Pivotal for Good Connects Data Scientist with Crisis Text Line to Help At-Risk Teens

November 14, 2014 Kim Bassett

featured-P4G-CrisisTextLineHelping a troubled teenager through a crisis isn’t what comes to mind when you think of a data scientist’s regular activities. But courtesy of the Pivotal for Good (P4G) program, Pivotal Principal Data Scientist, Noelle Sio, is doing just that with the data philanthropy nonprofit Datakind.

P4G provides philanthropic organizations with free, dedicated engagements with Pivotal’s industry-leading data scientists for a three-month period. Crisis Text Line, whose trained specialists assist hundreds of at-risk teens every day, is the beneficiary of Noelle’s current work. Her goal is to discover and implement data-driven approaches to help specialists defuse crises and connect teens with additional resources. Noelle is working with Crisis Text Line’s Bob Filbin to leverage the organization’s extensive data from over four million messages to design an “intelligent switchboard” that will route teens more quickly to a trained specialist.

“Pivotal Data Science is both excited to be announcing its first P4G placement, and humbled by the importance of the work Noelle will be doing with Crisis Text Line,” said Annika Jimenez, Vice President, Pivotal Data Labs. “This project is what Pivotal for Good is all about—bringing scarce data science resources to communities in need.”

Every day, Pivotal data scientists like Noelle turn big data into actionable insights that are transformative for customers and clients. Pivotal believes that social service organizations should be beneficiaries of these innovations and insights, and created P4G to fulfill that mission. While nonprofits and social service organizations often have data capable of yielding tangible improvements for their work and communities, they typically lack the budgets and resources to hire data scientists and obtain infrastructure. P4G demonstrates Pivotal’s commitment to data philanthropy by taking these projects on pro bono, extending data science’s reach and increasing its impact for communities in need.

Helping troubled teenagers presents challenges very different to a typical data science workload, and P4G relied on its partnership with DataKind to navigate unfamiliar waters. DataKind’s relationships with social service organizations allow it to bring together high impact organizations like Crisis Text Line with Pivotal’s data scientists. “DataKind is absolutely a critical enabler of Pivotal’s data-philanthropy activities,” said Jimenez. “Just like an enterprise needs strong engagement managers to drive successful analytic initiatives, Pivotal leans into DataKind to make sure our P4G placements will be a success.”

This pairing process prompts data scientists to ask some unfamiliar questions: What motivates me in my work? Whom do I want my abilities to benefit? What do I feel passionately about? In Noelle’s case, her prior work promoting STEM education among young girls shaped her decision. For Crisis Text Line, Noelle’s strong media and mobile experience was an additional win. Describing the project, Noelle explained, “We’ll be applying both text and predictive modelling techniques that are new in the crisis space, yet well established in the commercial space. For example, we are planning on using a topic model to help quantify which issues are most prevalent amongst the texters.”

With DataKind’s continued support and facilitation, Noelle and Crisis Text Line have embarked on a partnership to uncover operational analytic insights. But unlike most Pivotal data science engagements with precisely quantified benefits, this collaboration will be rewarding in a different way. Pivotal, Crisis Text Line, and DataKind will be talking more about the outcome of this program at Strata in February 2015, and again in March at NTEN’s Non-profit Technology Conference, and, of course, here on this blog. We look forward to sharing further how data science is being put to good—specifically to help teens in crisis in this case.

Editors Note: For more on this story directly from DataKind, please see their blog post: [DataCorps Update—Crisis Text Line has Launched!]

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