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What Happens When Social Good Meets Big Data? Data Science Has the Answer

Big Data, an aspect of data science, refers to the overwhelming amount data that continues to increase with every passing minute and organisations are realising its importance!

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According to Rick Smolan, the author and creator of “The Human Face of Big Data,” Big Data is an intelligent tool that can help combat poverty, crime, and has the potential to be “humanity’s dashboard.”

Big Data, characterised by 4 V’s (Volume, Variety, Velocity, and Veracity), primarily refers to the overwhelming amount of data available in the world today. This heap of data is only increasing with every passing minute, and over the last couple of decades, organisations both big and small have realised the importance of it.

From being used to lure customers to improving healthcare—Big Data has gracefully enhanced every spectrum.

Source: SRH

The last decade has seen a lot of advancements in the field of mobile-connected devices, and IoT (Internet of Things) has become much more than just a buzzword. Because of that, the data we have today has grown regarding all the 4 V’s, and especially variety. Today we have data in multiple forms, which was almost unimaginable till a few years ago, and the increasing variety, brought in more sophisticated tools. As that happened, the field of Data Science saw a boom like never before.

However, like with every new path-breaking technology, Data Science, too, has received criticism and applause alike. While some researchers claim that Big Data and data analytics will create a community of privileged people who have access to and control data, there are still many social entrepreneurs and activists who see the glass as half full.


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According to them, the current data deluge, if thoroughly studied and understood, can present in front of us opportunities to improve the world as we know it. Their view is extremely crucial in this regard as these are the people who work tirelessly on a daily basis to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing problems such as poverty, ecological harm, war, and famine, to name a few.

This vision led to an array of social entrepreneurs and social data scientists who’ve taken it upon themselves to use this data for the benefit of society. As a result of this, many such social data scientists got together in their attempt to make this world a better place, which has given rise to numerous organisations working with data science purely for social good.

Let’s look at how some social data scientists and entrepreneurs deployed Data Science to:

  • Ensure that the right police officers are at the right place at the right time:

Founded in 2012, PredPol—short for Predictive Policing—is one such endeavor that aims to use Big Data and Analytics to curb everyday crimes.

The PredPol tool was developed by a team of mathematicians and social scientists at UCLA, Santa Clara University, and UC Irvine, in collaboration with expert crime analysts at the LA and Santa Cruz Police Department over the course of six years.
The goal of this tool is simple—ensuring that the right police officers are at the right place at the right time. PredPol conquers the following three and makes the streets safer:

1. Calculate the probability of crime at a particular location at a specific time.
2. Present this risk in a usable framework to the law authorities.
3. Ensure better resource deployment by local law enforcement agencies and police departments.

  • Categorise and verify crisis reporting transmitted by individuals in a short period of time:

An incredibly innovative nonprofit company used data science to map user-generated accounts of violence in Kenya post-election, and then help initiate donations in that regions. It started its operations back in 2007 and developed a dedicated platform known as Swift River.

This platform was created to categorize and verify crisis reporting transmitted by ordinary individuals in a short time period, through a variety of means such as emails, text messages, and social media.

This is a prime example of using Data Science to help the people in trying times—talk about doing social good. Ever since their formation, they have successfully facilitated eyewitness reports and analysis of such reports—from the Haiti earthquake to corruption in Macedonia.

  • Analyze large data sets to ensure transparency, solve traffic issues, and fight corruption:

DataKind, formerly Data Without Borders, is a Bangalore based non-profit organisation formed with the intention of pairing data scientists with civil society groups. They organise their workshops by the name “data dives” to assist groups like the World Bank in identifying and analysing large data sets for ensuring transparency and fighting corruption.

DataKind has also been involved in numerous projects revolving around the welfare of the society, and for one such project, they collaborated with NYC’s Department of Transportation and Microsoft to explore how data science can help reduce traffic-related deaths and severe injuries.

During this project, they developed a model for New York and Seattle which estimates the “vehicular volume,” which is the number of motor vehicles on individual streets worldwide. They also developed a model to uncover collision patterns involving bicyclists and pedestrians.

Their findings speak volumes about how Data Science can be used to curb road-accidents and save more lives.

Source: Pixabay

One more such industry that has seen a significant overhaul ever since the popularisation of data science is the healthcare industry. If you look at it, every hospital has tonnes of information on their patients, including the patient history and the treatment record.

This data, if leveraged correctly, can provide the insights required to offer much more efficient healthcare. Organizations like Zephyr Health, SCIO Health Analytics, Reflexion Health, and more, have created dedicated platforms for healthcare providers. Using these platforms, the providers can quickly and efficiently make sense of their data.

The amalgamation of healthcare and analytics has helped in the following ways:

1. Data Mining to save lives: Even an expert doctor, is only a human being, and there is always the scope for errors like missing warning signs or overlooking minor risk factors. However, today, every major healthcare provider has enough data on their patients. This data, using the power of Data Science, can be examined to find out meaningful patterns to make quick and accurate decisions.

2. Point-of-care decision making: Data Science makes it possible to develop tools and equipment having built-in data processing capabilities for helping doctors make instant, life-saving calls at point-of-care.

3. Reducing Readmissions: The pile of data with the hospitals today can help find out how likely a patient is to be readmitted after treatment. Doctors can judge whether patients would benefit from shorter or longer stays. They can also track specific treatment factors leading to the reoccurrence of ailments, which helps in saving time (and money) for both the patient and the doctor.

On a side note, Biomedicine, a documentary, is a must-watch if you want to understand the magic of Data Science in the healthcare industry in a much more elaborate manner.

Data Science is a rapidly growing field, and it will continue to grow in the years to come. If you wish to give back to the world and are also fascinated by Data, then you can go through various Data Science Courses that will equip you with the knowledge required to take the first steps in the world of Data Science.

(Written by Phalgun Kompalli. Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

About the author: Phalgun Kompalli is the co-founder of UpGrad Education Private Limited, an online higher education platform providing rigorous industry-relevant programs designed and delivered in collaboration with world-class faculty and industry.
Featured image courtesy: Pixnio

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