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August 19, 2016
Data scientist for social change
By: Joshua Patterson

I am very happy to return to Accenture Labs in Washington, D.C., after spending nearly a year as a Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF) with the White House. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about my time in government, not only to highlight the work that I was a part of, but also to convey how anyone can leverage their unique skills to better their society and the importance of doing so.

As a data scientist, I believe data serves as a catalyst for driving change. Many of today’s most popular technologies and profitable companies owe their success to big data. The White House’s efforts to transition into the digital age and emulate the innovation and technology capabilities of successful private organizations have revealed how great of a resource the U.S. government’s data cache can be. The key is to curate and analyze government data in ways that help people leverage it to drive positive social change.

Addressing income inequality with big data

For example, income inequality has existed for quite some time. The complexity and factors that created and continue to perpetuate (and, in some cases, expand) income inequality make it extremely difficult to develop comprehensive solutions to address it.

To facilitate the creation of solutions, my team of PIFs worked with the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce and Department of Labor to develop Making Income Accessible as a Service (MIDAAS). The solution is a site that captures historical income data across a variety of U.S. demographics and geographies.

Nominated for a 2016 FedScoop 50 Award in the “Innovation of the Year” category, MIDAAS provides APIs and visualization toolkits for developers to rapidly make new apps and tools, as well as curated narratives on income inequality for the general public. The narratives come with data visualization that allows individuals to easily explore income data and gain a clear understanding of their job and income potential for their particular circumstance.

The free developer toolkit allows organizations to use income data effectively and efficiently to create new methods of eliminating the income gap across demographics. For instance, to spur developer adoption of MIDAAS, we launched the #HackThePayGap initiative, and I was honored to be able to visit the White House again to watch Accenture participate in the demo day. It was incredible to see the innovative solutions that were created by unlocking this data.

In addition, my Labs group used big data to expand the MIDAAS API from approximately 700 permutations to 7 million, which I believe will help make this data even more personalized. See the work posted on the Accenture Labs’ GitHub page at https://github.com/accenturelabs/midaas-expanded-api.

Contributing expertise for the greater good

My time as a PIF changed my perception of government, as I gained a much better understanding of its vast resources and capabilities. It can be very difficult for the government to innovate as rapidly as starts-ups or leading companies because of the sheer size and complexity of its structure.

I encourage all of you to explore chances to work in government. There are numerous tasks, which could be modernized or digitized, that would provide benefits for society, as well as massive amounts of data that still need to be unlocked for societal use. For example, there are opportunities to scrub in on “micro-tasks” with 18F, an office inside the General Services Administration that helps other U.S. federal agencies build, buy and share efficient and easy-to-use digital services.

Doing this work as a PIF gave me a newfound appreciation for the men and women who serve their country in many different ways every single day.

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