Students and nonprofits collaborate in workshops for social good

April 13, 2022

GSPIA students, professors, and alumni nonprofit leaders brought their expertise to the first-ever Scopeathon for Social Good, a two-day event that gave students hands-on experience scoping a data science project with real-world social impact. 

From April 1-2 at CMU’s Hamburg Hall, seven local nonprofits and government agencies presented their data challenges, some of which involved police accountability, housing affordability, and food waste. Each organization was then paired with a student team; together, they would fully “scope” the problems before deciding on a course of action. 

What does it mean to “scope” an issue?  

“To understand the problem, the stakeholders, routines, incentives behind the project, and to find a concrete, measurable goal to improve the problem first, and then objectively exploring possible actions,” explains Dr. Sera Linardi, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Analytical Approaches to Social Innovation (CAASI).  

"This seems like common sense, but contrast this with solutionism, where we decide on an action first, or where we go after goals that are not concrete and measurable, like 'eliminate poverty,'” said Linardi. 

Dr. Sera Linardi, GSPIA Associate Professor, teaches a scoping workshop.

Linardi co-taught the event's scoping workshops alongside CMU’s Peter Casey, Director of the Data Science for Social Good program. Many of her students in PIA 2250, Working with Public Interest Technologies and Civic Data, were also involved in the day’s events.  

GSPIA nonprofit manager leads discussions surrounding police accountability:

Current MPA student Hannah Genovese manages GSPIA’s homegrown Allegheny County Policing Project (ACPP), one of the nonprofit clients presenting at the event. Founded by members of CAASI’s Grief to Action (G2A) working group, the project strives for transparency around police accountability at the local level. 

Genovese and her team had three goals for Scopeathon: to remove the 6 problematic phrases within police contracts, to increase the percentage of successfully filed police complaints, and to identify the community organizations most in need of information on police contracts.  

“It was interesting to get an outside perspective on the organization because our view as people within the group can get myopic when we're in the weeds of problem-solving,” said Genovese. “It was an overall useful reminder to keep big picture goals in sight while we work on day-to-day tasks.” 

Hannah Genovese (MPA) and Pitt Clinical Research Coordinator Emmaline Rial represent Allegheny County Policing Project (ACPP), aided by volunteer Data Lead Eduardo Soloman, Quality Data Analyst for CodeBuster and CMU Heinz College graduate.

Students collaborate with organizations to tackle real-world issues: 

Scopeathon brought together graduates and undergraduate students from Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University across all disciplines, forging connections and scoping problems collaboratively.  

“The goal of Scopeathon is to produce a pathway forward for our paired nonprofits to tackle their issues with data, but that didn’t mean everyone had to be a data scientist to participate,” said MPIA student Noah Fair. “It’s a great way for students to test their policymaking skills with real issues.” 

Fair co-led his student team, a mix of undergraduates and graduate students in various fields of study, including data science, policy, and even neuroscience. His group was paired with Triboro Ecodistrict, a nonprofit that coordinates sustainable community development in Millvale, Etna, and Sharpsburg. 

“The best part is that many of these organizations seemed to be generally interested in implementing these recommendations,” Fair said. 

Several students left the event wanting to continue their Scopeathon projects, having formed relationships with their paired organizations and each other. 

“It’s also a great place to network. I highly recommend it,” said Fair. 

CAASI members ready to take on Scopeathon, including Dr. Sera Linardi, Hannah Genovese, and Noah Fair.