DataDive held at Society’s HQ

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The Royal Statistical Society’s lecture theatre and council chambers at its Errol Street premises was the venue for DataKind UK’s recent DataDive event, held over the first weekend of October 2014. It’s the first DataDive event since the RSS partnered with DataKind to launch its Statisticians for Society initiative, and there were several RSS fellows in attendance. StatsLife reports back from the event and spoke to some of the fellows taking part.

DataDives are weekend events that enable the data science community together to help not-for-profit organisations tackle data problems that can improve or better inform the work that they do. Participants are volunteers who turn up on the day, along with a number of pre-arranged ‘data ambassadors’ who manage the projects.

On the Friday evening, around 80 attendees listened to presentations from the three featured charities who were opening up their data for scrutiny by the data experts participating in the event. A speaker from Citizens Advice explained that they were looking to produce an early warning system for advice using real-time data analytics to spot trends. Citizens Advice was sharing its data with the other participating charities St Mungo's Broadway and The Institute for Local Governance’s North East Child Poverty Commission to help with their respective causes - to find how people move into homelessness, and help bring more up-to-date statistics to decision makers in the North East of England.

Pizza delivery at the DataDiveThe following day work began early at 9am and volunteers worked hard all day, taking a break only to make a short pilgrimage down the road from the RSS to Bunhill Fields to visit the gravestone of the revered statistician Thomas Bayes. The work barely paused when 75 pizzas were delivered direct to the venue later that evening to aid the intrepid data crunchers, who kept going until 10pm.

On Sunday, presentations were made by the data ambassadors back to the charities, who were delighted with the results. The NE Child Poverty Commission stated in a recent blog post that the new tools created by the data divers, ‘will provide a valuable new set of tools for analysis of child poverty in the North East’.

For RSS fellows Dalia Estrada-Pintel and Emmanual Lazaridis, this DataDive was their first. ‘I expected it to be a bit more like a hackathon with intimidating programmers and super data science geeks which would make me feel a bit out of place but it completely exceeded my expectations!’ said Dalia, who worked on data from St Mungo’s over the weekend. ‘It was certainly filled with data science geeks and programmers but most, if not all, participants were really approachable, helpful and friendly - I even made a few friends I hope to work with in some capacity in the near future.’

Collaborating with a teammate who produced the data analysis, Dalia created an infographic that highlighted categories of issues people go to the charity to seek help from. ‘It helped me become aware of the types of social and data issues charities are tackling and it also helped me find more efficient ways to analyse data,’ she said. ‘And I met some great people I hope to work with in the future.’

Data Dive in the Council ChambersEmmanuel Lazaridis worked on the CAB-only data and used R to address a text mining problem. ‘The energy that this well-organised event generated was astounding,’ he commented. ‘Frankly, I can't recall when I ever had this much fun working with data under pressure, and I think that many of my collaborators at the DataDive would agree!’ Emmanuel is continuing to work with the CAB data team on this and related issues, which is another mutual benefit of participating in a DataDive: ongoing links are now being made between the data experts and the charities.

The RSS is hoping that more fellows will be able to get involved future DataDives, and will be alerting members to future events when details are confirmed.

For more information about the recent DataDive, there is Storify page compiling photos and tweets from the event. There is also a blog post, written by one of the event’s data ambassadors. DataKind also has more information about DataDives on its website.

Statisticians for Society DataKind