Geoff Zakaib presents some of the DataThon’s findings during presentations held on May 31, 2015.

Data for Good Calgary and Distress Centre Calgary teamed up over the May 29-31 weekend for a DataThon, organized by Data for Good. Over 50 data volunteers analyzed over 1.25 million records of Distress Centre’s calls, 211 contacts, chats and texts, dating back as far as 2003.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to have been the recipient of one of Data for Good’s bi-yearly DataThons, as we simply do not have the resources in house to break down all this data,” says Michelle Wickerson, Senior Manager, Organizational Performance.

Our objectives were many, but our main goal was to find more efficient and effective ways to analyze the data we collect in order to optimize our operations. Another key goal was to analyze the need for 24 hour services.

The DataThon began on Friday night with Distress Centre staff giving an overview of the work we do, running through the objectives we’d settled on and informing data volunteers on the types of data available. Preliminary work had already been done by Distress Centre staff, including Michelle Wickerson, Daniel Perron, IT Analyst, Raymond Wong, our former Systems Analyst who now works for United Way, and a group of volunteer data ambassadors to ensure that data was ready to be analyzed.

One of the largest and most important pre-DataThon tasks was to anonymize the data, ensuring the confidentiality of our clients and callers.

Data volunteers were then split into six groups. Each group had an objective to work towards. Does call content change depending on time of day? What types of issues are most successful at stabilizing or reducing in risk? Are there correlations between our data and public data sets, such as deaths by suicide in Alberta and weather records?

One group used spatial mapping capabilities to present 211 data by the postal codes of callers. Another group used text analysis to compare the language and topics covered in the narrative pieces of call, chat and text records.

The data volunteers had their work cut out for them and on Saturday May 30, from 9am till 11pm, they dug through the data, looking to answer the posed questions.

On Sunday, each group presented their findings. Though specific results still need to be validated to ensure their accuracy, they validate that crisis happens at all times of the day: there is no time period that is more prone to higher risk crisis.

“24 hour support is vital to ensure people have the help they need, when they need it,” says Michelle Wickerson.

Some myths were also dispelled. For example, no correlation between full moons and the length or severity of calls could be found. Another interesting finding was that the data showed Distress Centre was particularly strong at de-escalating, or reducing the level of risk in calls from students. More analysis and research will need to be undertaken to learn more about what these findings mean.

Another big takeaway from the event was that we now have our data shaped in a way that can be analyzed and introduced to a variety of tools that can help staff analyze data more efficiently, present better and identify correlations and trends that have previously gone unnoticed.

Distress Centre is grateful to the incredible group of volunteers who were passionate about our work and about the significance of their data results which will support and improve our services. A special thanks to Geoff Zakaib, Data for Good Calgary’s organizer, for all his work on the event.