Notes from the Policy Field: Showcasing Data Science in the District

Event: The Forum @ DC

Date: 02/27/18

Notes from the Policy Field provides write-ups of policy-oriented events in Washington, D.C. and comments on whether the format of the event facilitated policy change or improvement.

Write up by Charles Landau, MPA, Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives

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Staff Writer Charles Landau’s research poster at The Lab @ DC conference.

Last year, I took a class focusing on the intersection of public management and data science, taught by two professors who are trying to bring data science to policy-making in the District government (Dr. Donald Braman and Dr. Peter Casey). Earlier this year, I co-created an open-source data pipelining tool for Python, and we came to The Forum @ DC to present an early version of our tool.

About The Forum @ DC

The Forum @ DC was the first annual conference held by The Lab @ DC, an office within the Mayor’s Office of Performance Management. The Lab “uses scientific insights and methods to test and improve policies and provide timely, relevant, and high-quality analysis to inform the District’s most important decisions.” Presentations covered public health and safety, education, and social mobility.

The conference was well-attended and participants validated The Lab’s aspirations to foster increased use of data in policy research. The conference included four panels of formal presentations, as well as roughly 20 poster-format presentations highlighting work in affordable housing, early childhood education and school enrollment, criminal justice, and more. Some of the presenters were from, or partnered with, the District government on innovative ways to improve city services including Dr. Robert Holman who presented his upcoming randomized trial testing a nurse triage line for DC’s 911 service. The experiment aims to evaluate whether triage nurses can help conserve emergency resources at the first point of contact while continuing to improve outcomes for patients.

At The Forum @ DC public health expert Guillaume Bagal explains how legal services are a key part of public health.

Why You Should Care

I ran into Dr. Peter Casey while I was there, a member of the team at The Lab and my professor here at Trachtenberg. Dr. Casey used data collected from the District’s 311 help line to determine where in the city rat sightings are most common, and city exterminators use the information to target their efforts in those neighborhoods and city blocks. As politically divided as things currently are, we still want government to “just work.” Using data to inform public policy and city management can improve public services for all residents. What intuitively or emotionally seems like a no-brainer does not necessarily work, and even though it is difficult to get the human brain to think that way, data can help validate policy decisions and program management techniques.

The impressive team that The Lab @ DC pulled together has done incredible work for the community, but it still needs contributions from average citizens to understand the issues in the District and how data can help solve them. If you want to get involved, you can visit The Lab @ DC, join for civic hacking, or release your own public dataset and give the community more to work with.  

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