Exploring the role of data in post-Covid recovery


Blog by Eddie Copeland: “…how might we think about exploring the Amplify box in the diagram above? I’d suggest three approaches are likely to emerge:

Image outlines three headings: Specific fixes, new opportunities, generic capabilities

Let’s discuss these in the context of data.

Specific Fixes — A number of urgent data requests have arisen during Covid where it’s been apparent that councils simply don’t have the data they need. One example is how local authorities have needed to distribute business support grants. Many have discovered that while they have good records of local companies on their business rates database, they lack email or bank details for the majority. That makes it incredibly difficult to get payments out promptly. We can and should fix specific issues like this and ensure councils have those details in future.

New Opportunities — A crisis also prompts us to think about how things could be done differently and better. Perhaps the single greatest new opportunity we could aim to realise on a data front would be shifting from static to dynamic (if not real-time) data on a greater range of issues. As public sector staff, from CEOs to front line workers, have sought to respond to the crisis, the limitations of relying on static weekly, monthly or annual figures have been laid bare. As factors such as transport usage, high street activity and use of public spaces become deeply important in understanding the nature of recovery, more dynamic data could make a real difference.

Generic Capabilities — While the first two categories of activity are worth pursuing, I’d argue the single most positive legacy that could come out of a crisis is that we put in place generic capabilities — core foundation stones — that make us better able to respond to whatever comes next. Some of those capabilities will be about what individual councils need to have in place to use data well. However, given that few crises respect local authority boundaries, arguably the most important set of capabilities concern how different organisations can collaborate with data.

Putting in place the foundation stones for data collaboration

For years there has been discussion about the factors that make data collaboration between different public sector bodies hard.

Five stand out.

  1. Technology — some technologies make it hard to get the data out (e.g. lack of APIs); worse, some suppliers charge councils to access their own data.
  2. Data standards — the use of different standards, formats and conventions for recording data, and the lack of common identifiers like Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) makes it hard to compare, link or match records.
  3. Information Governance (IG) — Ensuring that London’s public sector organisations can use data in a way that’s legal, ethical and secure — in short, worthy of citizens’ trust and confidence — is key. Yet councils’ different approaches to IG can make the process take a long time — sometimes months.
  4. Ways of working — councils’ different processes require and produce different data.
  5. Lack of skills — when data skills are at a premium, councils understandably need staff with data competencies to work predominantly on internal projects, with little time available for collaboration.

There’s a host of reasons why progress to resolve these barriers has been slow. But perhaps the greatest is the perception that the effort required to address them is greater than the reward of doing so…(More)” –

See also Call For Action here

The tricky math of lifting coronavirus lockdowns


James Temple at MIT Technology Review: “…A crucial point of the work—which Steinhardt and MIT’s Andrew Ilyas​ wrote up in a draft paper that hasn’t yet been published or peer-reviewed—is that communities need to get much better at tracking infections. “With the data we currently have, we actually just don’t know what the level of safe mobility is,” Steinhardt says. “We need much better mechanisms for tracking prevalence in order to do any of this safely.”

The analysis relies on other noisy and less-than-optimal measurements as well, including using hospitalization admissions and deaths to estimate disease prevalence before the lockdowns. They also had to make informed assumptions, which others might disagree with, about how much shelter-in-place rules have altered the spread of the disease. Much of the overall uncertainty is due to the spottiness of testing to date. If case counts are rising, but so is testing, it’s difficult to decipher whether infections are still increasing or a greater proportion of infected people are being evaluated.

This produces some confusing results in the study for any policymaker looking for clear direction. Notably, in Los Angeles, the estimated growth rate of the disease since the shelter-in-place order went into effect ranges from negative to positive. This suggests either that the city could start loosening restrictions or that it needs to tighten them further.

Ultimately, the researchers stress that communities need to build up disease surveillance measures to reduce this uncertainty, and strike an appropriate balance between reopening the economy and minimizing public health risks.

They propose several ways to do so, including conducting virological testing on a random sample of some 20,000 people per day in a given area; setting up wide-scale online surveys that ask people to report potential symptoms, similar to what Carnegie Mellon researchers are doing through efforts with both Facebook and Google; and potentially testing for the prevalence of viral material in wastewater, a technique that has “sounded the alarm” on polio outbreaks in the past.

A team of researchers affiliated with MIT, Harvard, and startup Biobot Analytics recently analyzed water samples from a Massachusetts treatment facility, and detected levels of the coronavirus that were “significantly higher” than expected on the basis of confirmed cases in the state, according to a non-peer-reviewed paper released earlier this month….(More)”.

