Interview with Dr. Vanessa Frias-Martinez about her Award-Winning Research "Data-driven Models of Human Mobility and Resilience for Decision Making"

Interview with Dr. Vanessa Frias-Martinez about her Award-Winning Research "Data-driven Models of Human Mobility and Resilience for Decision Making"

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Vanessa Frias-Martinez has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her work, entitled Data-driven Models of Human Mobility and Resilience for Decision Making. Below is a short interview with her about this incredible project:

1. Can you describe this research for a broad audience? This project will focus on understanding how humans react to different types of shocks: from natural disasters to violent events. Decision makers typically rely on interviews and fieldwork during and after the shocks to gain insight information into human reactions. However, memory is selective and the reconstruction of events in the aftermath is far from accurate since individuals do not often remember specific details about their actual behaviors during shocks. In this proposal, I will take advantage of the widespread use that mobile technologies have in our society and of the availability of large open data collections, to sense and explain human interactions with the environment during shocks. The final aim is to develop a set of tools that will help explain and predict human behavior during shocks, which will hopefully aid decision makers in the creation of more effective policies.

2. What excites you about your work? I am really excited to advance the state of the art in two critical research directions. First, we will develop tools that (i) characterize, with contextual information, the types of reactions and resilience that communities have to different kinds of shocks, and (ii) forecast the impact that shock management policies would have on human mobility behaviors and community resilience during a shock. Second, we will develop tools that are algorithmically accurate and explainable. This proposal will analyze the trade offs between the two and expose decision makers to ways in which their decisions - based on data-driven approaches - can be better explained making them more accessible, transparent and understandable to the community at large. I believe that these efforts will help society to (i) respond faster and more effectively to shocks, and (ii) understand the benefits of data-driven decision making while being open about and proposing ways to overcome its biases.

3. What will getting the CAREER award mean for what happens next? The CAREER award will give me research and funding independence to carry out my research agenda for the next five years. As a long term project, it will allow me to work along with decision makers and communities in countries like Haiti, Colombia or Bangladesh. The award will also help me to identify data collection and data sharing practices that could help in improving the types of datasets shared by the telecommunications industry and its effectiveness for data-driven decision making. Finally, another important component of the CAREER award is its educational plan. During the grant period, I expect to develop new courses in the area of Data Science for Social Good; and to offer students opportunities to collaborate with decision makers so as to expose them to their information needs within the context of decision making during shocks.

4. What are the implications of this research for human mobility behaviors? Geographers and sociologists have been looking into human mobility and resilience for many years; and there exist many theories that explain how and why people move, interact with or react to events. This award will generate novel methods that will empirically confirm, dispute or provide alternatives to existing theoretical frameworks about human behavior during shocks. By using large scale datasets of human behavior at the country level, we expect to reveal human mobility and resilience behaviors that are representative of the population at large. These insights can ultimately be used in the development of more effective policies which could lead to more accurate decision making, thus maximizing the benefits of those communities helped during shocks.

Read more about the CAREER Award here: