Data for Good in Bangalore

Miriam Young is a Communications Specialist at DataKind.

At DataKind, we believe the same algorithms and computational techniques that help companies generate profit can help social change organizations increase their impact. As a global nonprofit, we harness the power of data science in the service of humanity by engaging data scientists and social change organizations on projects designed to address critical social issues.

Our global Chapter Network recently wrapped up a marathon of DataDives, helping local organizations with their data challenges over the course of a weekend. This post highlights two of the projects from DataKind Bangalore’s first DataDive earlier this year, where volunteers used data science to help support rural agriculture and combat urban corruption.

Digital Green

Founded in 2008, Digital Green is an international, nonprofit development organization that builds and deploys information and communication technology to amplify the effectiveness of development efforts to affect sustained social change. They have a series of educational videos of agricultural best practices to help farmers in villages succeed.

The Challenge

Help farmers more easily find videos relevant to them by developing a recommendation engine that suggests videos based on open data on local agricultural conditions. The team was working with a collection of videos, each focused on a specific crop, along with descriptions, but each description was in a different regional language. The challenge, then, was parsing and interpreting this information to use it as as a descriptive feature for the video. To add another challenge, they needed geodata with the geographical boundaries of different regions to map the videos to a region with specific soil types and environmental conditions, but the data didn’t exist.

The Solution

The volunteers got to work preparing this dataset and published boundaries of 103,344 indian villages and geocoded 1062 Digital Green villages in Madhya Pradesh(MP) to 22 soil polygons. They then clustered 22 MP districts based on 179 feature vectors. They also mapped the villages that Digital Green works with into 5 agro-climatic clusters. Finally, the team developed a Hinglish parser that parses the Hindi titles of available videos and translates them to English to help the recommender system understand which crop the videos relate to.

I Change My City / Janaagraha

Janaagraha was established in 2001 as a nonprofit that aims to combine the efforts of the government and citizens to ensure better quality of life in cities by improving urban infrastructure, services and civic engagement. Their civic portal, IChangeMyCity promotes civic action at a neighborhood level by enabling citizens to report a complaint that then gets upvoted by the community and flagged for government officials to take action.

The Challenge

Deal with duplicate complaints that can clog the system and identify factors that delay open issues from being closed out.

The Solution

To deal with the problem of duplicate complaints, the team used Jaccard similarity and Cosine similarity on vectorized complaints to cluster similar complaints together. Disambiguation was performed by ward and geography. The model they built delivered a precision of more than 90%.

To deal with the problem of identifying factors affecting closure by user and authorities, the team used two approaches. The first approach involved analysis using Decision Trees by capturing attributes like Comments, Vote-ups, Agency ID, Subcategory and so on. The second approach involved logistic regression to predict closure probability. Closure probability was modeled as a function of complaint subcategory, ward, comment velocity, vote-ups and similar other factors.

With these new features, iChangeMyCity will be able to better handle the large volume of incoming requests and Digital Green will be better able to serve farmers.

These initial findings are certainly valuable, but DataDives are actually much bigger than just weekend events. The weeks of preparation that go into them and months of impact that ripple out from them make them a step in an organization’s larger data science journey. This is certainly the case here, as both of these organizations are now exploring long-term projects with DataKind Bangalore to expand on this work.

Stay tuned for updates on these exciting projects to see what happens next!

Interested in getting involved? Find your local chapter and sign up to learn more about our upcoming events.

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Exploring the world of data-driven innovation

Mike Masnick is founder of the Copia Institute.

In the last few years, there’s obviously been a tremendous explosion in the amount of data floating around. But we’ve also seen an explosion in the efforts to understand and make use of that data in valuable and important ways. The advances, both in terms of the type and amount of data available, combined with advances in computing power to analyze the data, are opening up entirely new fields of innovation that simply weren’t possible before.

We recently launched a new think tank, the Copia Institute, focused on looking at the big challenges and opportunities facing the innovation world today. An area we’re deeply interested in is data-driven innovation. To explore this space more thoroughly, the Copia Institute is putting together an ongoing series of case studies on data-driven innovation, with the first few now available in the Copia library.

Our first set of case studies includes a look at how the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) helped jumpstart the biotechnology field today. PCR is, in short, a machine for copying DNA, something that was extremely difficult to do (outside of living things copying their own DNA). The discovery was something of an accident: A scientist discovered that certain microbes survived in the high temperatures of the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, previously thought impossible. This resulted in further study that eventually led to the creation of PCR.

