The Open Data Policy Lab’s City Incubator

The GovLab: “Hackathons. Data Jams. Dashboards. Mapping, analyzing, and releasing open data. These are some of the essential first steps in building a data-driven culture in government. Yet, it’s not always easy to get data projects such as these off the ground. Governments often work in difficult situations under constrained resources. They have to manage various stakeholders and constituencies who have to be sold on the value that data can generate in their daily work.

Through the Open Data Policy Lab, The GovLab and Microsoft are providing various resources — such as the Data Stewards Academy, and the Third Wave of Open Data Toolkit — to support this goal. Still, we recognize that more tailored guidance is needed so cities can build new sustainable data infrastructure and launch projects that meet their policy goals.

Today, we’re providing that resource in the form of the Open Data Policy Lab’s City Incubator. A first-of-its-kind program to support data innovations in cities’ success and scale, the City Incubator will give 10 city officials access to the hands-on training and access to mentors to take their ideas to the next level. It will enable cutting edge work on various urban challenges and empower officials to create data collaboratives, data-sharing agreements, and other systems. This work is supported by Microsoft, Mastercard City Possible, Luminate, NYU CUSP and the Public Sector Network.

Our team is launching a call for ten city government intrapreneurs from around the world working on data-driven projects to apply to the City Incubator. Over the course of six months, participants will use start-up innovation and public sector program solving frameworks to develop and launch new data innovations. They will also receive support from a council of mentors from around the world.

Applications are due August 31, with an early application deadline of August 6 for applicants looking for feedback. Applicants are expected to present their idea and include information on the value their proposal will generate, the resources it will use, the partners it will involve, and the risks it might entail alongside other information in the form of a Data Innovation Canvas. Additional information can be found on the website here.”

The Data Innovation Canvas

Turning data into public value: European lessons on unleashing the transformative power of city data

Paper by Anushri Gupta and Luca Mora: “The age of big data and smart city technologies provides city governments with unprecedented potential for data-driven decision making. Committed to constantly developing new urban policy and supporting urban operations, city governments have been using data describing the functioning of urban infrastructure assets and public services for a very long time. However, the widespread diffusion of digital systems has now created a remarkable new window of opportunity.

With many digital solutions being introduced into the built environment to improve the sustainability of urban sociotechnical systems, enormous amounts of data are constantly generated at the city level, and at unprecedented speed. City surveillance cameras, government applications for public services, building automation systems, intelligent transport systems, and smart grids are some examples of digital technologies which are contributing to producing an exhaustive stream of data “that can be harnessed to provide urban intelligence and reshape the practices and processes of public administrations”, creating a fertile environment for innovation and entrepreneurial activity. When attempting to tap into these large streams of city data, however, the opportunity to deliver sustainable value is met with significant sociotechnical challenges, which undermine the capability of urban development actors….(More)”.

New Orleans is using sentiment analysis on federal relief funding

Ryan Johnston at StateScoop: “New Orleans is using data and social-media analysis to gauge how residents want the city to spend $375 million in federal stimulus funding, while quelling concerns of corruption or misuse that still exist from the city’s Hurricane Katrina recovery, officials told StateScoop on Tuesday.

The city government is working with ZenCity, an Israeli data-analysis firm that trawls social media to better understand how residents feel about various issues, to research American Rescue Plan funding. New Orleans is set to receive $375 million in relief funding to stabilize its finances and, “directly address” the economic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the city, said Liana Elliot, the city’s deputy chief of staff. But many residents of the city are still wary of how the city squandered its Federal Emergency Management Agency funding following the natural disaster in 2005.

That caution became apparent almost immediately in online discourse, said Eyal Feder-Levy, ZenCity’s chief executive.

“We saw within the data that conversations about city budgets online in New Orleans were five-times more frequent than normal following the ARPA stimulus funding announcement,” Feder-Levy told StateScoop.

Elliot said what she heard about the budget in public didn’t match the conversations she was having with her colleagues in city government. Residents, she said, had an expectation that the money would help them, rather than go to city agencies…(More)”.

Closing the Data Gap: How Cities Are Delivering Better Results for Residents

Report by The Monitor Institute by Deloitte: “Better services. Smarter and more efficient use of tax dollars. Greater transparency and civic engagement. These are the results from the data-driven transformation in city halls across the country. The movement that began in just a handful of cities six years ago has now spread far and wide. Hundreds of cities, both large and small and in every region of the country, have embraced a new approach to local governance. Moving beyond old practices based on precedent or instinct, city leaders and staff are instead using data to make more effective operational, programmatic, and policy decisions. And residents are reaping real benefits, from improved services to greater visibility into how their local government works…

  • Performance management: The percentage of cities monitoring and analyzing their progress toward key goals has more than doubled (from 30% to 75%)
  • Public engagement: The percentage of cities engaging with residents on a goal and communicating progress has more than tripled (from 19% to 70%)
  • Releasing data: The percentage of cities with a platform and process to release data to residents has more than tripled (from 18% to 67%)
  • Taking action: The percentage of cities modifying existing programs based on data analytics has more than doubled (from 28% to 61%).

