Social Impact Internships: Ronak Saluja (’26)

Hello! I am Ronak, a rising sophomore from Boston, majoring in Artificial Intelligence
and Decision Making (6-4). This summer, I was a PKG Social Impact Intern for SomerStat, the
Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Analytics for the City of Somerville. At SomerStat, I served as
a Data Analysis Assistant, where I worked on a variety of projects mostly consisting of tasks
such as processing and cleaning data, running statistical tests with subsequent data analysis, and
data visualization.

Throughout my experience in this internship, I was quite surprised by the unique
initiatives that Somerville, a city I live just 10 miles away from, actively takes to improve the
lives of their citizens. I worked on a variety of such projects, but the one which I found
particularly special was the biennial Happiness Survey. Once every two years, Somerville sends
out a Happiness Survey to 5000 randomly sampled residents in order to gauge how happy they
are. While this may seem simplistic at face value, this questionnaire evaluates happiness through
various metrics, ranging from satisfaction with social events to satisfaction with the physical
setting and aesthetic of their neighborhoods. From my experience, this was very clearly a project
that my coworkers took very seriously, as they would have nearly daily conversations and
meetings on how they could improve outreach efforts for the survey, demonstrating how much
they cared about political participation. Accessibility was also a key priority this year, with
changes to the survey including an online and paper version, along with the survey being
provided to all residents in multiple residents in an effort to be as inclusive as possible. While I
previously often saw the process of creating and distributing a survey as fairly simple, this
experience showed me how complex this process can be when attempting to be inclusive and
fair. As a result, I was very impressed by all the considerations SomerStat took to make the
survey quite comprehensive and inclusive.

Portion of a Tableau Dashboard I created for SomerStat, with live updating data on demographics of residents who responded to the Happiness Survey online. This dashboard was used to inform staff about demographic groups which might need more outreach in order to have a more inclusive survey.

One of my projects relevant to this survey involved a longitudinal analysis of the data
from the 6 years this survey has been conducted, with the goal of using rigorous data analysis to evaluate how predictors of happiness have evolved overtime by comparing various scales in the Happiness Survey and providing recommendations to the government on issues they can work on through these recommendations. I found this to be a very interesting and fulfilling project, as I was able to pinpoint exact variables which had a strong impact on how satisfied citizens were with Somerville and their neighborhoods. The ultimate hope is for the government to use these findings to invest in resources which can make their citizens happier with where they live, showing how useful such a survey can be in improving the lives of citizens.

Data privacy was also a high priority relevant to the Happiness Survey (and the priorities
of SomerStat in general), as it can be very easy to leak vital information of participating residents
when releasing data if proper measures aren’t taken. As a result, I was impressed by the various
considerations my coworkers thought about when publishing data on the city’s Open Data Portal,
such as putting age and income into brackets rather than simply publishing raw data containing
the exact value of such information. Through this internship, I was able to learn a lot more about
the importance of transparency and privacy in publishing data, especially when I worked on
creating an inventory of the open data portal. In this task, I was able to play a role in efforts for improving data privacy by identifying datasets which had potential privacy concerns, and suggest which datasets should be archived due to privacy issues and relevance, giving me more of a perspective on factors to consider when evaluating the privacy of a dataset. Furthermore, the staff of SomerStat always treated this issue as a priority in meetings, representing the importance of socially responsible behavior in government work. While we often ignore the importance of data privacy, this internship truly showed me that data isn’t just numbers and variables – it represents people, and their personal stories. As a result, it is vital for governments, and generally those with power in the world of data privacy, to protect such vital information.

Overall, this internship was a very educational and fulfilling experience, as it showed me
how rewarding it can be to use my interest in statistics and computer science to improve the lives
of citizens. It was also very comforting to see this department of the government truly caring
about the privacy and lives of citizens, as shown through the various projects I saw my
coworkers at SomerStat working on. Despite these projects seeming very different at face value,
they all ultimately contributed to social innovation, community building, and generally
improving the lives of Somerville’s residents. In the future, I also hope to work in a field in
which I can have a direct positive and ethical impact on the lives of people through responsibly using the power of data.

Tags: Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Summer 2023

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