The painful devolution of our social discourse has been accompanied by quick-trigger cynicism about many - perhaps most - of our prominent societal institutions. The public's growing instinct to bemoan all things government, question the motives of anything involving the word "corporate," and sneer at the products of academia makes complex, collaborative initiatives even more difficult to pull off… and they were already hard.
In stark contrast to that prevailing mistrust, I offer the Virginia's 2017 Governor's Datathon. The Governor's Datathon was founded in 2014 by Governor Terry McAuliffe as part of his program to advance the Commonwealth's use of data across the board. Having competed in the 2016 event, CapTech partnered with the Governor's Office and other organizations to produce this year's competition, which was held on September 28 and 29. Datathon 2017 challenged 15 competing teams to leverage public and private data sets in search of a solution to a self-selected element of the opioid crisis. Declared a public health emergency in Virginia by Dr. Marissa Levine (the state's Health Commissioner) in 2016, the crisis is illustrated in heart-wrenching fashion by statistic after statistic. Here are two from the Datathon website:
- Heroin overdose deaths have increased every year since 2010, and between 2015 and 2016, increased by 31%.
- The presence of synthetic fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in overdose deaths has increased every year since 2012, and between 2015 and 2016, fentanyl deaths increased 174.7%.
Despite this dark backdrop, the Datathon represented an uplifting junction of the public sector, private sector, and higher education. From planning, sponsoring, and managing the event to the teams themselves, volunteers and competitors from the three "walks of life" worked in concert to spawn innovation for the common good. Chronicled by NPR and StateScoop, the event yielded a wide variety of solutions, including data-driven mobile applications for a variety of impacted groups and analytics solutions that can enable micro-targeting of services to areas of need.
As is always the case with innovation, the greatest challenge of the Datathon lies in the follow-through; it's no small leap from a great proof of concept to a practical, supportable, enduring solution, and impediments to the realization of the proposed solutions are not insignificant. Nonetheless, thanks to the investments made by corporate, government, and higher education organizations, the Datathon sparked ideas with great potential to help the Commonwealth and other states battle one of our most imposing societal ills. I'm proud that CapTech could play a part in that effort and look forward to future opportunities to partner with other companies, state and local government agencies, and universities to block out the cynics and do something good.