Sep 23–26, 2019

Executive Briefing: Creating a center for data science from scratch—Lessons from nonprofit research

Gayle Bieler (RTI International)
11:20am12:00pm Thursday, September 26, 2019
Location: 1E 10/11
Secondary topics:  Culture and Organization

Who is this presentation for?

Executives and current/aspiring data science leaders




In this presentation, I will discuss building a thriving Center for Data Science within a large and well-respected non-profit research institute, our mission, and the type of work we do. We are a team of 24 data scientists, statisticians, software developers, and visual designers at RTI International, where our overall mission is to improve the human condition, and our Center’s mission is “data science for social good”. What is it like building and leading such an organization from scratch after 26 years as a statistician at RTI? I’ll cover several important considerations, some of which we committed to early on, most of which evolved (and continue to evolve) through practice and experimentation: choosing a leader, our team composition, continuous recruitment and retention efforts, the necessity of technical as well as domain and soft skills, the idea of team vs. group culture, and elements of our philosophy—namely rapid prototyping, human-centered design, and an open source mindset—that drive success in collaborating with domain researchers across RTI, fostering staff engagement, and creating a continuous learning environment in a fast-moving field. Finally, we’ll cover some of our most impactful projects and some of our best adventures to date—those solving important national problems, improving our local communities, and transforming research.

Prerequisite knowledge

a basic idea of what data science is intended to accomplish in your organization

What you'll learn

As governments become more data-driven with each passing day, mission-driven organizations have a unique opportunity to harness the methods, mindset, and energy of data science to solve important social problems and make government work better for all of us. Here you'll see how we are accomplishing this at RTI International, a large and well-respected non-profit research institute. The audience will also learn about the importance of data science leadership and other considerations that impact the success of data science teams in general.
Photo of Gayle Bieler

Gayle Bieler

RTI International

Gayle Bieler holds Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics from Boston University. She’s been a statistician at RTI International for the past 31 years and Director of RTI’s Center for Data Science for the past 5 of those years. She is passionate about building and leading a vibrant data science team that solves complex problems across multiple research domains, that is a hub of innovation and collaboration, and a place where people can thrive and be at their natural best while doing meaningful work to improve the world. Ms. Bieler’s team of 24 data scientists, statisticians, software developers, and visual designers is busy solving important national problems, improving our local communities, and transforming research. The most important things to her are 1) people and 2) impact, in that order. As a statistician by training, she is also experienced in statistical analysis of complex data from designed experiments, observational studies, and software development for sample surveys.

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