Urban Slums in a Datafying Milieu: Challenges for Data-Driven Research Practice


Paper by Bijal Brahmbhatt et al: “With the ongoing trend of urban datafication and growing use of data/evidence to shape developmental initiatives by state as well as non-state actors, this exploratory case study engages with the complex and often contested domains of data use. This study uses on-the-ground experience of working with informal settlements in Indian cities to examine how information value chains work in practice and the contours of their power to intervene in building an agenda of social justice into governance regimes. Using illustrative examples from ongoing action-oriented projects of Mahila Housing Trust in India such as the Energy Audit Project, Slum Mapping Exercise and women-led climate resilience building under the Global Resilience Partnership, it raises questions about challenges of making effective linkages between data, knowledge and action in and for slum communities in the global South by focussing on two issues.

First, it reveals dilemmas of achieving data accuracy when working with slum communities in developing cities where populations are dynamically changing, and where digitisation and use of ICT has limited operational currency. The second issue focuses on data ownership. It foregrounds the need for complementary inputs and the heavy requirement for support systems in informal settlements in order to translate data-driven knowledge into actionable forms. Absence of these will blunt the edge of data-driven community participation in local politics. Through these intersecting streams, the study attempts to address how entanglements between southern urbanism, datafication, governance and social justice diversify the discourse on data justice. It highlights existing hurdles and structural hierarchies within a data-heavy developmental register emergent across multiple cities in the global South where data-driven governmental regimes interact with convoluted urban forms and realities….(More)”.

The Urban Institute Data Catalog


Data@Urban: “We believe that data make the biggest impact when they are accessible to everyone.

Today, we are excited to announce the public launch of the Urban Institute Data Catalog, a place to discover, learn about, and download open data provided by Urban Institute researchers and data scientists. You can find data that reflect the breadth of Urban’s expertise — health, education, the workforce, nonprofits, local government finances, and so much more.

Built using open source technology, the catalog holds valuable data and metadata that Urban Institute staff have created, enhanced, cleaned, or otherwise added value to as part of our work. And it will provide, for the first time, a central, searchable resource to find many of Urban’s published open data assets.

We hope that researchers, data analysts, civic tech actors, application developers, and many others will use this tool to enhance their work, save time, and generate insights that elevate the policy debate. As Urban produces data for research, analysis, and data visualization, and as new data are released, we will continue to update the catalog.

We’re thrilled to put the power of data in your hands to better understand and respond to many critical issues facing us locally and nationally. If you have comments about the tool or the data it contains, or if you would like to share examples of how you are using these data, please feel free to contact us at datacatalog@urban.org.

Here are some current highlights of the Urban Data Catalog — both the data and research products we’ve built using the data — as of this writing:

– LODES data: The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) from the US Census Bureau provide detailed information on workers and jobs by census block. We have summarized these large, dispersed data into a set of census tract and census place datasets to make them easier to use. For more information, read our earlier Data@Urban blog post.

– Medicaid opioid data: Our Medicaid Spending and Prescriptions for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid Overdose dataset is sourced from state drug utilization data and provides breakdowns by state, year, quarter, drug type, and brand name or generic drug status. For more information and to view our data visualization using the data, see the complete project page.

– Nonprofit and foundation data: Members of Urban’s National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) compile, clean, and standardize data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on organizations filing IRS forms 990 or 990-EZ, including private charities, foundations, and other tax-exempt organizations. To read more about these data, see our previous blog posts on redesigning our Nonprofit Sector in Brief Report in R and repurposing our open code and data to create your own custom summary tables….(More)”.

Lessons Learned for New Office of Innovation


Blog by Catherine Tkachyk: “I have worked in a government innovation office for the last eight years in four different roles and two different communities.  In that time, I’ve had numerous conversations on what works and doesn’t work for innovation in local government.  Here’s what I’ve learned: starting an innovation office in government is hard.  That is not a complaint, I love the work I do, but it comes with its own challenges.  When you think about many of the services government provides: Police; Fire; Health and Human Services; Information Technology; Human Resources; Finance; etc. very few people question whether government should provide those services.  They may question how they are provided, who is providing them, or how much they cost, but they don’t question the service.  That’s not true for innovation offices.  One of the first questions I can get from people when they hear what I do is, “Why does government need an Office of Innovation.”  My first answer is, “Do you like how government works?  If not, then maybe there should be a group of people focused on fixing it.” 

