The University of Southampton

Data scientists unite to provide new insights for health and housing charities

Published: 12 October 2018
Illustration
University of Southampton students explore charity data. Image courtesy of DataKind UK.

Dozens of volunteers delivered valuable data analysis for two national charities in a hackathon-style DataDive at the University of Southampton’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

Data scientists, developers and designers united for the two-day event which sparked new insights and valuable connections for the Shelter and Parkinson’s UK charities.

The DataDive, which was run with DataKind UK and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), attracted almost 90 people at its peak, with almost half of participants either working or studying at the University.

Charity DataDives are collaborative work sessions where volunteers analyse, visualise and mash-up data to give partner organisations initial insights or prototypes to inform their work.

Last month’s event was organised by Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence Adam Hill, a HAL24K data scientist who is encouraging the incorporation of data science techniques and methodologies within research activities in Physics and Astronomy.

“I think it was a great success. There was a lot of positive energy in the room and impressive engagement from all participants,” Adam says. “There was a feeling that everyone got something out of the two days. There have already been conversations about whether some PhD or student projects could be developed that would be beneficial to the charities, which is fantastic news.”

Hester Steedman Thake, Data Manager at Shelter, says, “The DataDive was a really valuable experience for Shelter. We learned a lot about new tools and techniques and different ways to look at modelling housing and homelessness risk across the UK. Shelter launched our new strategy this week and this work is really important for us as part of defining new ways of tackling the housing emergency. We will be building on the outputs from the DataDive to develop our approach to modelling housing need in the UK, and to help shape Shelter's engagement with local housing issues over the coming years.”

Cathal Doyle, Head of Strategic Intelligence at Parkinson’s UK, says, “By participating in the DataDive we learned a great deal about how we can better combine and analyse different datasets, for instance our data on the prevalence and incidence of Parkinson’s, population projections and hospital admissions. Armed with this information, we can better understand how demand for Parkinson’s services will grow in the future and ways we can plan for this.”

Enthusiastic volunteers were still coding beyond 9pm on the first day of the marathon event, with 28 large pizzas swiftly dispatched by the data hungry workforce.

“I very much wanted this to be a proof of concept piece that could demonstrate the value of collaborative partnerships between skilled academics and the private/public sector, but also the value to society of getting those skills out of the academic bubble,” co-organiser Adam continues. “I hope that this could inspire future similar events which, when integrated into a programme, would deliver social good to the wider community.”

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