Earlier this month the eScience Institute held the “Learning and Doing Data For Good” conference, an event for current students and alumni in university-based data for good programs, their project partners, and data science professionals. The goal was to inspire discussions and networking with others who are motivated to learn from and meet the needs of communities and people using data for change. The eScience Institute co-hosted the conference with the West Big Data Innovation Hub, the Academic Data Science Alliance, and the University of British Columbia’s Data Science Institute.

The three-day conference featured four sessions of presentations focused on common themes: Discovering Data and Modeling in Public Health; Transparency, Accountability, and Engagement with Civic Systems; Climate Change and Environmental Impacts; and Housing, Poverty, and Employment. There was also a poster display, as well as a career paths panel with representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the California Council on Science and Technology, JP Morgan Chase, and Google AI for Nature and Society. “This unique conference created a platform to highlight the work of student teams using their data science skills for socially impactful projects across a range of topics and partner organizations,” said Sarah Stone, Executive Director of the eScience Institute.

The “Learning and Doing Data For Good” keynote speaker was Dr. Desmond Upton Patton, who is the Brian and Randi Schwartz University Professor and the Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Patton studies the impact that social media has on well-being, mental health, trauma, violence, and grief for youth and adults of color. He leverages social work thinking, data science, qualitative methods, and community partnerships to develop strategies to support digital grief and trauma, and reduce on and offline gun-related violence.

Conference Director Juandalyn Burke said, “The keynote address by Dr. Patton got at the very essence of what the Learning & Doing Data for Good (LDDG) conference was really about: using data to humanize one’s experience. [His] address was powerful as we were able to connect not only the integration of disciplines – from social work, computer science, and the use of technology in society – but also help to bring a voice to those who are sometimes voiceless or overlooked, specifically youth in black and brown communities. Dr. Patton gave rise to the importance of community involvement within the process of data for good in his description of employing youth to decipher the social media text that he was examining and also to use his experience as a Black man to ensure that his work was ethically sound. The keynote address gave the Learning & Doing Data for Good conference an exciting, bold, and energizing start that, I believe, kept the conversations going throughout the weekend, from start to finish.”