PCR was patented but licensed widely and generously. It basically became the key to biotech and genetic research in a variety of different areas. The Human Genome Project, for example, was possible only thanks to the widespread availability of PCR. Those involved in the early efforts around PCR were actively looking to share the information and concept rather than lock it up entirely, although there were debates about doing just that. By making sure that the process was widely available, it helped to accelerate innovation in the biotech and genetics fields. And with the recent expiration of the original PCR patents, the technology is even more widespread today, expanding its contribution to the field.

Another case study explores the value of the HeLa cells in medical research—cancer research in particular. While the initial discovery of HeLa cells may have come under dubious circumstances, their contribution to medical advancement cannot be overstated. The name of the HeLa cells comes from the patient they were originally taken from, a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Unlike previous human cell samples, HeLa cells continued to grow and thrive after being removed from Henrietta. The cells were made widely available and have contributed to a huge number of medical advancements, including work that has resulted in five Nobel prizes to date.

With both PCR and HeLa cells, we saw an important pattern: an early discovery that was shared widely, enabling much greater innovation to flow from proliferation of data. It was the widespread sharing of information and ideas that contributed to many of these key breakthroughs involving biotechnology and health.

At the same time, both cases raise certain questions about how to best handle similar developments in the future. There are questions about intellectual property, privacy, information sharing, trade secrecy and much more. At the Copia Institute, we plan to more dive into many of these issues with our continuing series of case studies, as well as through research and events.

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Data-driven policy visualizations from Central and Eastern Europe

Last year the Open Society Foundations’ Think Tank Fund published an online portfolio of a set of projects they supported from 2010 to 2013. The projects are all applications of data-driven policy in Central and Eastern Europe. The portfolio includes:

View the accompanying report here.

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How are Internet start-ups affected by liability for user content?

David Jevons is a Partner at Oxera

Internet intermediaries facilitate the free flow of information online by assisting users to find, share and access content. However, users may sometimes share copyright-protected or illegal content; ‘internet intermediary liability’ (IIL) laws define the extent to which the intermediaries are liable for this. Holding internet intermediary start-ups accountable for user content will reduce the costs of enforcement but may also harm the incentive for entrepreneurs to develop new intermediary business models. To help inform this debate, Google asked our team at Oxera to examine the effect of different IIL laws in terms of success rates and profitability on Internet start-ups, including a detailed examination of four countries: Germany, Chile, Thailand and India.

The effects on start-ups of clear and cost-efficient requirements

Ambiguity in IIL laws can lead to over enforcement, which can alienate users. SoundCloud, a streaming service in Berlin, suffered a user backlash resulting from issues in its takedown policy, including petitions and threats to open a competing platform. Over-compliance is a related issue, which can be costly for the start-up. MThai, a web portal in Thailand, employs more than 20 people to check content before uploading, and prevents uploading during the night, in order to limit its costs. In extreme cases, ambiguity in legislation can lead to inadvertent violations of the law. The executives of Guruji, an Indian search engine, were arrested in 2010 following claims that they were infringing copyright which eventually led to the shutdown of the music search site.

In line with these examples, we find that intermediary start-ups could benefit considerably from a modified IIL regime with legislation that is clearer and sanctions that are focussed on cases where it is socially efficient to hold intermediaries liable. This is reflected in the quantitative results of our study, with the largest effects found in markets (such as India and Thailand) where current legislation is most ambiguous. Our analysis indicates that an improved IIL regime could increase start-up success rates for intermediaries in our focus countries by between 4% (Chile) and 24% (Thailand) and raise their expected profit by between 1% (Chile) and 5% (India).

Estimated impact on start-up success rates (%)
Estimated impact on the expected profits of successful start-ups (%)

Implications for the design of future IIL regimes

The IIL regime is one of several levers available to policymakers wishing to encourage more start-up activity, however it may be one of the easier ones to pull for policy makers wanting to stimulate growth in this sector.

Our study highlighted the following implications for the design of future IIL regimes:

  • Find the right balance between the cost effective enforcement of copyright and allowing innovation in intermediary start-ups.
  • Costs matter when designing safe harbours. The costs of compliance are likely to have a considerable impact on intermediaries, particularly on start-ups.
  • Legal uncertainty increases costs of compliance. Intermediaries will find it difficult to ascertain the required level of compliance and may ‘over-comply’
  • Start-ups comply with take down requests as they do not have the resources to engage in legal action. Legitimate user content may be removed as a precaution.
  • Start-up vibrancy can be lost as high risks and compliance costs increase the likelihood that a start up with a commercially sound, legitimate business model fails.

