Participants of the West Big Data Innovation Hub All Hands Meeting gather for a group shot.

June 19, 2019

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is awarding a second round of funding for the Regional Big Data Innovation Hubs – organizations launched in 2015 to build and strengthen data science partnerships across industry, academia, nonprofits, and government to address scientific and societal challenges.

Each of the hubs will receive $4 million over four years for a total investment of $16 million, double the budget for the first round of Big Data Hubs awards. The University of Washington (UW), in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), will continue to coordinate the West Big Data Innovation Hub (West Hub). Principal Investigator and eScience Founding Director Ed Lazowska notes, “For more than a decade, the eScience Institute has worked to bridge government, business, and cross-disciplinary academia in order to advance data-intensive discovery in the broadest imaginable range of fields. Through our partnership with UC Berkeley and UCSD in leading the NSF’s West Hub, we have been extending this to the 13-state western region.” The UW leadership team for this collaborative award also includes West Hub Deputy Director and Co-Principal Investigator Sarah Stone along with Information School Associate Professor and Co-Principal Investigator Bill Howe.

Christine Gregoire, former governor of Washington state, speaks at the National Transportation Data Challenge Launch Event

Christine Gregoire, former governor of Washington state, speaks at the 2017 National Transportation Data Challenge Launch Event. Photo by Robin Brooks, eScience Institute

The West Hub’s first three years of operation have included a diverse set of application-focused projects — developing data analysis and tools to support access to safe drinking water, better understand disease through all 20,000 human proteins, and facilitate new insights in transportation safety. The Hub also supports cross-cutting efforts to produce frameworks and resources useful to multiple areas of inquiry and practice, from data sharing and cloud computing to responsible data science.

The next four years will include an emphasis on developing and enabling translational data science, with signature initiatives including:

  • Fire and water: regional data collaboratives for the future of natural resource management. Building upon the momentum from regional roundtables, workshops, online tutorials, UW Waterhackweek, the open-to-all California Water Data Challenge, and other efforts, the West Hub will focus on collaborative, user-focused projects that leverage new shared data and open access tools. This summer and fall, with additional funding from the Water Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the West Hub will work with journalists from mainstream and ethnic media, offering fellowships that connect impacted communities with research and education efforts around water data.
  • Housing instability: trusted data collaborative for responsible data management. Racial biases in eviction practices, rapidly increasing housing prices, and complex interactions between services to support homeless families have led to neighborhood-level inequities in urban environments and a lack of transparency in the efficacy of interventions. Through a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft, and the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, the West Hub will integrate data from multiple jurisdictions to study questions about how neighborhood change, service delivery, and demographics influence outcomes for homeless families. In preliminary work, the West Hub supported the UW Evictions Project, which extracted information from thousands of evictions case reports and uncovered extreme racial disparity, leading directly to a policy change increasing the response time allowed to tenants. As part of this work, the West Hub is expanding the scope of the Trusted Data Collaborative, a socio-technical platform for responsible data governance initially used for mobility data, to support housing and population health data. The effort is designed to balance competing objectives among stakeholders, improving fairness in analytic methods, preserving privacy, protecting data owners’ proprietary information, and promoting transparency.
  • Stress-testing access for road video: understanding risk and opportunity in data sharing. After hosting a six-month nation-wide series of community problem-solving sessions, technology demonstrations, and discussions focused on transportation safety, the West Hub will strengthen a partnership with the NSF and the Federal Highway Administration to investigate the reversibility of tools used to de-identify video data from automobile drivers. Tied to a three-year data collection effort that produced data for more than 3,000 drivers, including 1,500 crashes and 3,000 near-crashes, this project will include community dialogue about privacy and bias.

“By catalyzing partnerships that integrate academic researchers into the fabric of communities across the U.S., we can accelerate and deepen the impact of basic research on a range of societal issues, from water management to efficient transportation systems,” said Beth Plale, one of the NSF program directors managing the Big Data Hubs awards.

Leveraging lessons learned from four years of the UW Data Science for Social Good Program, the West Hub will host a training course and develop a guide for organizations interested in creating programs pairing student fellows with data scientist mentors and project leads from academia, government, or the private sector. The West Hub’s focus on societal-facing challenges will drive collaborations in topics such as transportation, public health, sustainable urban planning, and disaster recovery. Emphasizing the opportunity for students, faculty, staff, and collaborators to contribute to the public good, UW Provost Mark Richards notes that, “The continued support from the National Science Foundation for the West Big Data Innovation Hub confirms the importance of the Hub in bringing together diverse local, regional, and national partners to engage in using modern data science to tackle societal challenges.”

Participants in the West Big Data Innovation Hub Data Carpentry Instructor Workshop. Photo, Robin Brooks, eScience Institute

Participants in the West Big Data Innovation Hub Data Carpentry Instructor Workshop. Photo by Robin Brooks, eScience Institute

As part of their efforts to increase workforce readiness in the region, the West Hub will partner with The Carpentries for three years to host data science Train-the-Trainer workshops, especially aiming to engage underrepresented groups and geographic areas that are not currently served by cognate programs. The partnership builds upon prior training workshops that included local government leaders across the western region and the first Data Carpentry event with a tribal community. “Developing innovative, effective solutions to grand challenges requires linking scientists and engineers with local communities,” said Jim Kurose, assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the NSF. “The Big Data Hubs provide the glue to achieve those links, bringing together teams of data science researchers with cities, municipalities, and anchor institutions.”

An example of the unique team formation resulting from West Hub community engagement can be found in the growth of an NSF-funded project at Boise State University’s School of Public Policy, which focused on criminal justice and police data, public safety, and community trust. “By facilitating data sharing with industry partners, and connecting researchers from Idaho with police departments in Washington and Arizona, we supported work that led to new levels of collaboration – and new connections for national-scale initiatives,” notes West Hub Executive Director and Co-Principal Investigator Meredith Lee.

Many of the West Hub’s continuing initiatives and collaborations will highlight challenges surrounding data ethics and responsible data science, bringing communities together through opportunities such as workshops on translational data science, Data for Good Exchange efforts, and FAIR Data Awareness and Data Reuse Labs.

As a new service to the community, each Big Data Hub will maintain a seed fund for translational data science collaborations as part of its project budget. This seed fund will provide small grants to pilot early feasibility studies for innovative new solutions to grand challenges of importance to the region. The West Hub’s requests for collaborative seed projects will serve to gather compelling, timely, and actionable community ideas throughout the year. Embarking on the next phase of growth and national coordination, the Hubs will also work with the NSF and additional partners to host an All Hubs All Hands community data science meeting which will be open to the public as a signature event in 2020.

Read more at UW News.