By helping local neighborhood groups engage with cutting-edge social science research, the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network Initiative (N3) leverages the power of big data to address core problems affecting the Chicago area. N3 researchers partner with local civic groups working at a grassroots level to improve their own neighborhoods: for example, they work with Chicago CRED to reduce urban gun violence and serve as the research and evaluation partner for the Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative, a community policing initiative designed to change the way the Chicago Police Department polices and to ensure communities have a voice in how they are policed. Andrew Papachristos, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern and faculty director of N3, says that “we're unique in that we’re a broker between datasets and neighborhoods, between nonprofits and government.”
To collaborate effectively, N3 depends on a secure and scalable infrastructure for data management. Yet the ever-growing volume of social science datasets presented several challenges for them. Data files were difficult to access and managing permissions for users inside and outside the organization was complicated. In 2020, working remotely magnified these pain points. With researchers accessing data from many locations, a centralized data system was more important than ever for security and collaboration between N3 researchers and their partners.