Published: Aug. 2, 2017
Attendees of the first annual LISA 2020 Symposium in Morocco

Attendees of the first annual LISA 2020 Symposium at the International Statistical Institute’s World Statistics Congress in Marrakech, Morocco

Collecting statistics is one thing. Communicating vast quantities of data in a way that helps researchers arrive at solutions to real-world problems is another. The Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA), created by director Eric Vance, was born to meet this need—but its reach now extends far beyond the community of researchers at CU Boulder.

On July 14, data scientists and statisticians from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Brazil, Pakistan, India, Zimbabwe and the United States attended the first annual LISA 2020 Symposium at the International Statistical Institute’s World Statistics Congress in Marrakech, Morocco. The event, which included ten presentations at the World Statistics Congress throughout the following week, allowed participants to build their skillsets, share best practices, and strengthen collaborations within LISA’s supportive global network of statistical collaboration laboratories, also known as “stat labs.”

“We currently have five stat labs in the LISA 2020 Network, and they’ve already had great impact in their respective countries,” says LISA director Eric Vance. “So far, we’ve trained more than 150 statisticians to communicate and collaborate with more than a thousand researchers and policy makers. The goal is to build a network of 20 global stat labs by 2020.”

As part of the symposium, statisticians from the Sokoine University of Agriculture Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (SUALISA) in Tanzania shared how they are working with researchers and NGOs to understand how to improve agriculture in Tanzania—and in turn, improve the livelihoods of small farmers. Meanwhile, the University of Ibadan LISA (UI-LISA) in Nigeria is collaborating with researchers to understand how local citizens cope with electrical blackouts and determine how to create a more reliable electricity infrastructure.

Lillian Siziba, a lecturer from the University of Zimbabwe and a newcomer to the LISA network, says the event inspired her to create a stat lab at UZ to train future statisticians how to move between theory and practice to solve real world problems and prevent the extinction of statistics in her country.

“The symposium caused a paradigm shift for me,” says Siziba. “As academics, our actions have more impact than industrial or official statisticians. We are the ones who have to improve statistical literacy for young people. Preserving the future of the statistics profession in my country is now my biggest priority.”

So far, the five networked LISA labs have taught more than 50 short courses designed to improve the statistical skills of over 1,500 attendees. With three more statisticians already refining plans to launch labs at their home institutions, the scope of the program and the opportunities for the research communities it reaches are set to only grow.