CoLab: Powering Data-Driven Collaboration at the Department of Health and Human Services

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     Jo Ann Stadtmueller           
machine learning
May 25, 2021    
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The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in its annual report, lists the 6 Top Management and Performance Challenges (TMCs) faced by the departments to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans. Among them, the challenge of harnessing data to support that mission is a critical priority that Data Society has partnered with the department to help solve with transformative training.

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic put both public health and data science on the nation's front pages, the expert team at Data Society was working hand in hand with our partners at HHS. The focus was defining and delivering a new kind of training experience to increase data literacy and cross-departmental communication, and empower more resourceful, reliable collaboration.

Together, we launched CoLab, an eight-week-long data science training boot camp, and integrated in-person, livestreaming, and on-demand training formats to maximize student engagement and equip self-paced learners with an experience that worked best for them.


Will Yang, a Program Director at HHS, described the challenges of  "[seeing] concrete opportunities (and the realities of addressing them) if we do not have a basic handle on data science, data architecture, and the state of the art." The early stages of the work informed both the structure and the initial selection of employees for the first series.

The first CoLab cohort consisted of 25 employees from different Department of Health and Human Services areas, including the National Institute of Health (NIH). With a broad spectrum of data science experience between them — ranging from entry-level analysts and nontechnical managers to advanced data scientists — Data Society custom-designed the curriculum for the exact skills and technologies HHS needed for sound, sustained advances. The visible engagement and outcomes from more data-nascent participants demonstrated "the impact for them was huge," according to Yang, and the results were truly inspiring.


Capstone leads to tangible ROI and real impact at HHS.

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The immediate results, beyond skills gained, were evident in the final student capstones. Signature to most Data Society training, these focused projects offer direct applications to the work, rapidly translating the theory and practice of the classroom into relevant solutions.

Capstones acknowledged the voices and values of tribal nations in public safety administration and targeted grant funding to communities with the highest risk of opioid overdoses. It even served to identify influencers and faith leaders to inspire Americans who support organ donation (90%) to join the ranks of those committed to being organ donors (then, only 50%). Watch the capstone presentations here. 

In this group alone, solutions from capstone projects resulted in more than $500,000/year in savings at Health and Human Services, all in service of recognizable impact on constituents.

Now, with a shared understanding of principles, staff from different parts of HHS (e.g., CDC, NIH) can communicate and build cross-departmental tools and capabilities like never before.

The ongoing CoLab program results in millions of dollars in annual cost savings to HHS, and with subsequent installments of the program receiving over 450 applications for 30 spots, students continue to report the program advances their skills, helps them automate arduous processes, and helps them identify new ways of analyzing and driving insight from data to deliver on the mission to better more Americans. 

The challenges faced by agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services are familiar to many large organizations. The demand for sustainable data-driven solutions and talent is rising faster than ever. Data Society is proud to support efforts and innovation in public health and the data-driven agencies, organizations, and enterprises to rebuild and reimagine better. To discuss data-driven solutions, or unleash your workforce's potential with our custom training programs, connect with our experts at

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