The results: greater transparency around how and why decisions are made, more effective and efficient operations, and improved services. For example, 60% of city officials surveyed in the WWC network reported improved emergency response times, and 70% reported that their cities are systematically using data-informed decision-making to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. More than half of survey respondents also reported improving their use of data to make budget decisions, award city contracts and/or shift procurement dollars, and deliver city services more efficiently, effectively, and/or equitably.

This kind of progress builds residents’ trust in government, produces better outcomes, and reflects the broad culture shift underway in city governments across the country — demonstrating that an evidence-informed approach is possible for all U.S. cities. Today, more than 250 municipal governments across the country are changing how they do business and tackling local challenges by putting into place critical data infrastructure and/or improving data skills….(More)”.

Street Experiments

About: “City streets are increasingly becoming spaces for experimentation, for testing “in the wild” a seemingly unstoppable flow of “disruptive” mobility innovations such as mobility platforms for shared mobility and ride/hailing, electric and autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility solutions, etc. But also, and perhaps more radically, for recovering the primary function of city streets as public spaces, not just traffic channels.

City street experiments are:

“intentional, temporary changes of the street use, regulation and/or form, aimed at exploring systemic change in urban mobility”

​They offer a prefiguration of what a radically different arrangement of the city´s mobility system and public space could look like and allow moving towards that vision by means of “learning by doing”.

The S.E.T. platform offers a collection of Resources for implementing and supporting street experiments. As well as a special section of COVID-19 devoted to the best practices of street experiments that offered solutions and strategies for cities to respond to the current pandemic and a SET Guidelines Kit that provides insights and considerations on creating impactful street experiments with long-term effects….(More)”.

How can governments boost citizen-led projects?

Justin Tan at GovInsider: “The visual treat of woks tossing fried carrot cake, the dull thuds of a chopper expertly dicing up a chicken, the fragrant lime aroma of grilled sambal stingray. The sensory playgrounds of Singapore’s hawker centres are close to many citizens’ homes and hearts, and have even recently won global recognition by UNESCO.

However, the pandemic has left many hawkers facing slow business. While restaurants and fast food chains have quickly caught on to food delivery services, many elderly hawkers were left behind in the digital race.

28 year-old Singaporean M Thirukkumaran developed an online community map called “Help Our Hawkers” that provides information on digitally-disadvantaged hawkers near users’ locations, such as opening hours and stall information. GovInsider caught up with him to learn how it was built and how governments can support fellow civic hackers…

Besides creating space for civic innovation, governments can step in to give particularly promising projects a boost with their resources and influence, Thiru says.

Most community-led projects need to rely on cloud services such as AWS, which can be expensive for a small team to bear, he explains. Government subsidies or grants may help to ease the cost for digital infrastructure.

In Thiru’s case, the map needed to be rolled out quickly to be useful. He chose to build his tool with Google Maps to speed up the process, as many users are already familiar with it.

Another way that governments can help is through getting more visibility to these community-led projects with their wide reach, Thiru suggests. Community projects commonly face a “cold start” dilemma. This arises where the community tool needs data for it to be useful, but citizens also hesitate to spend time on a tool if it is not useful in the first place.

Thiru jump started his tool by contributing a few stalls on his own. With more publicity with government campaigns, the process could be sped up considerably, he shares….(More)”.

America’s ‘Smart City’ Didn’t Get Much Smarter

Article by Aarian Marshall: “In 2016, Columbus, Ohio, beat out 77 other small and midsize US cities for a pot of $50 million that was meant to reshape its future. The Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge was the first competition of its kind, conceived as a down payment to jump-start one city’s adaptation to the new technologies that were suddenly everywhere. Ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft were ascendant, car-sharing companies like Car2Go were raising their national profile, and autonomous vehicles seemed to be right around the corner.

“Our proposed approach is revolutionary,” the city wrote in its winning grant proposal, which pledged to focus on projects to help the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. It laid out plans to experiment with Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks to help residents plan trips, apps to pay bus and ride-hail fares and find parking spots, autonomous shuttles, and sensor-connected trucks.

Five years later, the Smart City Challenge is over, but the revolution never arrived. According to the project’s final report, issued this month by the city’s Smart Columbus Program, the pandemic hit just as some projects were getting off the ground. Six kiosks placed around the city were used to plan just eight trips between July 2020 and March 2021. The company EasyMile launched autonomous shuttles in February 2020, carrying passengers at an average speed of 4 miles per hour. Fifteen days later, a sudden brake sent a rider to the hospital, pausing service. The truck project was canceled. Only 1,100 people downloaded an app, called Pivot, to plan and reserve trips on ride-hail vehicles, shared bikes and scooters, and public transit.

