D4GX 2016 Registration Now Open: Enigma’s Mike Flowers on Why the Conference is So Important

While the 2016 election season has been contentious around hot topics such as gun safety, climate change and public spending, there is one thing that constituents can all agree on—data science has an enormous potential to solve the government’s most pressing social problems. Ahead of the general election, data scientists, public and private sector corporations, non-profits and academic institutions will convene at Bloomberg HQ in New York to discuss how data science can help the new administration. If you are interested in being a part of these important conversations, registration for the Data for Good Exchange is now open.

After carefully considering many submissions that came in from around the globe, the program committee has selected the papers with the most potential to shape our society going into 2017 and beyond. You can view the final list here, which contains top names from the industry and non-profit sectors, including Google, NYU Center for Data Science, United Nations Global Pulse, UNICEF, AT&T, KPMG and many more.

Leading up to the conference, we asked one of our programming committee members, Mike Flowers, Chief Analytics Officer at Enigma, how he sees data science transforming society, and which particular projects he’s most interested in:

With the Data for Good Exchange coming up next month, what are you are most encouraged about when it comes to data science impacting societal issues?

I think the growing expectation that decision-making—whether operational or policy/strategic—should be evidence-driven is the most encouraging development. While it seems axiomatic that decisions should be based on facts, it is easier said than done. And I think this is happening for a variety of reasons. In no particular order, the technology to make data more of an enterprise asset has become both more broadly available, and more attuned to organizational dynamics. Additionally, the explosion of available data has made the opportunities more obvious. But pragmatic evangelists, like Mike Bloomberg, do the concept a huge service just by showing and vocalizing how doable it actually is to put data to work for any issue.

Is there anything that you are currently working on that is particularly exciting in this space?

I think a few things are pretty cool, but I’ll just call out two. The first is the privilege of being one the first Bloomberg Philanthropies Fellows for the What Works Cities program. The idea is to kickstart analytics capacities across the country in cities that aren’t behemoths like NYC or Chicago. With these projects, we’re putting data to work for cities like Jackson MS, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and San Jose, CA. These are very different cities, with very different sets of challenges, resources and cultures. But, all have the leadership required to leverage their data on behalf of their residents in a very real, on-the-ground kind of way. It’s just wonderful to be a part of that.

In the private sector, in my capacity as CAO at Enigma, I really like the work we’re doing to create virtuous data cycles. The bulk of open data is generated due to regulatory and statutory obligations. So, by and large, it’s still seen as a cost center by the regulated entities, not part of their profit-making efforts. But by making both open and proprietary data more liquid, and thus more joinable and broadly accessible within any given company, the quality of that reported data can go up just by the virtue of it being used. In turn, that improved data goes back out to the government, and then out to the public. That’s a really exciting development, and frankly, a necessary one if open data is going to evolve and grow.

Are there any projects that you are following that are particularly innovative or encouraging?

The one I’m most fascinated by is what’s going on in New Orleans, which is both innovative and exciting. Oliver Wise, Analytics Director for Mayor Landrieu, and keynote speaker for last year’s D4GX, is partnering up with so many groups, leveraging the city’s challenges as assets to be worked on by a growing network of partners, but on terms in which the city’s benefit is front and center. That doesn’t always happen when partnerships like this are formed, but he’s pulling it off really effectively by ensuring that the innovation – whether it’s machine learning for ambulance placement or behavioral economics for health care services – is always helping alleviate a real problem for the people of New Orleans. In addition, he’s aggressively building capacity in the New Orleans workforce in a way that will make his work politically resilient. People should be studying that guy as a “how to” manual.

What do you hope will be some of the outcomes for this year’s event, both personally and for the broader data science, NGO, academic and non-profit communities?

It’s just such a great event for ideas to germinate and spread about evidence-driven decision-making. Invariably, word will continue to spread, both within the data community and outside of it, that this is doable. What would be even better is for participants to take some of these exciting developments and projects that will be showcased and adapt them for their own cities and organizations. That kind of force multiplier effect is decidedly what we want to see happen.

Check back here for additional insights from the presenters and don’t forget to click here to register for the conference at Bloomberg headquarters in New York on September 25th.