Analytics in action

By Shannon McKeen

Note: As a consultant for the NCDS, Shannon is responsible for developing relationships with universities, industry, and government agencies for data science research and collaboration. He serves as a Faculty Advisor in Dartmouth’s OnSite Global Consulting Program and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Experiential Learning program. He is an Instructor in Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA program and in the Undergraduate Business program at Wake Forest. Shannon has 20 years of executive experience in sales, marketing and general management, with extensive expertise in growth strategies, new products and brand rejuvenation.

The NCDS often has a front row seat for advances in data science but sees analytics in action from a distance. Earlier this month, that view changed. In early September, the UNC-Chapel Hill School for Public Policy presented the first of two 2017 Analytics for Policy Seminars. This first seminar, Exploring a Data-Driven Approach to Fighting the Opioid Epidemic, bundled into two days a concise demonstration of America’s opioid problem, a review of data analytics, three different perspectives on the opioid epidemic (Medical, NGO, and Government), and most powerfully, shared two specific use cases from Tennessee and New Jersey.

The UNC Analytics for Policy website explains that the seminars are “designed to empower federal, state, and local government policymakers to plan and implement successful analytics applications,” and this first seminar delivered on that promise. Around 30 attendees from different states represented a variety of organizations, but all were committed to using analytics to address the opioid problem.

The extent of the opioid crisis is depressing. As outlined in a recent New York Times article, Fentanyl Drug Overdose Deaths, drug overdose deaths from Fentanyl and other prescription opioids in 2015 equaled the overdose deaths from heroin, cocaine, methadone, and methamphetamine combined. Opioid overdoses kill indiscriminately with increasing deaths in all age, race, and gender categories.

The seminar, hosted at UNC-CH on day one and SAS on the second day, was structured to provide context in the first sessions while latter sessions drilled down to specific use cases. Tools and best practices were shared for attendees to use when they return to combat the epidemic in their own communities.

The power of these Public Policy seminars comes in the second day where solutions are shared and discussed. Use cases shared by the states of Tennessee and New Jersey demonstrated how collaboration and analytics can lead to effective strategies to combat opioid abuse. Specifically, the speaker from the Tennessee Department of Health talked about a new way of thinking that emphasizes:

  • Breaking down silos
  • Creating diverse cross-functional teams
  • Embracing the friction inherent in diverse, cross-functional teams
  • Being open to exploring innovative ideas
  • Experimenting and delivering quick results while building for the long term
  • Staying grounded in data and rigorous methodologies

Overall, the seminar showed the value of addressing public policy challenges through applied data science. The NCDS is proud to be a supporting sponsor of the UNC Analytics for Policy Seminar and looks forward to the second seminar, Exploring a Data Driven Approach to Child Welfare, which is scheduled for October 4-5. It is not too late to Register.