How did you transition from your time as an undergrad at Sloan to MIT GOV/LAB?

Growing up in The Bahamas, I experienced first-hand the need for transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement for effective governance. In coming to MIT as an undergrad, I wanted to learn how people make decisions given limited information and how we can help make better ones. MIT Sloan’s Management Science program helped me search for answers.

I found that through statistical analysis, seemingly abstract or irrelevant data can be used to paint a picture of the people and organizations we study and gain meaningful insights into how we can make better decisions. For example, in my Digital Marketing and Social Media Analytics class, I worked with MBA students to develop a digital marketing strategy for a music streaming service using real company data. To accomplish this, I ran linear and logistic regressions and clustering algorithms to effectively identify and target different user segments based on how they used the streaming service.

The Management Science program taught me how to study and improve organizations across a variety of fields, and taking a class on international development encouraged me to think about how the techniques I learned in a business context could be applied to improving societal institutions. So naturally, I’m really excited to be working with MIT GOV/LAB and applying my skills to help make responsive and engaged government a reality.

Are there any key transferable lessons from management sciences to looking at the relationship between citizens and governments?

Absolutely. One of the projects we’re working on right now in GOV/LAB uses conjoint analysis—an experimental technique made popular by marketing science–to determine what factors encourage people to vote for different political candidates. What’s so interesting about this is that you can gather information to answer political questions the same way a business might learn about consumer preferences toward the business’s products and services.

Just like business class travelers may prefer better in-flight services and be less sensitive to travel costs, perhaps some voters prefer that a political candidate gives back to their community more than they care that he or she is from a particular ethnic group. Maybe ethnicity only matters if the candidate is of a different religion than the voter. Maybe male voters value different characteristics than female voters. Using marketing techniques, like conjoint analysis, in new ways can help us gain novel insights into human behavior and guide public decision making.

As a recent MIT graduate, what advice would you give to students looking to apply technical skills to solve social problems?

If you are interested in solving social problems, it’s important to do two things. First, you must understand yourself and the contexts in which you hope to work. This will help give you an idea of the direction you want to move forward in. Beyond that, cultivating relevant experiences and developing inter-personal relationships will enable you to apply your knowledge across other fields.

Understanding yourself. As you figure out how you want to make a social impact, try to examine why you want to solve social problems and figure out what types of social problems you want to solve. Ask yourself: what classes did you enjoy and why? Where do you spend your time? What do you wish you could spend your time doing? For me, taking Spanish classes, listening to The Economist, and participating MIT Student Government revealed my underlying interests in communication, exploring other cultures, and governance and politics.

Building relationships. Next, you should identify people in your areas of interest to learn more. Ask how they ended up in their field. Ask about any interesting research going on. Ask what challenges the field is facing and figure out where you can add value.

Every time you meet someone in an area of interest, ask how they keep up-to-date on relevant trends and find out if they can recommend anyone else for you to talk to. The more people you talk to, the better you will be able to define what you’re looking for and figure out how to make the biggest impact. At Sloan, I did some of my best work in my Managerial Psychology class, so I reached out to the professor. He helped clarify my options and introduced me to people and resources that could help me learn more about organizational design and plan my next steps.

Lastly, keep in mind that figuring out how you can best contribute to society is an iterative process. It never really ends, but every step you take is a step closer to finding the right answer. I’m fortunate in that I can do work that I’m passionate about. I explore different cultures and do statistical analysis and connect with others and learn more about what it takes to create effective governments.

Dante (right) and fellow Political Science research associates Soubhik Barari, Robert Pressel, and Meghan Perdue cuddle Barn Babies, a traveling petting zoo brought to campus for stress relief.