HELPING PREDICT POPULATION DISPLACEMENT and monitor the spread of flu using sophisticated data sets are among the 2014 faculty projects recently receiving seed grants from the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Massive Data Institute (MDI).

The institute awarded four grants to Georgetown scholars conducting interdisciplinary research at the intersection of big data and public policy.

“The MDI is thrilled to support this research in four critical areas of health and health care,” said McCourt School Dean Edward Montgomery. “We hope this initial support sets the foundation for these important interdisciplinary projects.”


The $40,000 MDI seed grants are aimed at early-stage projects using large data sets that increase knowledge and research of complex issues in interdisciplinary fields, and which the school believes are likely to generate external funding.

Susan Martin, director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, and Lisa Singh, associate professor of computer science, will carry out a project using massive data sets to understand population displacement. The project builds on the work computational scientists and social scientists developing a prototype for a large-scale, data intensive early warning systems to detect forced migration emergencies from conflict and natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes.

Assistant professor of biology in Georgetown College Shweta Bansal, Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the university’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law, and Singh have received a grant to use big data, mathematical models and visual analytics to explore the spatial dynamics of the flu to better inform policy.

McCourt School professor Thomas DeLeire is teaming up with Lindsey Leininger of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Mayo Clinic’s Nilay Shah and David Holme on a project using predictive analytics to help discover high-need Medicaid enrollees under the Affordable Care Act.

The Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and the McCourt School’s Health Policy Institute received a seed grant for using Big Data to investigate the adoption of personalized medicine within the nation’s health care system. GUMC researchers include Innovation Center Director Subha Madhavan, Alex Fu, associate professor of population sciences and data scientist Matt Johnson. Health Policy Institute researchers include senior research fellows from the Center on Health Insurance Reforms JoAnn Volk, Kevin Lucia and David Cusano.


The MDI was created during the founding of the McCourt School of Public Policy in the fall of 2013. The mission of the institute is to use technology to help solve the urgent and complex public policy challenges of the 21st century.

The institute uses large data sets to increase the understanding of society and human behavior to improve policy decision-making.

Government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Geological Service already use massive data to predict flu and other infectious diseases, earthquake activity and tornado damage.

The MDI takes an innovative approach to shaping public policy by taking the data generated by government programs, analyzing it and using the research to implement future program planning.

"The increasing complexity of public policy issues, the need for more interdisciplinary approaches and the availability of massive data to provide new analytic tools have resulted in an invaluable opportunity for our university,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia.