By Kristin Mueller - 25th April, 2019
PLASTARC is proud to have been a part of the Wharton People Analytics Conference (WPAC) for the last five years. The two-day event brings together experts and practitioners from a range of fields dedicated to understanding people through data. At last year’s WPAC, PLASTARC received the honor of "Most Innovative Use of Data" in the annual startup competition.
This conference began with the twin themes of building community and sharing ideas. Several of this year’s startup competition and white paper presentations centered less on individuals and more on the connections between them. This came through in innovative ways of analyzing social capital within a work environment and the clusters of connections between people, featured in a paper by Nathaniel Bulkley and Michael Arena. They emphasized that we traditionally focus on human capital while undervaluing the immense contribution of social capital—"what you know versus how well positioned you are to leverage what you know".
The potential for this to accelerate change was explored by OrgMapper in the startup competition. They compared the reach of managers to that of key influencers identified by their analytics, finding that influencers reach three times as many people directly. These insights into the communication networks within organizations can have huge implications for change management. Also on the topic of change, Brian Johnston and his team from IBM spoke on thinking critically about people skills and the overlaps and connections that can aid in understanding how best to re-skill in a changing workplace.
At PLASTARC, we talk a lot about the overlap of big data and little data—both are essential and, when combined, give us invaluable insights. Little data can at times be difficult to synthesize, which is why OrganizationView’s Workometry startup focusing on the synthesis of text analytics was so exciting. It affords the opportunity to more accurately analyze open-response text. They call this information "alternatively structured data, not unstructured data," emphasizing that human plus algorithm is greater than a human or an algorithm.
The second day began with a presentation by Ayreann Luedders, Senior Director, Academy Operations at Walmart. She spoke about using virtual reality systems to train store employees. Having a virtual reality environment makes it safer to fail. While we typically think of providing this type of training for high-stakes situations like flying an airplane, the affordability and portability of new systems has made it practical to use for more everyday tasks like making bread in the bakery or stocking shelves.
We also heard from Shuba Gopal and Andy Porter of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Their talk, "Data + Dialogue," examined how efforts to address complex problems are often stymied by a lack of robust data. For example, pay equity is hard to assess because of a lack of consistency around job types and requirements. There can be a lot of variability that’s made invisible by current data systems, like tenure experience for a given title. The equity gap itself is also distorted.