All the President’s Data Scientists

The Times Election Commemorative Edition has an interesting article on the role of Data Science “Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win“. A few quick lessons (Of course, you should read the full Times article):

[Update 2/14/13] Infoworld has an interesting take on Big Data Analytics and the Obama Campaign. In addition to the Time’s narration of 4 lessons, InfoWorld adds the following:

  • Combined efforts of Analysts & Engineers
  • Implemented in weeks than months
  • Built around unconstrained, yet centralized environment (This is important for big data)
    • This enabled the analysts to ask questions irrespective of wherever the data originated from
  • Continuous inprovement, with built-in feedback loop

Note : I discuss the 5 Pragmatic Steps for Data …. er… Big Data in another blog
[update 2/28/13] AWS case study “Obama For America” has interesting details

My blog “All the President’s DevOps” on the infrastructure side of this system

1. Elevate Data Science to a 1st class Citizen

  • Campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign” … And hired a team of Data Scientists headed by Rayid Ghani
  • Rayid had visited Stanford to recruit budding Data Scientists – I wanted to attend, but couldn’t; am sure they would have also visited other campuses
  • Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret. “They are our nuclear codes,” as the campaign guarded what it believed to be its biggest institutional advantage over Mitt Romney’s campaign: its data.

2. Collect, Unify & Leverage Big Data

  • As I had written in one of my earlier blogs, the spectacular results of Data Science (inference and predictions) come from an effective data pipeline.
  • The Obama campaign has interesting pipelines of big data streams
  • While 2008 campaign was very successful, the team realized that they had too many databases & “None of them talked to each other.
  • So over the first 18 months, the campaign merged the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states. — Brings tears to the eyes of a data architect!
  • They actually built an awesome data mining infrastructure
  • This “megafile was the foundation for simulation runs for contributions, “persuadability” analysis and so forth

3. Practice Metric-driven Data Science

  • Don’t be afraid to create bold models, but back them up with reality
  • The Data Scientists have developed interesting models & predictions, but tested them with e-mails with different subjects, monitor results from e-mail and phone campaigns et al.
  • … assumptions were rarely left in place without numbers to back them up

4. Effective Modeling comes from weaving Big Data & Live Data

  • “The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states”
  • The polling and voter-contact data were processed and reprocessed nightly to account for every imaginable scenario.
  • We ran the election 66,000 times every night

And finally the article ends with an insightful statement,

In politics, the era of #BigData has arrived !

I rest my case with one more observation on Obama’s Digital Gurus

Inside The Cave report is a good read





5 thoughts on “All the President’s Data Scientists

  1. Pingback: All the President’s DevOps « My missives

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