From Idea to Reality: Why We Need an Open Data Policy Lab


Stefaan G. Verhulst at Open Data Policy Lab: “The belief that we are living in a data age — one characterized by unprecedented amounts of data, with unprecedented potential — has become mainstream. We regularly read phrases such as “data is the most valuable commodity in the global economy” or that data provides decision-makers with an “ever-swelling flood of information.”

Without a doubt, there is truth in such statements. But they also leave out a major shortcoming — the fact that much of the most useful data continue to remain inaccessible, hidden in silos, behind digital walls, and in untapped “treasuries.”

For close to a decade, the technology and public interest community have pushed the idea of open data. At its core, open data represents a new paradigm of data availability and access. The movement borrows from the language of open source and is rooted in notions of a “knowledge commons”, a concept developed, among others, by scholars like Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom.

Milestones and Limitations in Open Data

Significant milestones have been achieved in the short history of the open data movement. Around the world, an ever-increasing number of governments at the local, state and national levels now release large datasets for the public’s benefit. For example, New York City requires that all public data be published on a single web portal. The current portal site contains thousands of datasets that fuel projects on topics as diverse as school bullying, sanitation, and police conduct. In California, the Forest Practice Watershed Mapper allows users to track the impact of timber harvesting on aquatic life through the use of the state’s open data. Similarly, Denmark’s Building and Dwelling Register releases address data to the public free of charge, improving transparent property assessment for all interested parties.

A growing number of private companies have also initiated or engaged in “Data Collaborative”projects to leverage their private data toward the public interest. For example, Valassis, a direct-mail marketing company, shared its massive address database with community groups in New Orleans to visualize and track block-by-block repopulation rates after Hurricane Katrina. A wide number of data collaboratives are also currently being launched to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through its COVID-19 Data Collaborative Program, the location-intelligence company Cuebiq is providing researchers access to the company’s data to study, for instance, the impacts of social distancing policies in Italy and New York City. The health technology company Kinsa Health’s US Health Weather initiative is likewise visualizing the rate of fever across the United States using data from its network of Smart Thermometers, thereby providing early indications regarding the location of likely COVID-19 outbreaks.

Yet despite such initiatives, many open data projects (and data collaboratives) remain fledgling — especially those at the state and local level.

Among other issues, the field has trouble scaling projects beyond initial pilots, and many potential stakeholders — private sector and government “owners” of data, as well as public beneficiaries — remain skeptical of open data’s value. In addition, terabytes of potentially transformative data remain inaccessible for re-use. It is absolutely imperative that we continue to make the case to all stakeholders regarding the importance of open data, and of moving it from an interesting idea to an impactful reality. In order to do this, we need a new resource — one that can inform the public and data owners, and that would guide decision-makers on how to achieve open data in a responsible manner, without undermining privacy and other rights.

Purpose of the Open Data Policy Lab

Today, with support from Microsoft and under the counsel of a global advisory board of open data leaders, The GovLab is launching an initiative designed precisely to build such a resource.

Our Open Data Policy Lab will draw on lessons and experiences from around the world to conduct analysis, provide guidance, build community, and take action to accelerate the responsible re-use and opening of data for the benefit of society and the equitable spread of economic opportunity…(More)”.

Transparency Deserts


Paper by Christina Koningisor: “Few contest the importance of a robust transparency regime in a democratic system of government. In the United States, the “crown jewel” of this regime is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Yet despite widespread agreement about the importance of transparency in government, few are satisfied with FOIA. Since its enactment, the statute has engendered criticism from transparency advocates and critics alike for insufficiently serving the needs of both the public and the government. Legal scholars have widely documented these flaws in the federal public records law.

In contrast, scholars have paid comparatively little attention to transparency laws at the state and local level. This is surprising. The role of state and local government in the everyday lives of citizens has increased in recent decades, and many critical government functions are fulfilled by state and local entities today. Moreover, crucial sectors of the public namely, media and advocacy organizations—rely as heavily on state public records laws as they do on FOIA to hold the government to account. Yet these state laws and their effects remain largely overlooked, creating gaps in both local government law and transparency law scholarship.

This Article attempts to fill these gaps by surveying the state and local transparency regime, focusing on public records laws in particular. Drawing on hundreds of public records datasets, along with qualitative interviews, the Article demonstrates that in contrast with federal law, state transparency law introduces comparatively greater barriers to disclosure and comparatively higher burdens upon government. Further, the Article highlights the existence of “transparency deserts,” or localities in which a combination of poorly drafted transparency laws, hostile government actors, and weak local media and civil society impedes effective public oversight of government.

The Article serves as a corrective to the scholarship’s current, myopic focus on federal transparency law…(More)”.

