Big Data for the Common Good

Virginia Carlson (Urban Rubrics), Jake Porway (DataKind)
Policy & Privacy, Ballroom E

As more data become less costly and technology breaks barriers to acquisition and analysis, the opportunity to deliver actionable information for civic purposes grows. This might be termed the “common good” challenge for Big Data. But actionable data has always been the challenge for nonprofits and civic organizations. The needs haven’t changed on the civic side— data intermediary organizations live this every day. Our community and civic clients have struggled with obtaining data—from the public realm or from their own systems—that will inform their decision-making, help tell their stories to funders, mobilize support, and direct their efforts.

This presentation will draw from experiences, old and new, deployed by common-good data intermediaries in order to spotlight challenges moving ahead. We’ll draw on experiences such as that in Chicago where MCIC is endeavoring to run an Apps Competition that’s centered on community/hacker collaboration. We’ll explore the history of the national neighborhood indicator movement and efforts by voters’ groups to build mapping platforms in order to have a voice in political redistricting plans. We’ll also talk about new efforts such as Data without Borders and their success in bringing coders to the community. By touching on these stories, we’ll highlight the potential for disruptive approaches to break through barriers: resources, communication styles, data availability.

Photo of Virginia Carlson

Virginia Carlson

Urban Rubrics

A data and information expert, Virginia has more than 25 years of experience leading fast-paced, creative environments where data are used to make decisions, tell stories and illuminate trends. Before taking the helm at MCIC in January 2009, Virginia was a professor of Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin– Milwaukee. She’s also been Deputy Director for Data Policy at the Brookings Institution and was the founding Research Director at World Business Chicago. She holds a Doctorate in Political Science from Northwestern University. As a Board member of the Association of Public Data Users, Virginia believes that even the smallest non-profit organizations should have access to the best data available.

Photo of Jake Porway

Jake Porway


Jake Porway is the Data Scientist in the New York Times R&D Lab and is launching an initiative called Data Without Borders to unite non-profits and data scientists in the service of humanity. He spends his days analyzing large data flows to help redefine media and his nights finding uses of data for the greater good.


  • EMC
  • Microsoft
  • HPCC Systems™ from LexisNexis® Risk Solutions
  • MarkLogic
  • Shared Learning Collaborative
  • Cloudera
  • Digital Reasoning Systems
  • Pentaho
  • Rackspace Hosting
  • Teradata Aster
  • VMware
  • IBM
  • NetApp
  • Oracle
  • 1010data
  • 10gen
  • Acxiom
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Calpont
  • Cisco
  • Couchbase
  • Cray
  • Datameer
  • DataSift
  • DataStax
  • Esri
  • Facebook
  • Feedzai
  • Hadapt
  • Hortonworks
  • Impetus
  • Jaspersoft
  • Karmasphere
  • Lucid Imagination
  • MapR Technologies
  • Pervasive
  • Platform Computing
  • Revolution Analytics
  • Scaleout Software
  • Skytree, Inc.
  • Splunk
  • Tableau Software
  • Talend

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