MDI and la Universidad de la Sabana Collaborate for Data4Policy Challenge

Written by Paige Kupas

“How do you improve the trust of Colombians in their institutions?”

That is the question students from la Universidad de la Sabana (Unisabana) in Colombia and Georgetown University sought to answer in the inaugural Data4Policy Challenge. Nine teams with students from both universities developed project proposals outlining their solution to this problem. MDI Post Doctoral Fellows Le Bao and Helge Marahrens hosted office hours to assist the competitors with their projects. Then two days later, a panel of judges that included Lisa Singh, Massive Data Institute (MDI) Director, and Angelo Rivero Santos, Director of Academic Affairs at Georgetown’s Center for Latin American Studies, rated video proposals to determine the Challenge winners. 

The collaboration between Georgetown University and Unisabana began last May when Diana Alejandra Gonzalez Penagos, director of international relations for Unisabana, visited Georgetown and met with Santos, who then connected Unisabana with MDI. 

Singh hopes that the Data4Policy Challenge will become a larger annual event that connects Georgetown to universities in South America. 

“Trust in institutions continues to decline, and we need to develop strategies for improving this institutional trust and reconnecting citizens to the institutions that have been designed to help them and improve their lives. To me, one of the strategies for doing that is through data,” Singh said before the awards ceremony commenced. 

After the judges evaluated each team’s video, the top five teams shared their videos and answered questions live from the judging panel. The winning team, 5 Solutions, proposed a video series that would explain important facts about Colombia’s DANE (National Administrative Department of Statistics) in an accessible way.

MDI Scholar Bernardo Medeiros participated from Georgetown and was on the winning team.

“My favorite part of the challenge was getting to work with the team of Colombian students, and getting to learn about Colombian institutions in the process,” Medeiros said. “It was very interesting, and I was exposed to facts and ideas I don’t think I would have been otherwise.”

Santos said that he was impressed by all of the students’ language skills, commitment to using data for the public good, and ability to create realistic and well-researched project proposal videos.

“It is very good to see young students at a Latin American university be interested in trying to use data for attempting to make public policy more efficient,” Santos said. “They are trying to recover something that has been lost throughout Latin America, as we know through many surveys, which is trust in public institutions.”

Gonzalez Penagos said that she was “impressed by the use of certain data sources” and that the students were “handling the pressure of time and still trying to deliver the best possible solution to a difficult challenge, also while using a foreign language.”

The Challenge was a success due to cooperation from student participants, MDI, and Unisabana, thus paving the way for future competitions in which students look for policy solutions using traditional and novel data sources.