In recent years, data science — the application of interdisciplinary, quantitative methods that transform data into useful information — has rapidly expanded to numerous domains beyond its initial home in business analytics. This surge has seen data scientists create new tools — tools used by journalists, social scientists, engineers, and governments — to tackle important problems in the public sphere. So in 2016, GOV/LAB launched the Data Science to Solve Social Problems seminar series (DS3P) to highlight practitioners who are using these tools to take on these “real world” social problems. Drawing from statistics, predictive modelling, machine learning, data visualization, and other fields, speakers share their work on problems ranging from open government to environmental policy to criminal justice to international development.

Our goal for this series is to promote dialogue between social scientists, data analysts, and engineers working on innovative projects in nonprofits and government. Previous speakers have addressed many challenges, both technical and policy-oriented. Mehdi Jamei, Executive Director at Bayes Impact, shared how his team uses publicly available data to improve how governments measure access to healthcare, but questions remain about open-source tools’ potential for abuse. Winter Mason’s presentation on Facebook’s citizen engagement tools likewise raises questions about Facebook’s role in shaping nature of political discourse.

Since the seminar series’ launch, GOV/LAB has hosted speakers from a wide variety of perspectives across industry, journalism, government, and the nonprofit sector. From the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and the City of Boston to ProPublica’s investigative journalism team, and an MIT alum using data science to modernize political campaigns, this series connects researchers with potential collaborators across different sectors who can build on their findings to make a societal impact.

The seminar series will continue in 2018, and if you would like to be notified when speakers are announced, please subscribe to our mailing list. Because we want to highlight social problems that impact a broad spectrum of people, we are looking for speakers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. If you have ideas on speakers for future seminars, email us at govlab-ds3p@mit.edu.