Using Big Data For Social Good

On Tuesday, November 6th, the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute (MJB) participated in Israel’s first national conference on “Policy Development in Age of Big Data,” sponsored by the Institute and the Parliamentary Oversight Coordination Unit of the Knesset.

With over 100 participants from government, academia, business, and the non-profit sector, the conference explored harnessing large data sources for social good.

The speakers brought examples from a range of sectors, including education, health care, employment, road safety, and more.  They emphasized the opportunities in employing big data techniques and capabilities to understand societal behavior and develop effective policy responses.

Among the speakers was Dr. Bruce Rosen, Director of the Institute’s Systems Research Group and the Smokler Center for Health Policy Research, who presented an ambitious new effort to pool and analyze information from over a dozen governmental agencies on topics such as crime, education, housing, health, transportation, income, and more.  Given that societal challenges in these areas are highly inter-related, Rosen explained, “pooling community-level data will enable us to use big data techniques to develop innovative and effective cross-sectoral solutions, while avoiding many of the pitfalls of privacy, accessibility, and regulation.”

Bruce Rosen presenting at Big Data conference

Today’s conference reinforces MJB’s position at the center of the discussions about big data in Israel, and promotes the Institute’s recently launched “Big Data for Social Good” initiative.  This cross-disciplinary initiative is exploring the use of natural language processing and machine learning in MJB studies of emerging social phenomena (such as cyber-bullying), assessments of pilot projects (such as JDC-Israel employment projects) and evaluations of major national policies (such as the recent mental health reform).

The Institute is cultivating collaborations with both Israeli and international partners in this emerging field.  Just last month, the Institute partnered with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the strongest schools of public health in the world, to hold a day-long collaborative workshop on “Integrating and Analyzing ‘Big Data’ Across Sectors to Improve the Health and Wellbeing of Populations: Overview of Challenges, Opportunities, and Experiences to Date in the U.S.”   MJB’s delegation included senior representatives of the ministries of Health, Education, Labor and Social Affairs, and the Treasury, along with senior staff from JDC-Israel, while the partners at Johns Hopkins brought experts from the university and leading practitioners from the City of Baltimore, including the city commissioners of health and housing, and community agency professionals.