The discrepancy between the promise of whiz-bang technology and the reality in Columbus points to a shift away from tech as a silver bullet, and a newer wariness of the troubles that web-based applications can bring to IRL streets. The “smart city” was a hard-to-pin-down marketing term associated with urban optimism. Today, as citizens think more carefully about tech-enabled surveillance, the concept of a sensor in every home doesn’t look as shiny as it once did….(More)”.

The City as a Commons Reloaded: from the Urban Commons to Co-Cities Empirical Evidence on the Bologna Regulation

Chapter by Elena de Nictolis and Christian Iaione: “The City of Bologna is widely recognized for an innovative regulatory framework to enable urban commons. The “Regulation on public collaboration for the Urban Commons” produced more than 400 pacts of collaboration and was adopted by more than 180 Italian cities so far.

The chapter presents an empirical assessment of 280 pacts (2014-2016). The analytical approach is rooted in political economy (Polany 1944; Ahn & Ostrom 2003) and quality of democracy analysis (Diamond & Morlino, 2005). It investigates whether a model of co-governance applied to urban assets as commons impacts on the democratic qualities of equality and rule of law at the urban level. The findings suggest suggests that legal recognition of the urban commons is not sufficient if not coupled with an experimentalist policymaking approach to institutionally redesign the City as a platform enabling collective action of multi-stakeholder partnerships that should be entrusted with the task to trigger neighborhood-based sustainable development. Neighborhood scale investments that aim to seed community economic ventures emerge as a possible way to overcome the shortcomings of the first policy experiments. They also suggest the need for more investigation by scholars on the inclusiveness and diversity facets related to the implementation of urban commons policies….(More)”


About: “Metroverse is an urban economy navigator built at the Growth Lab at Harvard University. It is based on over a decade of research on how economies grow and diversify and offers a detailed look into the specialization patterns of cities.

As a dynamic resource, the tool is continually evolving with new data and features to help answer questions such as:

  • What is the economic composition of my city?
  • How does my city compare to cities around the globe?
  • Which cities look most like mine?
  • What are the technological capabilities that underpin my city’s current economy?
  • Which growth and diversification paths does that suggest for the future?

As city leaders, job seekers, investors and researchers grapple with 21st century urbanization challenges, the answer to these questions are fundamental to understanding the potential of a city.

Metroverse delivers new insights on these questions by placing a city’s technological capabilities and knowhow at the heart of its growth prospects, where the range and nature of existing capabilities strongly influences how future diversification unfolds. Metroverse makes visible what a city is good at today to help understand what it can become tomorrow…(More)”.

Serving the Citizens—Not the Bureaucracy

Report by Sascha Haselmayer: “In a volatile and changing world, one government function is in a position to address challenges ranging from climate change to equity to local development: procurement. Too long confined to a mission of cost savings and compliance, procurement—particularly at the local level, where decisions have a real and immediate impact on citizens—has the potential to become a significant catalyst of change.

In 2021 alone, cities around the globe will spend an estimated $6.4 trillion, or 8 percent of GDP, on procurement.1 Despite this vast buying power, city procurement faces several challenges, including resistance to the idea that procurement can be creative, strategic, economically formidable—and even an affirming experience for professional staff, citizens, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders.

Unfortunately, city procurement is far from ready to overcome these hurdles. Interviews with city leaders and procurement experts point to a common failing: city procurement today is structured to serve bureaucracies—not citizens.

City procurement is in a state of creative tension. Leaders want it to be a creative engine for change, but they underfund procurement teams and foster a compliance culture that leaves no room for much-needed creative and critical thinking. In short: procurement needs a mission.

In this report, we propose cities reimagine procurement as a public service, which can unlock a world of ideas for change and improvement. The vision presented in this report is based on six strategic measures that can help cities get started. The path forward involves not only taking concrete actions, such as reducing barriers to participation of diverse suppliers, but also adopting a new mindset about the purpose and potential of procurement. By doing so, cities can reduce costs and develop creative, engaging solutions to citywide problems. We also offer detailed insights, ideas, and best practices for how practitioners can realize this new vision.

Better city procurement offers the promise of a vast return on investment. Cost savings stand to exceed 15 percent across the board, and local development may benefit by multiplying the participation of small and disadvantaged businesses. Clarity of mission and the required professional skills can lead to new, pioneering innovations. Technology and the right data can lead to sustained performance and better outcomes. A healthy supplier ecosystem can deliver new supplier talent that is aligned with the goals of the city to reduce carbon emissions, serve complex needs, and diversify the supply chain.

All of this not in service of the bureaucracy but of the citizen….(More)”.