If you are interested in finding out more about our study and the economic issues surrounding IIL, please read our full study on the Oxera website.

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News Impact Summit on tour in Europe

From the carved stone tablet to today’s touchscreen devices, the ways in which people consume journalism have evolved as technology has advanced. So too have the ways in which journalists practice their craft – a mobile device can be used to conduct interviews, record video, write and file copy. There are myriad exciting ways for reporters to get the story, and enrich it for readers with deep research and interactive tools.

To further empower journalists and grow their digital skills, the News Lab at Google has partnered with the non-profit European Journalism Centre (EJC) to produce a series of eight News Impact Summits across Europe in 2015. The daylong events are free and will feature local practitioners, debates, insights into how stories are produced and hands-on workshops to train on a variety of tools and techniques. Our hope is to equip journalists with new digital skills and to inspire by featuring excellence in journalism from within the community.

The first summit is on February 24 in Brussels and features speakers from the worlds of media and technology including Datawrapper, L’Echo, De Tijd, International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), JournalismFund.eu, Euractiv, the Dutch-Flemish Association for Investigative Journalism (VVOJ), Storycode, the Association of European Journalists, The Financial Times, the PressClub Brussels-Europe and Gruppo L’Espresso.

The Brussels event will have a decidedly EU flavor but others will be centered around the host country. Future summits include March 31 in Hamburg and April 28 in Paris with additional ones to follow in Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Warsaw and Prague.

To register for any of the events, and for program details, please visit newsimpact.io.

Our mission at the News Lab at Google is to collaborate with journalists, entrepreneurs and publishers everywhere through product partnerships, digital tools training, and other initiatives that support the industry as a whole. We’re thrilled to work with the EJC, which fosters both quality journalism and a free press, to help create this opportunity.

Posted by Daniel Sieberg, Head of Media Outreach, the News Lab at Google Continua a leggere

Supporting New Europe’s digital advances

They threw off the shackles of communism. Now they are grabbing the reigns of the technology revolution. Together with Financial Times, International Visegrad Fund and Res Publica, we announced the New Europe 100 list of innovators from Central and Eastern Europe who are leveraging new technologies to transform the region in business, media, culture, science and politics.

In announcing the project, the Financial Times noted: “central and eastern Europe say the combination of a high level of mathematical education, low overheads and a globalised, westernised young generation makes for a heady and successful mix.” We agree. The New Europe 100 winners show that this former communist region is fast moving away from its old traditional manufacturing industries. They range from “a Hungarian doctor who has created a medical advice website driven by social media, a team of Polish students who have built an award-winning robot that could operate on Mars, and a Slovak inventor of a flying car. “

Check out the whole list at http://ne100.org/ and read more about the project and its laureates in the newest Visegrad Insight. Follow it on Twitter @NewEurope100 and tag as #NE100 elsewhere.

The FT correctly notes that the the region still must overcome obstacles. Research and development activities is about one per cent of the region’s gross domestic product, according to McKinsey, the consultancy – half the rate in the western EU, and even behind 1.5 per cent in the Bric economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Our hope that the New Europe 100 project will help raise the profile of the region’s innovators. Recognition from being included on the list will, we believe, bring the initiatives attention, investor interest – and perhaps even potential business partnerships.

Posted by Agata Waclawaik-Wejman, Head of Public Policy, Central Europe
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Campus for entrepreneurs opens in Warsaw

Campus is coming to Warsaw! Across Poland and Central Eastern Europe, innovators and entrepreneurs are building exciting new businesses, making the Polish capital a natural choice to launch our next Campus. We currently operate Campuses in London and Tel Aviv.

Campuses are Google’s spaces for entrepreneurs to learn, connect, and build companies that will change the world. In them, entrepreneurs get unparalleled access to mentorship and training from their local startup community, experienced entrepreneurs, and Google teams. Campus Warsaw will join the Google for Entrepreneurs network.

Our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for today’s inauguration. “Google started as a startup in garage, so supporting startups is part of our DNA,” Eric said. “Our hope is that Campus Warsaw will supercharge tech entrepreneurs, strengthen the startup ecosystem and encourage even more innovation in Poland.”

The new Campus represents only part of our ongoing investment throughout the region. In our Krakow office, we already have opened a Google for Entrepreneurs . Along with Warsaw University, we have launched the Digital Economy Lab, with the goal of spreading knowledge about the crucial role digital technology plays in powering the economy and about what policies are required to generate maximum digital acceleration. Along with the Visegrad Fund, ResPublica and the Financial Times, we have started New Europe Challengers campaign to identify the next generation of innovators.

