Shopping Baskets and Social Problems

12 June 2014 - Kev Kirkland

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 DataDive at the weekend which was organised by DataKindUK (thanks to Nesta for funding the event and Mozilla for space). It was a privilege to work alongside some incredibly smart data scientists and some incredibly committed charities.

I was working in a team of people (much smarter than me) on a social challenge. People approach the charity Buttle UK to get small grants when they are in dire straights. Buttle UK records the reasons for a grant being given (like homelessness or domestic abuse) and they wanted to know which reasons commonly occur together. There’s a technique called ‘Shopping Basket Analysis’ that’s often used by supermarkets (predictably enough) to find out which items people often put in their baskets together. We can use the same technique to find out which social problems commonly occur together. When put to work on Buttle UK’s data, the analysis showed a network of common patterns, like homelessness often occurring with estrangement (usually when young people have to leave home quickly).

Next time you drop a loaf of bread into your shopping basket, take a moment to celebrate on how the techniques used to analyse your shopping habits can be put to greater use in social organisations.

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