data scientists do good
February 16, 2016

Do your data scientists want to do good with data?

By Paul Laughlin

An interesting trend over recent years is the interest in data being used to do good (data scientists meeting societal needs).

Cause Marketing has been with us for a number of years. With firms vying to both communicate their social responsibility progress, and enhance their brand reputation, through meeting a need close to their customers’ hearts. Marketing by the Not-for-profit sector has become more and more sophisticated over the decades, with a number of contents (including Data IQ awards) now being won by large charities with big budgets.

But the interesting development, in more recent times, is commercial businesses successfully enhancing their brand identity by association with the causes they are marketing (including mentions at recent marketing conference).

At the end of last year, David Hessekiel published an interesting article in Forbes on the most important trends he was seeing in this new style of ’cause marketing’:

The 5 Most Important Cause Marketing Trends Of 2015

In 2015, numerous brands creatively and effectively engaged consumers with campaigns designed to build a better world…and the bottom line. Whether you call it cause marketing, purpose or values marketing or CSR, here were the year’s five hottest trends, as shared by top agency experts: 1. Transforming Iconic Packaging For Change There […]

One of those 5 is about helping people change their behaviour to the benefit of society (e.g. tackling obesity, excessive drinking, road rage etc). This is a topic we have mentioned before, especially through the ideas shared by Nir Eyal on his fascinating behavioural psychology blog. Here is his most recent post on helping people lose weight through better habits:

The Behavioral Economics Diet: The Science of Killing a Bad Habit

So what else might explain the results? For one, the study authors write, “people are typically more motivated to avoid losses than to seek gains.” This irrational tendency, known as “loss aversion,” is a cornerstone of behavioral economics.

So, what about Customer Insight or Data Science more directly? Are data scientists & technical geeks actually working for social good as well, or is this just left to more emotional marketers? The good news is that there is a great deal of interest in the data science community in using data for public good. This article from Harvard Business Review highlights how even non-for-profit causes with smaller budgets can benefit from the skills of data scientists through the number of hackathons & contests set-up for this purpose:

But commercial businesses & the data scientists who work in them are also keen, to feel the sense of doing good or ‘giving something back’ that comes with such work. Evidence of this can be found in the number of conferences, events & opportunities to volunteer or collaborate that have also sprung up focussing on the commercial sector. Just one example of this is Bloomberg‘s 2016 “Data for Good Exchange“, here are more details on that:

All this makes sense. I’ve shared previously that motivating & retaining talented insight professionals means empowering them to make a difference. For a growing proportion of the workforce (including the oft cited ‘millennials’), supporting social causes or helping others in need with their talents is a key aspect of what they want to be able to achieve. Planning how to enable your data scientists to use their technical skills, in support of your businesses’ social responsibility work, could be a sweet spot to both greater engagement & brand success. It’s interesting to see such tech giants as Microsoft also want to demonstrate how they plan to use their power for social good in this recent announcement:

Microsoft makes $1bn cloud pledge

Computing giant Microsoft has pledged to provide $1bn-worth (£700m) of cloud computing resources to organisations it deems to be working for the “public good”. The resources will be shared out over the next three years to about 70,000 non-profits and 900 university research projects.

Given past such initiatives, I can understand a healthy dose of scepticism, but I hope they succeed in achieving this goal.

What about you? Do you have an opportunity to use your technical skills to achieve social good? If so, please do share those examples with us.