Rob Mitchum

It was a busy week of working with and learning from our project partners, in person at the DSSG space on State Street, on video chats, and in conference calls. Fellows heard how a diverse range of organizations — point-of-sale data analysts, non-profits working on homelessness and health insurance, government agencies covering education and public health — currently collect and use their data, as well as the problems they would like to solve using data in the future.

By the end of the week, the vague outline of each project started to fill in with detail, and fellows were ready to look at their data with the new perspectives provided by project partners. In that spirit, here’s additional details on three more DSSG projects, covering important questions in energy, health care, and social services.

Pecan Street & WikiEnergy – Building Open Source Tools to Analyze Smart Meter Data


Millions of homes around the world are now equipped with “smart meters.” Data generated by these meters present the previously untapped potential to create economic opportunities and support the operation of a more distributed, resilient, and cleaner electric grid. Researchers and companies are only beginning to tap smart meter data to manage a smarter, more efficient electric grid and create energy management platforms and products that appeal to consumers.

Texas-based non-profit Pecan Street Inc. operates the world’s largest database of consumer energy information: WikiEnergy. This database is highly granular, including use measurements collected at 1-minute intervals from up to 24 circuits within the home. With access to this rich source of information and an algorithmic-based approach model, DSSG will develop new residential energy management tools. For example, a model may infer appliance-level usage patterns to identify wasteful appliances, provide savings advice based on future consumption forecasts, or use weather conditions to help homeowners optimize thermostat settings. These tools may be used connect consumers with the powerful data generated by smart meters, help move the needle on energy savings, and create products that improve consumers’ lives.

Mentor: Varun Chandola

Fellows: Philip Ngo, Miguel Perez, Stephen Suffian, Sabina Tomkins

Enroll America & Get Covered Illinois – Targeting the Uninsured for Health Insurance Enrollment


During the first open enrollment period under the new Affordable Care Act (ACA), over 8 million people obtained health insurance. But an estimated 13.4% of Americans remain uninsured, including over 1 million residents of Illinois. Enroll America is a nonprofit organization focused on maximizing the number of Americans who are enrolled in and retain health coverage. Get Covered Illinois is the official health marketplace for Illinois and is the federal partner responsible for leading all ACA education, outreach and enrollment efforts statewide. In its first year, Get Covered Illinois and its over 200 statewide grant funded partners enrolled over half a million Illinoisans in the Health Marketplace and ACA Expanded Medicaid program.

The two organizations are working together to help identify and engage Illinois’ uninsured population in preparation for the next open enrollment period, from November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015. Using the databases of both of these groups, we will construct models of the best channels of communication and key messaging to reach the different subpopulations of the uninsured in Illinois and other states. These models will help inform their collective outreach strategies and support their continued efforts under the ACA to bring health coverage to all Americans.

Mentor: Tom Plagge

Fellows: Sam Zhang, James Savage, Peter Landwehr, Diana Palsetia

Nurse-Family Partnership – Optimizing Treatment for Expectant Mothers

NFP Logo

Young, low-income, first-time mothers and their babies often face dramatically increased risks to their health, education, and economic self-sufficiency. Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), a national nonprofit organization, intervenes by pairing these mothers with specially-trained, registered nurses. Expectant mothers receive regular home visits from pregnancy until the baby is two years old. The result: healthier pregnancies, more stable families, and better developmental outcomes for children.

NFP’s approach is based on decades of research, and last year DSSG fellows helped NFP quantify its impact by combining its data with national demographic data to assess how nurse visits affect measures of early childhood development such as immunization and breastfeeding rates. Some local NFP agencies currently face greater demand than they can meet. With our models, we seek to identify mothers who will benefit the most from NFP’s programs and the most impactful timing of nurse visits. We hope to help NFP better understand their target population and personalize their services based on each mother’s needs.

Mentor: Young-Jin Kim

Fellows: Rafael Turner, Sarah Tan, Jeff Lockhart, Sarah Abraham