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Milwaukee County Sees Promise in Machine Learning

Officials in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, know that sometimes racial discrimination is fostered by language buried deep within laws and regulations that escape people’s notice. So, to help identify it, the county’s tech experts used a six-week annual hackathon this year to find an innovative way to study foreclosure data as an important first step to addressing disparity.

The team used ML to identify words and phrases that called for further investigation. Experts in the MKE Tech Hub Coalition, which aims to increase technical talent in the region, established the project’s scope, and then the county requested data from entities that hold foreclosure information.

Often, the county received data in Excel spreadsheets.

“Because we only had 30 days to do this process, there wasn’t much of a formalized procedure,” said Lynn Fyhrlund, CIO for Milwaukee County. “It was like ‘Hey, where can we get the data? How fast can we get it and can we get it into our system?’”

“Part of this, to be very upfront, is we realized that we have lots of data. It’s siloed all over the place and there’s not been data stewards around it. It’s something we’re working on internally ourselves, but this project highlighted how important your data is,” Fyhrlund added.

The experiment’s results were inconclusive, but that’s OK, he said. It was the county’s first attempt at using AI and ML, and it reinforced the county’s burgeoning appreciation of data, including the recent creation of an enterprise data services team and a data strategy. “It wasn’t because of [the hackathon],” Fyhrlund acknowledged. “I think what [the hackathon] did was help reinforce that we’re on the right path.”

This article first appeared in our guide, “Innovations 2022: Conversations That Matter. To read more about how governments are embracing change, download the guide.

Image by Leonardo Marchini from Pixabay

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