Data Science for public good

Symbolic picture: Data Science for public good
Symbolic picture: Data Science for public good

Published on: 03.03.2022
Author: Bertrand Loison

The Data Science Competence Center (DSCC) was set up within the FSO in 2021 to ensure high quality services for the Swiss Federal Administration as a whole.

In order to function, a democracy needs to form an opinion on various relevant subjects of general interest and on those relating to the conduct of public policy. The quality, reliability and impartiality of information produced by the public administration are thus of key importance to provide facts for political debate and to support decision-making by political stakeholders. Swiss official statistics have performed this task of producing impartial information in an exemplary manner for over 160 years.

The increasing « datafication » of society over the past fifteen or so years is evident. Data science offers the potential to extract real added value from available data to extract from this the necessary knowledge to facilitate decision-making. It enables complex problems involving large amounts of usually unstructured data to be solved through the rigorous application of innovative methods, techniques and practices. With the necessary hindsight, however, it is clear that our society has entered what we must call the age of algorithms. This raises the question of what role the public sector should play if it is to continue to provide a scientifically, ethically correct and bias-free basis for decision-making in the future.

By creating the Data Science Competence Center (DSCC), the Federal Council has established a body with high-level scientific expertise and experience enabling the public administration in Switzerland to receive advice on all aspects of a project involving the use of data science in general and notably the algorithms used.

The DSCC provides both concrete services in consulting, algorithms, the management of complex data science projects and a range of training modules in data science and artificial intelligence (AI), following the principle of data science as a service (DSaaS). What the DSCC ultimately offers is a guarantee that the use of algorithms in a project will comply with the principles of the Rule of Law.

Such services provided by a competence center belonging to the Federal Administration give the management of Swiss public administrations access to a neutral partner who can confirm that the algorithms used comply with best practices and that the information used to assist decision-making corresponds to the functioning of a state governed by the Rule of Law.
More generally, the DSCC provides its services in accordance with the following values: information security, data protection and security, data governance, non-discrimination, explainability, transparency, reproducibility, neutrality, objectivity, ethical handling of data and results as well as public trust.

There are fundamentally two main uses of algorithms in data science in public administrations here and elsewhere:

  • The first is AI, i.e. the application of data science to automate repetitive tasks using machine-learning algorithms. Efficiency gains are targeted here.
  • The second is data science in general, i.e. the ability to produce specific decision-making tools (analyses, scenarios or projections for instance) for political decision-makers, enabling them to steer public policies in a targeted way, and where possible almost in real time, from the point of their creation to their evaluation. The application of evidence-based policy making is targeted here.

To ensure that data science skills are shared across the Swiss Federal Administration, the DSCC is focusing on the development of a community of practice: «Data Science for Public Good».

Last update 03.03.2022

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Federal Statistical Office
Data Science Competence Center DSCC

Espace de l'Europe 10
CH-2010 Neuchâtel


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