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Data Science

UVA Biocomplexity Institute, MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth to Aid Equitable Growth in Washington, DC, Metro Region

Washington, DC, metro-area stakeholders will soon have a new tool at their fingertips to inform equitable and sustainable growth, a critical issue for a region where more than 5.5 million people now live and strong growth is expected over the next 25 years.

The unique data platform will emerge from the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute’s launch of a Social Impact Data Commons, an open curated knowledge repository that will co-locate data from various sources, including public datasets, administrative records, and private sources focused on the region. The Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is funding the project.

“We are excited to partner with Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth which shares our vision to build a Social Impact Data Commons capable of tracking social impact across the Washington, DC, metropolitan region over time,” said UVA’s Sallie Keller, distinguished professor in Biocomplexity and director of the Institute’s Social and Decision Analytics Division, based in Northern Virginia. Keller and Aaron Schroeder, research associate professor in the Biocomplexity Institute, will co-lead the interdisciplinary research team responsible for creating the innovative tools that will be useful in making decisions that impact the public.

“The Social Impact Data Commons will provide data, indicators, case studies, and training to allow local governments and community stakeholders throughout the region to learn from data on an ongoing basis, which will enable the analysis of social, economic, and health trends and major events, such as the arrival of Amazon or the pandemic,” Schroeder said.

He added, “The other critical element of the Data Commons is that it will help close the geographic and time gaps in current reporting. While local communities have the data on policies, strategies, events, and social behaviors, they often lack the sophisticated analytical tools to use their data to inform policy and strategy development. That’s where we come in.”

Of particular interest to the project team and where the Data Commons will be especially useful is in the arrival of Amazon’s new headquarters (HQ2) in Northern Virginia, an area expecting an influx of 25,000 new and thousands more indirect jobs in the next decade. Despite the economic growth, this event potentially poses long-term consequences on the well-being of communities in the Washington DC metropolitan region.

The concerns on the table and magnified by Amazon’s HQ2 move to the area include: food insecurity, climate change, and lack of affordable housing. At the same time, unplanned events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have hit the region. The pandemic has temporarily alleviated some problems, such as traffic congestion, but has highlighted longstanding inequities in the local and regional systems with sharp differences in health and mortality between demographic groups.

While data may exist to track these local effects, they are generally located in multiple places and are not currently in a form suitable for research use or answering policy questions. The purpose of the Data Commons is to reverse this trend.

Besides the Biocomplexity Institute, other UVA researchers participating in the Data Commons project include the School of Data Science and the Equity Center. The project will be guided by an advisory panel with leaders from government, business, and non-profit sectors across the region.

All of these partners will provide input into the design and measurement methods to create the Social Impact Data Commons, Keller said. Regional local governments, the business and industry community, NGOs, researchers from regional universities, and the public will be convened as the primary users of the Data Commons and will help guide its development, she noted. “Working together, we can help to create the Social Impact Data Commons across the region,” and hopefully beyond, Keller said.

“The University of Virginia and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth have a common goal to use data to inform equitable growth due to economic changes and sustainable recovery from social challenges,” said Chapin Flynn, senior vice president and senior data advisor at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. “The UVA research team has the experience and expertise to wrangle the data and develop innovative tools and apps for managing, analyzing, and sharing data to create an interoperable resource for the research community. The outcomes of these analyses will arm regional decision-makers with evidence to inform policies that will shape the quality of life for everyone.”

The Social Impact Data Commons is also being designed and implemented with a keen eye toward replicability and scalability to share with other regions undergoing economic change.

Carlos Rivero, the state’s Chief Data Officer, commends the Social Impact Data Commons project. “We all share a common vision to improve data sharing throughout the many organizations and agencies within the state. Using data to better understand our challenges, identify impacted communities, and develop practical solutions to address these challenges. Initiatives such as this help our state promote effective approaches to sharing data providing a better view of the regional, racial, ethnic, and socio-economic indicators describing the impact these challenges have on our communities. We look forward to the outcome of this project.”

Keller and Schroeder do too.

“What we learn from building this Data Commons could be scaled and replicated to help other localities in the state, country, and perhaps world that are addressing similar issues. If we can achieve that then we are living up to UVA’s vision to be ‘both great and good’ in all that we do.”

For more information about UVA’s Social Impact Data Commons project, please visit our project page.