Big data projects can be, well, big. In fact, sometimes, they can be too big and too complex for one organization to manage by itself. In 2015, the NSF (Natl. Science Foundation)’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering initiated the National Network of Big Data Regional Innovation Hubs and established four Big Data Hubs in each one of the four U.S. Census Regions—Midwest, Northeast, South, and West—to harness data for the good of society by addressing regional challenges, spurring economic development, and accelerating big data innovation.

Recently, the NSF awarded each hub a second round of funding, a total investment of $16 million. All four Big Data Hubs are designed to promote big data research focused on regional-specific issues, engaging regional stakeholders, including governments, academic institutions, industry, and nonprofits, in the process. Examples of challenges being tackled by regional hubs include fresh water in the West, agriculture in the Midwest, coastal flooding in the South, and aging urban infrastructure in the Northeast.

Since its inception, the Northeast Innovation Hub has focused on eight priority areas, ranging from data sharing to responsible data science. The Northeast Hub says it plans to use its four-year, $4 million grant to work with stakeholders on helping to develop best practices for responsible data science, creating frameworks for data fluency, fostering better management of data security and privacy, integrating health data from traditional and novel sources, improving education through big data, and reducing barriers for data sharing within and between different sectors.

On the other side of the U.S., the West Hub says the next four years and the latest round of funding will include an emphasis on developing and enabling translational data science. Initiatives include regional data collaboratives for the future of natural resource management (e.g., water), understanding risk and opportunity in data sharing specific to road video data, responsible data management in the realm of housing, creating programs for inclusive data science education and training, and expanding regional access to cloud computing.

The South Big Data Innovation Hub plans to continue to leverage big data to address issues or boost competitiveness in areas such as precision medicine to equalize health disparities, smart cities, advanced materials and manufacturing, social cybersecurity, and the environment, including addressing coastal hazards like hurricanes. In the Midwest, priority areas for the next four years include advanced materials and manufacturing, water quality, big data in health, digital agriculture, and smart communities.

By injecting funds into these four hubs, the NSF is not only giving regions tools to solve their own unique problems, but it’s also boosting nationwide big data innovation. The Big Data Hubs work together as needed to respond to cross-regional issues like transportation infrastructure and workforce development. For instance, an All-Hubs initiative called the National Transportation Data Challenge is a series of community problem-solving events designed to build and strengthen collaborative data science projects that advance transportation safety. The next community data science meeting bringing all four Big Data Hubs together will be next year in 2020.

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