The Biocomplexity Institute’s Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory is working with government leaders in Arlington County to plan and demonstrate the feasibility of a scalable “community learning” framework throughout the state of Virginia. This collaboration has just been added to the Virginia Tech and Arlington County’s MetroLab Network partnership announced last month.

In MetroLab partnerships, the university serves as a research and development arm and the city serves as a test bed for technologies and policies. Faculty members and students gain access to real-world laboratories to develop and test tools and programs that utilize information technology, data analytics, sensing, and more. Cities and counties benefit from their technical expertise, leading to solutions that reduce the cost of infrastructure and services; make cities more sustainable and resilient; and improve citizens’ quality of life.

The first phase of the Virginia Tech/Arlington County Community Learning project developed a sustainable data framework that encapsulates a general approach for re-purposing data, from discovery to analysis to inference. This framework links not only government administrative data sources, but data sources from the web, social media, mobile applications, commerce, and geographic information systems. 

In the second phase, government leaders were brought together for a Data Discovery Workshop to identify and define those issues that keep them awake at night and to identify the data sources that can provide insights into these issues. The workshop was structured to break down the boundaries across governmental bureaucracies through a dialogue process used to identify issues and data sources that span their boundaries.

The current phase of the Community Learning project involves scientific method, hypothesis generation, and employing the principles of experimental design to define interventions that are data-driven and evaluated using data as evidence.

Sallie Keller, professor and director of the Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory, is leading the Community Learning project in the MetroLab Network for Virginia Tech; Jim Schwartz, deputy county manager, and Andrea Morris, director of Urban Resilience, Arlington Economic Development, are project leaders for Arlington County.

The MetroLab Network was launched by 21 founding city/county-university pairings in September 2015 at the White House as part of the Obama administration’s “Smart Cities” Initiative.