Doing good
How Much Good Can Information Do?
Varun Nayar | September 27, 2016

How much is transparency worth? Or, to ask a better question: How much is access to information worth? According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, open data—that is, information that the government or private-sector organizations chooses to make public—has the potential to create $3 trillion of value in just seven areas of the global economy.

More importantly, unlocking the ever-growing pile of data sitting on government and private-sector servers and releasing it to a curious public increases the odds of finding solutions to serious social and economic problems.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) recently hosted a panel discussion during its TecNation 2016 event that focused on how open data stands to make the world a better place, whether by finding smarter ways to tackle crime or better preparing for natural disasters. During the session, five organizations spoke about their different approaches to using data to do good. Here’s a look at their efforts:

Splunk4Good

San Francisco-based Splunk is a big data platform focused on making machine-readable data—that is, data formatted so that computers can immediately ingest and analyze it—accessible to its 12,000 global customers. Meanwhile, the company’s five-year-old community and non-profit focused initiative, Splunk4Good, seeks to tap into open data’s potential to power social change.

One of Splunk4Good’s recent projects, the Impact Cloud, was a collaboration among many different Silicon Valley companies to develop a shared informational framework for disaster and humanitarian response. Mobilizing people and resources during a times of crisis can be difficult and inefficient, but the Impact Cloud digitizes as much of that work as possible, so that stakeholders can all be the same page and working to towards the same goal. This includes making otherwise dense open datasets more easy to use, from weather data to urban planning records.

“This is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Splunk4Good Director Corey Marshall explained on stage. “Splunk is perfect for these kinds of situations where you need to have connectivity between different systems. What we do really well is interface with disparate data sources to provide correlations, visibility and analytics at scale.”

Bayes Impact

Bayes Impact, a non-profit data science organization based in San Francisco, uses data and technology to solve pressing socioeconomic issues. They call their work “digital social services.” Backed by both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Y Combinator, the non-profit is tackling criminal justice reform, fraud detection among micro-lending platforms, and enhanced research into the causes and cures for Parkinson’s disease.

“I had been working with the City of New York implementing civic solutions and recognized that the chasm between the technology that industry and tech companies are using and what’s available to civic organizations is huge,” Bayes Impact founder Andrew Jiang told Tech Crunch.

One of the organization’s recent flagship projects targeted suicide prevention suicide among veterans, who are 50 percent more likely to take their own lives than the average U.S. citizen. Using openly available government data sets, the organization created models that more accurately predict suicide rates among veterans and shared them with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to use in directing more targeted and proactive care to those who may be at risk.

The White House Opportunity Project

The Opportunity Project is focused on equipping families and communities with the digital tools and data they need to access critical resources such as jobs, schools, housing and transportation. The initiative works with companies such as Redfin, Zillow, GreatSchools, and PolicyLink to consolidate and share information about resources available in Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Whether it’s LinkedIn working with the Department of Labor to help find jobs for people living in communities plagued by chronic unemployment, or Redfin using federal data to categorize and list affordable homes near those job opportunities, data science serves as the connection between the private and public sector.

“Data science is a team sport,” Aden G. Van Noppen, a senior policy advisor at the Opportunity Project, said on the panel. “Companies really want to step up and engage, but working with non-government talent is still underutilized.”

Thomson Reuters Special Services

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Thomson Reuters Special Services is the breadth of data within the organization’s reach, from criminal court and arrest records to global business data and corporate filings. TRSS utilizes public federal data and a variety of partnerships with platforms like Splunk to provide its clients with access to billions of public and proprietary records, as well as analysis. The company works with multiple government and corporate clients to analyze threats on a variety of fronts, from cybersecurity to government counterintelligence.

The company also uses their wealth of open-source and public databases, to supplement law enforcement research. The company has previously helped protect U.S. interests in everything from incidents of human trafficking to the transport of illegal goods across international borders.

“What I do for a living is use data to figure out how bad people do bad things, and then disrupt their supply chain,” TRSS Chief of Innovation TRSS Jason Thomas said, referring to the service’s work on law enforcement investigations.

Kabbage

Founded in 2009, Kabbage is an Atlanta-based financial services and data technology platform that uses big data and open data to automate and streamline lending processes that can be cumbersome and time-consuming for businesses.

The platform allows businesses to borrow up to $100,000 for up to six months—but it relies on more than a credit report to make its lending decisions. Kabbage pulls information from online sales, social networks, accounting information, and many other private and public sources of information that could affect the creditworthiness of any given business, but would not show up in a credit score.

“We believe we get to know a small business better by being connected to their data sources electronically than any loan officer can do by sitting down at a desk with the borrower,” co-founder Rob Frohwein told Forbes. In addition to security and convenience, Kabbage prides itself on being transparent about the costs of its loans. The company has lent $1.6 billion to 60,000 small and medium-sized businesses globally, in many different industries.

To learn more about C_TEC and the TecNation 2016 event, visit the new C_TEC Homepage.