Building effective “Citizens Data Scientist” teams


The idea of citizen data scientists is being for more than a year, which suggests businesses to put the people from the business side in the work of exploring and analyzing data. Understand how you and your organisation can be benefitted by this.

Unless you are allergic to every new hype word coming out of Gartner and other high profile research firms, you have probably heard the term “Citizen Data Scientist” a few times over the past 12 months. It is attributed to Gartner’s director and BI industry expert Alexander Linden, who suggested that companies interested in data science should be:

cultivating “citizen data scientists”—people on the business side that may have some data skills, possibly from a math or even social science degree—and putting them to work exploring and analyzing data.

This is an interesting concept indeed, which has been received with mixed reviews. While a recent article Forbes called it the “Democratization of Big Data”, on more technical forums it has been referred as a “mirage“. Not everyone agrees that its possible, wise and generally a good idea to take people that are not “qualified” to crunch numbers by training and handing them tools with intimidating names such as Support Vector Machines, Decision Trees, Neural Networks and Principal Components Analysis. Most importantly, is it a good idea to entrust such “citizens” with decisions that only until know were strictly the responsibility of Ph.D.-bearing, Data Masters that are as hard to find and expensive as truffles?

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The main reason for having had several opportunities to help build teams of citizen data scientist is probably the vertical where we started with 13 years ago: government, and specifically tax and revenue.

Anyone would agree that a tax agency has quite a bit of data to crunch and the important mandate to ensure compliance, which advanced analytics can definitively help with. Small incremental improvements in detecting fraud, noncompliance and managing tax collection can easily turn in to millions, if not billions of dollars, in additional revenue to support our communities.

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