Personal Information Is the Currency of the 21st Century


Tom Cochran (CTO at Atlantic Media) in All Things D: “The currency of the 21st century digital economy is your personal information. It has no transaction costs and does not decrease in value when the supply increases. Contrary to the laws of economics, it may even increase in value with greater supply. The more information you provide to companies, the more value they can extract from it….
Conversely, we tend to ignore this process because the most magnificent, technologically advanced and socially connected digital city is being built from it.
You are living in this growing digital city, and I’m guessing that you really like it here. Unfortunately, you can’t live in this city for free. Your rent is due in the form of your personal information, and you have to accept a certain loss of your privacy….
As a society, we need to define the rules under which our personal information can be mined. Our collective unease is largely the result of not having clear parameters to create an equilibrium between privacy and personalization.
These parameters will help shift our focus from the negatives to the positives, because in return for your personal information, you realize a net benefit with tremendous value.”

Anticipatory Governance and the use of Nano-technology in Cities


Abstract of New Paper in the Journal of Urban Technology: “Visions about the use of nanotechnologies in the city, including in the design and construction of built environments, suggest that these technologies could be critically important for solving urban sustainability problems. We argue that such visions often overlook two critical and interrelated elements. First, conjectures about future nano-enhanced cities tend to rely on flawed concepts of urban sustainability that underestimate the challenges presented by deeply-rooted paradigms of market economics, risk assessment, and the absorption of disruptive technologies. Second, opportunities for stakeholders such as city officials, non-governmental organizations, and citizens to consider the nature and distribution of the potential benefits and adverse effects of nano-enabled urban technologies are rarely triggered sufficiently early. Limitations in early engagement will lead to problems and missed opportunities in the use of nanotechnologies for urban sustainability. In this article, we critically explore ideas about the nano-enhanced city and its promises and limitations related to urban sustainability. On this base, we outline an agenda for engaged research to support anticipatory governance of nanotechnologies in cities.”

Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem


Smithsonian Magazine : “A new science—so new it doesn’t have its own journal, or even an agreed-upon name—is exploring these laws. We will call it “quantitative urbanism.” It’s an effort to reduce to mathematical formulas the chaotic, exuberant, extravagant nature of one of humanity’s oldest and most important inventions, the city.
The systematic study of cities dates back at least to the Greek historian Herodotus. In the early 20th century, scientific disciplines emerged around specific aspects of urban development: zoning theory, public health and sanitation, transit and traffic engineering. By the 1960s, the urban-planning writers Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte used New York as their laboratory to study the street life of neighborhoods, the walking patterns of Midtown pedestrians, the way people gathered and sat in open spaces. But their judgments were generally aesthetic and intuitive…
Only in the past decade has the ability to collect and analyze information about the movement of people begun to catch up to the size and complexity of the modern metropolis itself…
Deep mathematical principles underlie even such seemingly random and historically contingent facts as the distribution of the sizes of cities within a country. There is, typically, one largest city, whose population is twice that of the second-largest, and three times the third-largest, and increasing numbers of smaller cities whose sizes also fall into a predictable pattern. This principle is known as Zipf’s law, which applies across a wide range of phenomena…”

6 Things You May Not Know About Open Data


GovTech: “On Friday, May 3, Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental …said that when it comes to making data more open, “The invisible becomes visible,” and he outlined six major points that identify and define what open data really is:

1.  It’s the liberation of peoples’ data

The public sector collects data that pertains to government, such as employee salaries, trees or street information, and government entities are therefore responsible for liberating that data so the constituent can view it in an accessible format. Though this practice has become more commonplace in recent years, Reichental said government should have been doing this all along.

2.  Data has to be consumable by a machine

Piecing data together from a spreadsheet to a website or containing it in a PDF isn’t the easiest way to retrieve data. To make data more open, in needs to be in a readable format so users don’t have to go through additional trouble of finding or reading it.

3.  Data has a derivative value

When data is made available to the public, people like app developers, arichitects or others are able to analyze the data. In some cases, data can be used in city planning to understand what’s happening at the city scale.

4.  It eliminates the middleman

For many states, public records laws require them to provide data when a public records request is made. But oftentimes, complying with such request regulations involves long and cumbersome processes. Lawyers and other government officials must process paperwork, and it can take weeks to complete a request. By having data readily available, these processes can be eliminated, thus also eliminating the middleman responsible for processing the requests. Direct access to the data saves time and resources.

5.  Data creates deeper accountability

Since government is expected to provide accessible data, it is therefore being watched, making it more accountable for its actions — everything from emails, salaries and city council minutes can be viewed by the public.

6.  Open Data builds trust

When the community can see what’s going on in its government through the access of data, Reichtental said individuals begin to build more trust in their government and feel less like the government is hiding information.”

Innovations in American Government Award


Press Release: “Today the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University announced the Top 25 programs in this year’s Innovations in American Government Award competition. These government initiatives represent the dedicated efforts of city, state, federal, and tribal governments and address a host of policy issues including crime prevention, economic development, environmental and community revitalization, employment, education, and health care. Selected by a cohort of policy experts, researchers, and practitioners, four finalists and one winner of the Innovations in American Government Award will be announced in the fall. A full list of the Top 25 programs is available here.
A Culture of Innovation
A number of this year’s Top 25 programs foster a new culture of innovation through online collaboration and crowdsourcing. Signaling a new trend in government, these programs encourage the generation of smart solutions to existing and seemingly intractable public policy problems. LAUNCH—a partnership among NASA, USAID, the State Department, and NIKE—identifies and scales up promising global sustainability innovations created by individual citizens and organizations. The General Services Administration’s Challenge.gov uses crowdsourcing contests to solve government issues: government agencies post challenges, and the broader American public is awarded for submitting winning ideas. The Department of Transportation’s IdeaHub also uses an online platform to encourage its employees to communicate new ideas for making the department more adaptable and enterprising.”