Transformative placemaking amid COVID-19: Early stories from the field


Hanna Love at Brookings: “As COVID-19 leaves no place immune – threatening to destabilize urban communities, as well as rural and suburban areas with limited resources and infrastructure to weather the outbreak— the connectivity of people and places matters more than ever. Local responses to the pandemic are revealing that even amid unprecedented distancing, the economic, physical, social, and civic structures of connected communities are laying the groundwork for resilience and recovery.

In this moment of uncertainty, communities are increasingly seeking solutions from the community-based organizations, networks, and coalitions they know and trust in ordinary times. We at the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking decided to look to there too, revisiting past entries from our Placemaking Postcards series to uncover how these organizations are responding to the COVID-19 crisis….

Across the country, hyperlocal governance organizations are being called upon to play an expanded role in supporting small businesses. This rang true for each organization we spoke with, as place governance entities in urban and rural areas alike modified their work to include compiling COVID-19 resources for small businesses, redirecting existing funding streams, creating new resources for relief, and offering promotions for customers to purchase local goods and services. Some are even stepping in to manufacture health materials for first responders.

For instance, Philadelphia’s University City District—which we highlighted last year for their efforts to measure inclusion in public spaces—is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania to launch a relief fund for local, independently owned retailers and restaurants. Simultaneously, they are working to bring revenue to local businesses through a matching gift cards program, and are sponsoring local restaurants to prepare meals for families with ill children at the Ronald McDonald House.

Rural place-based organizations are engaging in similar efforts. Appalshop, a Kentucky nonprofit we covered last month for their solar energy project, has raised more than $10,000 for local businesses, nonprofits, and first responders. The community development organization Downtown Wytheville in Virginia (whose rural entrepreneurship competition we wrote about this summer), is helping businesses apply for SBA disaster relief funding and running a “Support Local Safely” campaign to publicize open businesses. In Wyoming, Rawlins DDA/Main Street (whose entrepreneurship center we wrote about last fall), is engaging the public about business needs and offering similar promotions. While seemingly small in scale, all of these efforts are critical supports needed to keep businesses open and will lay the groundwork for recovery in the months to come.

Other place-based organizations are adapting their business models to respond to the crisis. In ordinary times, makerspaces and other innovation spaces provide places to collaborate, support entrepreneurship, and challenge economic and social divides. In the midst of COVID-19, makerspaces are abandoning those routines to support frontline respondersOpen Works—a Baltimore makerspace we covered for their efforts to build trust between residents, businesses, and institutions—has partnered with Innovation Works and We the Builders to launch a collaborative emergency response effort to manufacture face shields for health care workers….(More)”.

Federalism and Polycentric Government in a Pandemic


Paper by Victoria Perez and Justin M. Ross: “Networks of overlapping local governments are the front line of governmental responses to pandemics. Local governments, both general purpose (municipalities, counties, etc.) and special districts (school, fire, police, hospital, etc.), implement state and federal directives while acting as a producer and as a third-party payer in the healthcare system. They possess local information necessary in determining the best use of finite resources and available assets. Furthermore, a liberal society requires voluntary cooperation of citizens skeptical of opportunistic authoritarianism. Therefore, successful local governance instills a reassuring division of political power.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created two significant challenges for local governments in their efforts to respond effectively to the crisis: public finance and intergovernmental collaboration. This brief recommends practical solutions to meet these challenges….(More)”.

The Routledge Companion to Smart Cities


Book edited by Katharine S. Willis, and Alessandro Aurigi: “The Routledge Companion to Smart Cities explores the question of what it means for a city to be ‘smart’, raises some of the tensions emerging in smart city developments and considers the implications for future ways of inhabiting and understanding the urban condition. The volume draws together a critical and cross-disciplinary overview of the emerging topic of smart cities and explores it from a range of theoretical and empirical viewpoints.

This timely book brings together key thinkers and projects from a wide range of fields and perspectives into one volume to provide a valuable resource that would enable the reader to take their own critical position within the topic. To situate the topic of the smart city for the reader and establish key concepts, the volume sets out the various interpretations and aspects of what constitutes and defines smart cities. It investigates and considers the range of factors that shape the characteristics of smart cities and draws together different disciplinary perspectives. The consideration of what shapes the smart city is explored through discussing three broad ‘parts’ – issues of governance, the nature of urban development and how visions are realised – and includes chapters that draw on empirical studies to frame the discussion with an understanding not just of the nature of the smart city but also how it is studied, understood and reflected upon.

The Companion will appeal to academics and advanced undergraduates and postgraduates from across many disciplines including Urban Studies, Geography, Urban Planning, Sociology and Architecture, by providing state of the art reviews of key themes by leading scholars in the field, arranged under clearly themed sections….(More)”.

