Event Recap: Tech Hub Legislative Caucus Talks Big Data

| Cathy Wissink

big data

Big data. What is it? How can a society use it? And how can government unlock the power of big data for the betterment of its citizens?

These were the questions that the Massachusetts Tech Hub Legislative Caucus discussed last Thursday morning at the State House. Launched last year, the Tech Hub Caucus in the legislature seeks to encourage conversation and collaboration between legislators and tech industry leaders and entrepreneurs, and to discuss the impact of technology on the economy and society of Massachusetts.

More than 110 legislators, staff and a diverse set of technology executives and entrepreneurs attended the standing-room only event at the State House, including Caucus co-chair Senator Karen Spilka. During the event, legislators and business leaders learned about the impacts of the Massachusetts Big Data sector on the economy and workplace.

I represented Microsoft at the event and had the opportunity to talk about a big data pilot we are running, namely in the corrections system. One of the most costly and complex challenges in the public sector space is in corrections. How do we ensure that offenders get the services they need in the justice and corrections system, such that they can re-enter society at the correct time, successfully, with less of a chance for re-offending? The pilot we are running—which leverages our Microsoft AWARE solution—aspires to answer this question.

In this pilot, Microsoft AWARE aggregates data across the diverse agencies related to justice and corrections, including sheriffs’ departments, district attorneys, courts, health and human services, and social service providers. Historical data across these agencies is being aggregated and analyzed—with an eye to the characteristics of individual offenders, jail populations, programs, staff and service providers—to better understand how recidivism can be mitigated.

These diverse sets of data are being pulled together to understand what aspects of the corrections cycle impact an offender’s ability to successfully re-enter society, including programming and timing of that programming. As agencies better understand what programs work for this population to be successful in society, whether that’s GED schooling, medical support, counseling, vocational training or other programs, these agencies can adjust their approach to increase the opportunity for a successful re-integration of offenders into the community.

In terms of impact to the business, this big data solution as found in Microsoft AWARE has two benefits for government:

1. Optimization of resources: through a data-driven approach, an individual can be paired with the programs and care they need, at the time they need it, rather than an ad-hoc approach. This should save resources in terms of service costs, as well as optimize jail space.

2. Decrease in recidivism: Ideally, people are in the corrections system no longer than necessary, as they receive the appropriate set of programs to facilitate a successful re-entry into society.

Big data is still in its earliest implementations—with much still to be understood in terms of its promise, potential and societal implications. The Commonwealth is off to a good start in understanding how big data can best serve its citizens.

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Cathy Wissink

Cathy embraces what others may tend to avoid. Kale? Loves it. Bugs? Enthralled by them. A cross country bike ride? No problem for Cathy. Solving some of society’s most critical issues by working with everyone from tech leaders to politicians to community leaders? Bring it on.