Department of Better Technology


logo-250Next City reports: “…opening up government can get expensive. That’s why two developers this week launched the Department of Better Technology, an effort to make open government tools cheaper, more efficient and easier to engage with.

As founder Clay Johnson explains in a post on the site’s blog, a federal website that catalogues databases on government contracts, which launched last year, cost $181 million to build — $81 million more than a recent research initiative to map the human brain.

“I’d like to say that this is just a one-off anomaly, but government regularly pays millions of dollars for websites,” writes Johnson, the former director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation and author the 2012 book The Information Diet.

The first undertaking of Johnson and his partner, GovHub co-founder Adam Becker, is a tool meant to make it simpler for businesses to find government projects to bid on, as well as help officials streamline the process of managing procurements. In a pilot experiment, Johnson writes, the pair found that not only were bids coming in faster and at a reduced price, but more people were doing the bidding.

Per Johnson, “many of the bids that came in were from businesses that had not ordinarily contracted with the federal government before.”
The Department of Better Technology will accept five cities to test a beta version of this tool, called Procure.io, in 2013.”

Cities and Data


20130427_USC502The Economist: “Many cities around the country find themselves in a similar position: they are accumulating data faster than they know what to do with. One approach is to give them to the public. For example, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago are or soon will be sharing the grades that health inspectors give to restaurants with an online restaurant directory.
Another way of doing it is simply to publish the raw data and hope that others will figure out how to use them. This has been particularly successful in Chicago, where computer nerds have used open data to create many entirely new services. Applications are now available that show which streets have been cleared after a snowfall, what time a bus or train will arrive and how requests to fix potholes are progressing.
New York and Chicago are bringing together data from departments across their respective cities in order to improve decision-making. When a city holds a parade it can combine data on street closures, bus routes, weather patterns, rubbish trucks and emergency calls in real time.”

The Value of Open Data – Don’t Measure Growth, Measure Destruction


David Eaves: “…And that is my main point. The real impact of open data will likely not be in the economic wealth it generates, but rather in its destructive power. I think the real impact of open data is going to be in the value it destroys and so in the capital it frees up to do other things. Much like Red Hat is fraction of the size of Microsoft, Open Data is going to enable new players to disrupt established data players.

What do I mean by this?
Take SeeClickFix. Here is a company that, leveraging the Open311 standard, is able to provide many cities with a 311 solution that works pretty much out of the box. 20 years ago, this was a $10 million+ problem for a major city to solve, and wasn’t even something a small city could consider adopting – it was just prohibitively expensive. Today, SeeClickFix takes what was a 7 or 8 digit problem, and makes it a 5 or 6 digit problem. Indeed, I suspect SeeClickFix almost works better in a small to mid-sized government that doesn’t have complex work order software and so can just use SeeClickFix as a general solution. For this part of the market, it has crushed the cost out of implementing a solution.
Another example. And one I’m most excited. Look at CKAN and Socrata. Most people believe these are open data portal solutions. That is a mistake. These are data management companies that happen to have simply made “sharing (or “open”) a core design feature. You know who does data management? SAP. What Socrata and CKAN offer is a way to store, access, share and engage with data previously gathered and held by companies like SAP at a fraction of the cost. A SAP implementation is a 7 or 8 (or god forbid, 9) digit problem. And many city IT managers complain that doing anything with data stored in SAP takes time and it takes money. CKAN and Socrata may have only a fraction of the features, but they are dead simple to use, and make it dead simple to extract and share data. More importantly they make these costly 7 and 8 digital problems potentially become cheap 5 or 6 digit problems.
On the analysis side, again, I do hope there will be big wins – but what I really think open data is going to do is lower the costs of creating lots of small wins – crazy numbers of tiny efficiencies….
Don’t look for the big bang, and don’t measure the growth in spending or new jobs. Rather let’s try to measure the destruction and cumulative impact of a thousand tiny wins. Cause that is where I think we’ll see it most.”

Two-Way Citizen Engagement


StuffGovernment Technology: “A couple of years ago, a conversation was brewing among city leaders in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Elk Grove — the city realized it could no longer afford to limit interactions with an increasingly smartphone-equipped population to between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m… The city considered several options, including a vendor-built mobile app tailor-made to meet its specific needs. And during this process, the city discovered civic engagement startup PublicStuff. Founded by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 honoree Lily Liu, the company offers a service request platform that lets users report issues of concern to the city.

Liu, who previously held positions with both New York City and Long Beach, Calif., realized that many cities couldn’t afford a full-blown 311 call center system to handle citizen requests. Many need a less expensive way of providing responsive customer service to the community. PublicStuff now fills that need for more than 200 cities across the country.”

Analyzing social media use can help predict, track and map obesity rates


Statement from the Boston Children’s Hospital: “The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area’s obesity rate. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. Such are the conclusions of a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.
journal.pone.0061373.g002
Together, the conclusions suggest that knowledge of people’s online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.
The study team, led by Rumi Chunara, PhD, and John Brownstein, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), published their findings on April 24 in PLOS ONE. The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research in cohorts of a size that has until now been impractical.”