday life.

“We need something that allows us to use data to see root causes. What is the narrative behind the numbers? We get excited by trends and patterns, but we don’t ask ourselves the qualitative questions about the data,” said Niiobli Armah IV, a senior consultant at Bloomberg Associates whose efforts are spearheading the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative in Houston, Texas.

With support from Fellow Ayanna Seals, a Ph.D. candidate at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Bloomberg Associates is building an Equity Intelligence Platform (EIP), a system that can assess, integrate and visualize data from multiple public programs in real-time. Their work in Houston is the pilot site, with hopes to pilot it in other American cities in the future.

With EIP, users can select equity indicators around a particular issue, and see how various ages, races, ethnicities, and genders are impacted. The platform also shows potential root causes for issues across interrelated factors such as health, housing, education, economic stability, and community safety, giving policy-makers the full-picture when making decisions that impact youth.

Down the line, Bloomberg Associates hopes their work will lead to data collection standards at a national level. Not only will this help keep infrastructure and maintenance costs low for municipalities, but also will improve how different datasets can be integrated.

Project Participants:

Ayanna Seals, Ph.D. candidate, NYU School of Engineering (Fellow)
Niiobli Armah IV, Senior Consultant, Bloomberg Associates

Identifying accessibility gaps for New York City forests and wetlands.

New York City’s open spaces are an escape for residents. Those who live in one of the five boroughs are fortunate to have access to 20,000 acres of urban forests and wetlands and 350 miles of official and unofficial trails.

Founded in 2012, the Natural Areas Conservancy has always taken a data-first approach to its investigations into the health of the City’s green spaces. To date, dozens of scientists have visited sites across NYC to collect data about soil, trees, and grass, and to identify any emerging threats. In 2018, they published the Forest Management Framework, a 25-year roadmap on how to protect and conserve forests for generations to come.

While the forests are generally healthy, more work could be done to ensure that citizens are engaging with them. “How can we prioritize beyond the ecological, and start to look at the social?” asked Elizabeth Jaeger, Deputy Director of Programs.

Fatima Koli, M.S. in Data Science candidate at Columbia University’s Data Science Institute, partnered with Jaeger on data research that can begin to support this initiative. Using data from transit systems, bike lanes, the U.S. Census Bureau, community health surveys, and more, Koli was able to see how varying social factors related to the proximity of public natural areas and understand how accessible the natural areas are.

Understanding that much of NYC is a potential economic justice area (areas that have larger than a 51.1% minority population and higher than a 23.5% poverty rate), spatial data was used to map out the distance between minority populations and nearby natural areas, while considering socio-economic needs such as public transportation options and reasonable transit times for working families. This analysis can help create meaningful and effective programming for communities, and may help solve accessibility challenges as the Conservancy works with other local community groups and mission-aligned non-profits to improve the ecological and social benefits of New York City’s forests.

Project Participants:

Fatima Koli, M.S. in Data Science candidate, Columbia University Data Science Institute; and Tech Instruction Lead, Barnard College Empirical Reasoning Center (Fellow)
Elizabeth Jaeger, Deputy Director of Programs, Natural Areas Conservancy

Author: Alexis Avedisian, NYC Media Lab (alexis@nycmedialab.org)

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