Developing better Civic Services through Crowdsourcing: The Twitter Case Study


Paper by Srushti Wadekar, Kunal Thapar, Komal Barge, Rahul Singh, Devanshu Mishra and Sabah Mohammed: “Civic technology is a fast-developing segment that holds huge potential for a new generation of startups. A recent survey report on civic technology noted that the sector saw $430 million in investment in just the last two years. It’s not just a new market ripe with opportunity it’s crucial to our democracy. Crowdsourcing has proven to be an effective supplementary mechanism for public engagement in city government in order to use mutual knowledge in online communities to address such issues as a means of engaging people in urban design. Government needs new alternatives — alternatives of modern, superior tools and services that are offered at reasonable rates.

An effective and easy-to-use civic technology platform enables wide participation. Response to, and a ‘conversation’ with, the users is very crucial for engagement, as is a feeling of being part of a society. These findings can contribute to the future design of civic technology platforms. In this research, we are trying to introduce a crowdsourcing platform, which will be helpful to people who are facing problems in their everyday practice because of the government services. This platform will gather the information from the trending twitter tweets for last month or so and try to identify which challenges public is confronting. Twitter for crowdsourcing as it is a simple social platform for questions and for the people who see the tweet to get an instant answer. These problems will be analyzed based on their significance which then will be made open to public for its solutions. The findings demonstrate how crowdsourcing tends to boost community engagement, enhances citizens ‘ views of their town and thus tends us find ways to enhance the city’s competitiveness, which faces some serious problems. Using of topic modeling with Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) algorithm helped get categorized civic technology topics which was then validated by simple classification algorithm. While working on this research, we encountered some issues regarding to the tools that were available which we have discussed in the ‘Counter arguments’ section….(More)”.

Global Traffic Scorecard


Press Release: “…the 2019 INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard… identified, analyzed and ranked congestion and mobility trends in more than 900 cities, across 43 countries. To reflect an increasingly diverse mobility landscape, the 2019 Global Traffic Scorecard includes both public transport and biking metrics for the first time….

At the global level, Bogota topped the list of the cities most impacted by traffic congestion with drivers losing 191 hours a year to congestion, followed by Rio de Janeiro (190 hours), Mexico City (158 hours) and Istanbul (150 hours). Latin American and European cities again dominated the Top 10, highlighting the rapid urbanisation occurring in Latin America and historic European cities that took shape long before the age of automobile….

INRIX fuses anonymous data from diverse datasets – such as phones, cars, trucks and cities – that leads to robust and accurate insights. The data used in the 2019 Global Traffic Scorecard is the congested or uncongested status of every segment of road for every minute of the day, as used by millions of drivers around the world that rely on INRIX-based traffic services….(More)”

Milwaukee’s Amani Neighborhood Uses Data to Target Traffic Safety and Build Trust


Article by Kassie Scott: “People in Milwaukee’s Amani neighborhood are using data to identify safety issues and build relationships with the police. It’s a story of community-engaged research at its best.

In 2017, the Milwaukee Police Department received a grant under the federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program, now called the Community Based Crime Reduction Program, whose purpose is to bridge the gap between practitioners and researchers and advance the use of data in making communities safer. Because of its close ties in the Amani neighborhood, the Dominican Center was selected to lead this initiative, known as the Amani Safety Initiative, and they partnered with local churches, the district attorney’s office, LISC-Milwaukee, and others. To support the effort with data and coaching, the police department contracted with Data You Can Use.

Together with Data You Can Use, the Amani Safety Initiative team first implemented a survey to gauge perceptions of public safety and police legitimacy. Neighborhood ambassadors were trained (and paid) to conduct the survey themselves, going door to door to gather the information from nearly 300 of their neighbors. The ambassadors shared these results with their neighborhood during what they called “data chats.” They also printed summary survey results on door hangers, which they distributed throughout the neighborhood.

Neighbors and community organizations were surprised by the survey results. Though violent crime and mistrust in the police were commonly thought to be the biggest issues, the data showed that residents were most concerned about traffic safety. Ultimately, residents decided to post slow-down signs in intersections.

This project stands out for letting the people in the neighborhood lead the way. Neighbors collected data, shared results, and took action. The partnership between neighbors, police, and local organizations shows how people can drive decision-making for their neighborhood.

The larger story is one of social cohesion and mutual trust. Through participating in the initiative and learning more about their neighborhood, Amani neighbors built stronger relationships with the police. The police began coming to neighborhood community meetings, which helped them build relationships with people in the community and understand the challenges they face….(More).