DrivenData partners with Planned Parenthood to track trends in women’s health

The Harvard Innovation lab.
The Harvard Innovation lab.

DrivenData, a Harvard Innovation Lab startup that aims to use data science to address social issues, announced a new partnership this week with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, or PPFA.

Together the two groups have launched the startup’s latest data-driven contest that seek to leverage the work of data scientists to help nonprofits solve problems.

This particular challenge, “Countable Care: Modeling Women’s Health Care Decisions,” will focus in part on the choices women make regarding their reproductive health.

The DrivenData contests work a bit like hackathons, only instead of a weekend-long crunch session, the startup provides a massive data set to contestants and then monitors their work over a several-week period. The contests are open to the public and data scientists of all skill sets are encouraged to take part; each has the opportunity to win prizes based on the models they create at the end of the sessions.

“The entrants run a pretty amazing gamut, from people who are just learning and are looking for some interesting data to work on to professionals at the top of their field,” said DrivenData co-founder Isaac Slavitt, who started the company while earning his masters in computational science at Harvard. He and his co-founders, Greg Lipstein and Peter Bull, all met while at Harvard (Lipstein is still a student at Harvard Business School), and currently, the startup is getting support through Harvard Innovation Lab Venture Incubation Program (VIP) and the Harvard Business School Rock Accelerator Program.

For the Planned Parenthood challenge, the nonprofit provided a vast set of data culled from the Centers for Disease Control’s largest national survey of women’s health habits, which asked respondents to provided information on things like contraception use, family life, infertility issues, and pregnancy. PPFA’s team hopes that these hackers will use the data to sift out health trends, bringing a different perspective to the nonprofit’s efforts.

“We’re looking to understand trends in women’s health care,” said Katie Magill, the vice president for health outcomes and performance optimization at PPFA. “We think that bringing in experienced data scientists allows us to access a different skill set. These folks aren’t usually looking at social issues and we think this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Slavitt says that over 200 contestants have already signed up to take the challenge, which will run through April 14. The first place winner stands to win $3,000 if they produce the most compelling data analysis.

Magill acknowledged that a contest was a step outside the work that Planned Parenthood usually takes on — the organization is currently involved in over 70 research projects. She called the new approach “exciting” in the opportunities it provides women’s health researchers at large.

“Understanding trends in women’s health care is critical to delivering the expert quality care that is the hallmark of Planned Parenthood,” she said. “That’s why we do things like this. But we really think the results will go beyond just Planned Parenthood. We think they will be relevant to health policy groups, health researchers, and healthcare providers like ourselves.”

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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