This D.C.-based startup is helping government agencies prepare for the future

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Without even looking for it, the opportunity to work with the Department of Health and Human Services came to them — something Data Society CEO Merav Yuravlivker says is a testament to the close-knit data science community in Washington, D.C.

HHS was looking for an outside partner to help run a data science education program, and Yuravlivker quickly got an email suggesting that she and her team apply. Apply they did, and now Data Society is helping HHS launch the pilot edition of the CoLab, a data science education initiative for HHS employees, this month.

Data Society runs online data science courses and in-person trainings to give both analysts on the ground and leadership-level executives new data science tools and understanding. Yuravlivker said the course Data Society will run with HHS will be very “immersive.” Each of the 25 students will work over the course of eight weeks on a “practical and immediately applicable” capstone project.

According to HHS CoLab Director Will Yang, these projects could be web apps, models or dashboards — anything “that will enable better decision-making, insights, and automation.”

This isn’t the first time the small, Chinatown-based company has worked with a federal partner. Since launching its inaugural online data science course in February 2015, Data Society has partnered with the Commerce Data Academy, a Commerce Department initiative launched in January 2016 that aims to bring data and engineering education to agency employees. There, Data Society “taught senior level government employees about the potential of data science, the implementation of data science methods, the tools and tech available to them, and how to build a data science team and data product,” Yuravlivker told FedScoop.

The Commerce Data Academy is not currently running due to changes in priority at the agency. Britney Dockett, Commerce Data Service program coordinator, told FedScoop the group is “working through plans to sustain the Commerce Data Academy and hope to continue courses in the future.”

According to Yuravlivker, Commerce and HHS aren’t isolated in their interest in data science education.

“Government agencies are seeing that data science is the key to building an effective and empowered workforce,” Yuravlivker said. “Most employees are overwhelmed with data and don’t have the time to pull meaningful insights out of it because of their demanding workload. The data science skills that we teach help our students automate data ingestion and cleaning, and gives them a framework to approach analysis, so they can spend more time on analyzing data and making data-driven decisions.”

Agencies are realizing, she said, that it is expensive to to hire data scientists, not only in terms of  salary but also in terms of the time it takes a new employee to ramp up on agency-specific knowledge. It is cheaper to train existing employees, often subject-matter experts, in data science techniques, and this also leads to a more fulfilled and empowered staff.

“It really is a win-win for everyone,” Yuravlivker said.

“What HHS is doing is really anticipating the future,” she added.

Yuravlivker wouldn’t reveal what other agencies her company is in talks with, but said “there is a lot of interest.”

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Commerce Data Service, Commerce Department, Data Society, Department of Health and Human Services