Over my career, I have come across a few lessons on how to start up an innovation office to give you the best chance for success. Some of these lessons come from listening to others, but many (probably too many) come from my own mistakes….(More)”.

Identifying Citizens’ Needs by Combining Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Collective Intelligence (CI)


Report by Andrew Zahuranec, Andrew Young and Stefaan G. Verhulst: “Around the world, public leaders are seeking new ways to better understand the needs of their citizens, and subsequently improve governance, and how we solve public problems. The approaches proposed toward changing public engagement tend to focus on leveraging two innovations. The first involves artificial intelligence (AI), which offers unprecedented abilities to quickly process vast quantities of data to deepen insights into public needs. The second is collective intelligence (CI), which provides means for tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd.” Both have strengths and weaknesses, but little is known on how the combination of both could address their weaknesses while radically transform how we meet public demands for more responsive governance.

Today, The GovLab is releasing a new report, Identifiying Citizens’ Needs By Combining AI and CI, which seeks to identify and assess how institutions might responsibly experiment in how they engage with citizens by leveraging AI and CI together.

The report, authored by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Andrew J. Zahuranec, and Andrew Young, builds upon an initial examination of the intersection of AI and CI conducted in the context of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Opening Governance. …

The report features five in-depth case studies and an overview of eight additional examples from around the world on how AI and CI together can help to: 

  • Anticipate citizens’ needs and expectations through cognitive insights and process automation and pre-empt problems through improved forecasting and anticipation;
  • Analyze large volumes of citizen data and feedback, such as identifying patterns in complaints;
  • Allow public officials to create highly personalized campaigns and services; or
  • Empower government service representatives to deliver relevant actions….(More)”.

Open Cities | Open Data: Collaborative Cities in the Information Era


Book edited by Scott Hawken, Hoon Han and Chris Pettit: “Today the world’s largest economies and corporations trade in data and its products to generate value in new disruptive markets. Within these markets vast streams of data are often inaccessible or untapped and controlled by powerful monopolies. Counter to this exclusive use of data is a promising world-wide “open-data” movement, promoting freely accessible information to share, reuse and redistribute. The provision and application of open data has enormous potential to transform exclusive, technocratic “smart cities” into inclusive and responsive “open-cities”.


This book argues that those who contribute urban data should benefit from its production. Like the city itself, the information landscape is a public asset produced through collective effort, attention, and resources. People produce data through their engagement with the city, creating digital footprints through social medial, mobility applications, and city sensors. By opening up data there is potential to generate greater value by supporting unforeseen collaborations, spontaneous urban innovations and solutions, and improved decision-making insights. Yet achieving more open cities is made challenging by conflicting desires for urban anonymity, sociability, privacy and transparency. This book engages with these issues through a variety of critical perspectives, and presents strategies, tools and case studies that enable this transformation….(More)”.

New York Report Studies Risks, Rewards of the Smart City


GovTech: “The New York state comptroller tasked his staff with analyzing the deployment of new technologies at the municipal level while cautioning local leaders and the public about cyberthreats.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced the reportSmart Solutions Across the State: Advanced Technology in Local Governments, during a press conference last week in Schenectady, which was featured in the 25-page document for its deployment of an advanced streetlight network.

“New technologies are reshaping how local government services are delivered,” DiNapoli said during the announcement. “Local officials are stepping up to meet the evolving expectations of residents who want their interactions with government to be easy and convenient.”

The report showcases online bill payment for people to resolve parking tickets, utilities and property taxes; bike-share programs using mobile apps to access bicycles in downtown areas; public Wi-Fi through partnerships with telecommunication companies; and more….The modernization of communities across New York could create possibilities for partnerships between municipalities, counties and the state, she said. The report details how a city might attempt to emulate some of the projects included. Martinez said local government leaders should collaborate and share best practices if they decide to innovate their jurisdictions in similar ways….(More)”.

Community Data Dialogues


Sunlight foundation: “Community Data Dialogues are in-person events designed to share open data with community members in the most digestible way possible to start a conversation about a specific issue. The main goal of the event is to give residents who may not have technical expertise but have local experience a chance to participate in data-informed decision-making. Doing this work in-person can open doors and let facilitators ask a broader range of questions. To achieve this, the event must be designed to be inclusive of people without a background in data analysis and/or using statistics to understand local issues. Carrying out this event will let decision-makers in government use open data to talk with residents who can add to data’s value with their stories of lived experience relevant to local issues.

