Statistics and Data Science for Good

Introduction to Special Issue of Chance by Caitlin Augustin, Matt Brems, and Davina P. Durgana: “One lesson that our team has taken from the past 18 months is that no individual, no team, and no organization can be successful on their own. We’ve been grateful and humbled to witness incredible collaboration—taking on forms of resource sharing, knowledge exchange, and reimagined outcomes. Some advances, like breakthrough medicine, have been widely publicized. Other advances have received less fanfare. All of these advances are in the public interest and demonstrate how collaborations can be done “for good.”

In reading this issue, we hope that you realize the power of diverse multidisciplinary collaboration; you recognize the positive social impact that statisticians, data scientists, and technologists can have; and you learn that this isn’t limited to companies with billions of dollars or teams of dozens of people. You, our reader, can get involved in similar positive social change.

This special edition of CHANCE focuses on using data and statistics for the public good and on highlighting collaborations and innovations that have been sparked by partnerships between pro bono institutions and social impact partners. We recognize that the “pro bono” or “for good” field is vast, and we welcome all actors working in the public interest into the big tent.

Through the focus of this edition, we hope to demonstrate how new or novel collaborations might spark meaningful and lasting positive change in communities, sectors, and industries. Anchored by work led through Statistics Without Borders and DataKind, this edition features reporting on projects that touch on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Pro bono volunteerism is one way of democratizing access to high-skill, high-expense services that are often unattainable for social impact organizations. Statistics Without Borders (founded in 2008), DataKind (founded in 2012), and numerous other volunteer organizations began with this model in mind: If there was an organizing or galvanizing body that could coordinate the myriad requests for statistical, data science, machine learning, or data engineering help, there would be a ready supply of talented individuals who would want to volunteer to see those projects through. Or, put another way, “If you build it, they will come.”

Doing pro bono work requires more than positive intent. Plenty of well-meaning organizations and individuals charitably donate their time, their energy, their expertise, only to have an unintended adverse impact. To do work for good, ethics is an important part of the projects. In this issue, you’ll notice the writers’ attention to independent review boards (IRBs), respecting client and data privacy, discussing ethical considerations of methods used, and so on.

While no single publication can fully capture the great work of pro bono organizations working in “data for good,” we hope readers will be inspired to contribute to open source projects, solve problems in a new way, or even volunteer themselves for a future cohort of projects. We’re thrilled that this special edition represents programs, partners, and volunteers from around the world. You will learn about work that is truly representative of the SDGs, such as international health organizations’ work in Uganda, political justice organizations in Kenya, and conservationists in Madagascar, to name a few.

Several articles describe projects that are contextualized with the SDGs. While achieving many goals is interconnected, such as the intertwining of economic attainment and reducing poverty, we hope that calling out key themes here will whet your appetite for exploration.

  • • Multiple articles focused on tackling aspects of SDG 3: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for people at all ages.
  • • An article tackling SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth; full and productive employment; and decent work for all.
  • • Several articles touching on SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure; promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation; one is a reflection on building and sustaining free and open source software as a public good.
  • • A handful of articles highlighting the needs for capacity-building and systems-strengthening aligned to SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; provide access to justice for all; and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.
  • • An article about migration along the southern borders of the United States addressing multiple issues related to poverty (SDG 1), opportunity (SDG 10), and peace and justice (SDG 16)….(More)”