We’ll have more news about the details of Campus Warsaw soon, and look forward to filling it with startups in 2015!

Posted by Eze Vidra, Head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe
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Highlighting the value of the Internet in Turkey

In the global battle for the free and open Internet, Turkey stands in the front lines. Web penetration is fast growing and the country’s young population is one of the world’s biggest per capita users of social networks. At the same time, these are challenging days for Internet freedom. In our view, the best way forward is to empower Turkey’s civil society to promote knowledge of how to manage and benefit from the web.

For the last year, we have supported a program called “Google Academy for NGOs.” Our aim is to educate NGOs on web issues, cloud computing and Google tools. In the first phase of the program, the academy has run workshops in Istanbul and Ankara, training a total of 77 NGO representatives from 62 NGOs. Participants came from NGOs concentrating on human rights, environment, education, entrepreneurship and women’s rights.

Scenes for the Google Academy in Turkey

Before entering the Academy, only half of the trainees indicated that they have knowledge regarding Internet and cloud applications for civil society. Although some 70% indicated that they know and have enough knowledge on Google Search and Google Chrome, only 12% stated that they know Google Good to Know content that provides information on web security and fewer than 10% said that they know about Google Trends, which helps analyze search traffic.

Thanks to the program, most of the participants saw how the Internet could benefit their NGO. It will allow them to keep in communication with their volunteers, increase interaction with stakeholders and partners, and facilitate the development of new projects. Instead of having everyone travel for a meeting, many said they plan to use Google Hangouts to meet online.

The NGO Academy’s first “class” recently graduated. Three exemplary NGOs, received scholarships to attend a management program at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The winning projects came from:

In June, we are completing a new, second phase of the program. Hopefully, the Google Academy will continue strengthening Turkey’s civil society to recognize the value of the Internet.

Posted by Pelin Kuzey, Policy Manager, Istanbul
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Tennish champ Federer takes to the court with Glass

Right in time for the French Tennis Open, which opens in Paris on May 25, two of the greatest tennis players of all time, Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg, recently took Glass for a swing. It’s safe to say that their combined 23 Grand Slam titles will be the most that ever step foot on Google’s tennis courts at our headquarters in Mountain View.

“It was really fun shooting this video through Glass,” said Roger. “It’s not often you get to explore new angles of watching tennis. I hope fans enjoy this new perspective.”

As our Glass Explorer community has grown, we’ve heard time and time again that Glass is a great companion for sports. Glass has been a hit with several pro athletes from Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert and PGA player Billy Horschel. Take a look and swing away.

Posted by Chelsea Maughan, Communications Manager
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Boosting innovative government in an innovative country

Israel is known as the ‘start-up nation’. Its private sector is one of the world’s most innovative and Internet-savvy. We’ve recently signed an agreement with the Israeli government to encourage adoption of pro-innovation public policies, from opening up public data sets to curbing unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. The initiative aims to find ways that the Internet can improve public services and help consumers.

As part of these initiatives, Internet developers and government officials will come together regularly at our Tel Aviv Campus. At the first meeting, the two sides examined how technology can help to reduce the high cost of living in Israel. Government officials explained that they are advancing a new law to open up public data on retail prices and called on developers to create price comparison apps.

Amit Lang, Director General of the Ministry of Economy, talking at “Meet the Gov” event at Campus Tel Aviv

Five local startups presented their services and insights. Feex uses crowdsourcing to reduce management fees on financial products such as pension funds. My Supermarket lets consumers choose the cheapest option to order groceries online. Eloan encourages peer to peer loans. Madlan helps home buyers by showing how much an apartment was sold for, the average cost per meter in each neighborhood. Noknok gives people free calls anywhere with the same number even abroad.

These sessions were inspired by a Google-finance study called E-nnovate Israel. Researchers conducted 100 interviews with leading figures in the public, business, non-profit and academic sectors and concluded that government and private business need to work more closely together in order to promote innovation and economic growth.

Israel’s country manager, Meir Brand and Minister of Finance, Yair Lapid, sign the agreement

We hope that future sessions will be just as informative and useful for both the technology entrepreneurs and for officials. Both sides share the same ultimate goal – to use technology to ease interactions with government and improve lives.

Posted by Avi Bar, Senior Public Policy Analyst, Tel Aviv
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