These events can take several forms, and groups both in and outside of government have designed creative and innovative events tailored to engage community members who are actively interested in helping solve local issues but are unfamiliar with using open data. This guide will help clarify how exactly to make Community Data Dialogues non-technical, interactive events that are inclusive to all participants….

A number of groups both in and outside of government have facilitated accessible open data events to great success. Here are just a few examples from the field of what data-focused events tailored for a nontechnical audience can look like:

Data Days Cleveland

Data Days Cleveland is an annual one-day event designed to make data accessible to all. Programs are designed with inclusivity and learning in mind, making it a more welcoming space for people new to data work. Data experts and practitioners direct novices on the fundamentals of using data: making maps, reading spreadsheets, creating data visualizations, etc….

The Urban Institute’s Data Walks

The Urban Institute’s Data Walks are an innovative example of presenting data in an interactive and accessible way to communities. Data Walks are events gathering community residents, policymakers, and others to jointly review and analyze data presentations on specific programs or issues and collaborate to offer feedback based on their individual experiences and expertise. This feedback can be used to improve current projects and inform future policies….(More)“.

Crowdsourcing Reliable Local Data


Paper by Jane Lawrence Sumner , Emily M. Farris and Mirya R. Holman: “The adage “All politics is local” in the United States is largely true. Of the United States’ 90,106 governments, 99.9% are local governments. Despite variations in institutional features, descriptive representation, and policy-making power, political scientists have been slow to take advantage of these variations. One obstacle is that comprehensive data on local politics is often extremely difficult to obtain; as a result, data is unavailable or costly, hard to replicate, and rarely updated. We provide an alternative: crowdsourcing this data. We demonstrate and validate crowdsourcing data on local politics using two different data collection projects. We evaluate different measures of consensus across coders and validate the crowd’s work against elite and professional datasets. In doing so, we show that crowdsourced data is both highly accurate and easy to use. In doing so, we demonstrate that nonexperts can be used to collect, validate, or update local data….(More)”.

Urban Systems Design: From “science for design” to “design in science”


Introduction to Special Issue of Urban Analytics and City Science by Perry PJ Yang and Yoshiki Yamagata: “The direct design of cities is often regarded as impossible, owing to the fluidity, complexity, and uncertainty entailed in urban systems. And yet, we do design our cities, however imperfectly. Cities are objects of our own creation, they are intended landscapes, manageable, experienced and susceptible to analysis (Lynch, 1984). Urban design as a discipline has always focused on “design” in its professional practices. Urban designers tend to ask normative questions about how good city forms are designed, or how a city and its urban spaces ought to be made, thereby problematizing urban form-making and the values entailed. These design questions are analytically distinct from “science”-related research that tends to ask positive questions such as how cities function, or what properties emerge from interactive processes of urban systems. The latter questions require data, analytic techniques, and research methods to generate insight.

This theme issue “Urban Systems Design” is an attempt to outline a research agenda by connecting urban design and systems science, which is grounded in both normative and positive questions. It aims to contribute to the emerging field of urban analytics and city science that is central to this journal. Recent discussions of smart cities inspire urban design, planning and architectural professionals to address questions of how smart cities are shaped and what should be made. What are the impacts of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the questions of how built environments are designed and developed? How would the internet of things (IoT), big data analytics and urban automation influence how humans perceive, experience, use and interact with the urban environment? In short, what are the emerging new urban forms driven by the rapid move to ‘smart cities’?…(More)”.

Gender Gaps in Urban Mobility


Brief of the Data 2X Big Data and Gender Brief Series by The GovLab, UNICEF, Universidad Del Desarrollo, Telefónica R&D Center, ISI Foundation, and DigitalGlobe: “Mobility is gendered. For example, the household division of labor in many societies leads women and girls to take more multi-purpose, multi-stop trips than men. Women-headed households also tend to work more in the informal sector, with limited access to transportation subsidies, and use of public transit is further reduced by the risk of violence in public spaces.

This brief summarizes a recent analysis of gendered urban mobility in 51 (out of 52) neighborhoods of Santiago, Chile, relying on the call detail records (CDRs) of a large sample of mobile phone users over a period of three months. We found that: 1) women move less overall than men; 2) have a smaller radius of movement; and 3) tend to concentrate their time in a smaller set of locations. These mobility gaps are linked to lower average incomes and fewer public and private transportation options. These insights, taken from large volumes of passively generated, inexpensive data streaming in realtime, can help policymakers design more gender inclusive urban transit systems….(More)”.