DSSG student researchers join eScience staff for a social outing on the program’s first afternoon.

The eScience Institute kicked off its inaugural Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) summer program the week of June 15th. Modeled after similar programs at the University of Chicago and Georgia Tech, with elements from our own Data Science Incubator, the goal of the DSSG program is to enable new insight by bringing together data and domain scientists to work on focused, collaborative projects that are designed to impact public policy for social benefit.

The theme for this year’s DSSG projects was Urban Science. We encouraged project proposals that involved analysis and visualization and/or software engineering of data from urban environments across topic areas including public health, sustainable urban planning, crime prevention, education, transportation, and social justice.

Below are summaries of the four DSSG projects selected.


Assessing Community Well-Being Through Open Data and Social Media’s objective is to provide neighborhood communities a better understanding of the factors that impact their well-being. Through crowd-sourced community networks that leverage diverse social media and open data sources, neighborhoods can identify emerging issues, see how they compare with other neighborhoods on key factors, and coordinate a community response. While the project’s goal is to provide tools that can serve all neighborhoods, Community Well-Being hopes to actively engage underserved neighborhoods in designing the program.

Project Lead: Shelly D. Farnham, Third Place Technologies


King County Metro Paratransit is an on-demand public transportation program that provides a vital link to mobility for people with disabilities who are unable to use traditional fixed route services, picking up passengers at or near their doorstep and delivering them to their specified destination. Currently, King County Metro paratransit trips cost approximately ten times as much as an equivalent trip using a fixed-route service, and to date little investment and research has been made surrounding the technical complexities of providing ADA paratransit. By analyzing current Metro system information and providing real time cost analysis, the project aims to help dispatchers and schedulers make informed and more efficient routing decisions that improves the paratransit services offered to passengers while containing the costs of those services.

Project Lead: Anat Caspi, University of Washington, Computer Science & Engineering


Open Sidewalk Graph for Accessible Trip Planning is an information challenge to design an open source software toolkit and set of algorithms to help those with limited mobility plan a commute. By developing city-wide sidewalk accessibility analytics and applying routing algorithms, the project hopes to assemble disconnected sidewalk segments into a coherent graph, providing rapid and convenient routing for those with limited mobility that avoids steep hills, uncrossable intersections, stairs, or construction that blocks sidewalks.

Project Lead: Nick Bolten, University of Washington Department of Electrical Engineering


Predictors of Permanent Housing for Homeless Families in King, Snohomish, & Pierce County’s mission is to make homelessness rare, brief, and one time. There are over 5,000 homeless families with children in the Puget Sound region, spending an average of eight months moving from shelter to shelter. The project’s main objectives are to identify the barriers preventing homeless families from finding housing, as well as the trends and factors that affect a family’s length of stay in a homeless shelter. The research will be used to improve decision making and prioritizing resources to help homeless families find permanent housing and reduce their length of stay in a shelter.
Project Leads: Neil Roche & Anjana Sundaram, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation