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Keeping Humans in the Loop

10/30/2022 4:22 PM | Marla Halley (Administrator)

One of the biggest mistakes that data teams often make is jumping straight to developing a solution and not spending enough time with the people who will be using them and understanding their true goals.

Sometimes these goals, and the challenges to reaching them, are easy to identify. This is usually true if a data scientist is already working in the problem space or is already integrated into the business processes.

However, many data scientists operate as an outside consultant who is brought in to help drive strategic goals. This can lead to misunderstanding the problem and creating a solution that doesn’t live up to stakeholder expectations.

Or worse — creating the wrong solution.

A data team’s first instinct is often to begin with understanding the data. However, they first need to understand the people involved in the problem and who want a solution to it.

We can have all the data in the world but if we do not know how users or stakeholders interact with it and understand it in their terms, we cannot possibly make a solution that is going to fully solve their problem.

But you’re in luck! There is a framework you can use to help overcome this risk before even seeing any data. This framework is design thinking - a growing trend within data science long used in product development. Empathizing with your stakeholders is the first step to better understanding the problem they are trying to solve.

A simple way to start gaining empathy is by conducting interviews with your stakeholders, leadership, and team leads. You’ll be surprised by what you will learn by spending an hour (or more) in one-on-one meetings.

Importantly, you’ll learn how they are doing the work today. You’ll also begin to learn the language, jargon, and methods that these people use and where they see the gap. Ultimately, you want to gather their ideas on how they would want to use a solution if they had a magic wand to make everything better.

You also want to understand how leadership is currently driving business goals and figure out how a solution could contribute to those outcomes. And if it doesn’t contribute to the business goals, is it something that the stakeholders really want or need?

Data science is a collaborative effort between you and those using your solution. Success starts by fostering a deep interest in the people for whom these solutions are built.


Ascend is a socially impactful technology company that provides data driven products and consulting services to help organizations solve complex community health problems.

For Taste of IT, as part of the Developer/Data Analytics track, Ascend Innovations will be presenting 'Keeping Humans in the Loop: Human-Centered Design in Data Science and Analytics'. Join us in Room 122 at 3:40p.m.

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