Leveraging Data to Improve Racial Equity in Fair Housing

Report by Temilola Afolabi: “Residential segregation is related to inequalities in education, job opportunities, political power, access to credit, access to health care, and more. Steering, redlining, mortgage lending discrimination, and other historic policies have all played a role in creating this state of affairs.

Over time, federal efforts including the Fair Housing Act and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act have been designed to improve housing equity in the United States. While these laws have not been entirely effective, they have made new kinds of data available—data that can shed light on some of the historic drivers of housing inequity and help inform tailored solutions to their ongoing impact.

This report explores a number of current opportunities to strengthen longstanding data-driven tools to address housing equity. The report also shows how the effects of mortgage lending discrimination and other historic practices are still being felt today. At the same time, it outlines opportunities to apply data to increase equity in many areas related to the homeownership gap, including negative impacts on health and well-being, socioeconomic disparities, and housing insecurity….(More)”.

Closing the gap between user experience and policy design 

Article by Cecilia Muñoz & Nikki Zeichner: “..Ask the average American to use a government system, whether it’s for a simple task like replacing a Social Security Card or a complicated process like filing taxes, and you’re likely to be met with groans of dismay. We all know that government processes are cumbersome and frustrating; we have grown used to the government struggling to deliver even basic services. 

Unacceptable as the situation is, fixing government processes is a difficult task. Behind every exhausting government application form or eligibility screener lurks a complex policy that ultimately leads to what Atlantic staff writer Anne Lowrey calls the time tax, “a levy of paperwork, aggravation, and mental effort imposed on citizens in exchange for benefits that putatively exist to help them.” 

Policies are complex, in part because they each represent many voices. The people who we call policymakers are key actors in governments and elected officials at every level from city councils to the U.S. Congress. As they seek to solve public problems like child poverty or improving economic mobility, they consult with experts at government agencies, researchers in academia, and advocates working directly with affected communities. They also hear from lobbyists from affected industries. They consider current events and public sentiments. All of these voices and variables, representing different and sometimes conflicting interests, contribute to the policies that become law. And as a result, laws reflect a complex mix of objectives. After a new law is in place, relevant government agencies are responsible for implementing them by creating new programs and services to carry them out. Complex policies then get translated into complex processes and experiences for members of the public. They become long application forms, unclear directions, and too often, barriers that keep people from accessing a benefit. 

Policymakers and advocates typically declare victory when a new policy is signed into law; if they think about the implementation details at all, that work mostly happens after the ink is dry. While these policy actors may have deep expertise in a given issue area, or deep understanding of affected communities, they often lack experience designing services in a way that will be easy for the public to navigate…(More)”.

Data Analysis for Social Science: A Friendly and Practical Introduction

Book by Elena Llaudet and Kosuke Imai: “…provides a friendly introduction to the statistical concepts and programming skills needed to conduct and evaluate social scientific studies. Using plain language and assuming no prior knowledge of statistics and coding, the book provides a step-by-step guide to analyzing real-world data with the statistical program R for the purpose of answering a wide range of substantive social science questions. It teaches not only how to perform the analyses but also how to interpret results and identify strengths and limitations. This one-of-a-kind textbook includes supplemental materials to accommodate students with minimal knowledge of math and clearly identifies sections with more advanced material so that readers can skip them if they so choose…(More)”.

Machine Learning in Public Policy: The Perils and the Promise of Interpretability

Report by Evan D. Peet, Brian G. Vegetabile, Matthew Cefalu, Joseph D. Pane, Cheryl L. Damberg: “Machine learning (ML) can have a significant impact on public policy by modeling complex relationships and augmenting human decisionmaking. However, overconfidence in results and incorrectly interpreted algorithms can lead to peril, such as the perpetuation of structural inequities. In this Perspective, the authors give an overview of ML and discuss the importance of its interpretability. In addition, they offer the following recommendations, which will help policymakers develop trustworthy, transparent, and accountable information that leads to more-objective and more-equitable policy decisions: (1) improve data through coordinated investments; (2) approach ML expecting interpretability, and be critical; and (3) leverage interpretable ML to understand policy values and predict policy impacts…(More)”.

Institutions, Experts & the Loss of Trust

Essay by Henry E. Brady and Kay Lehman Schlozman: “Institutions are critical to our personal and societal well-being. They develop and disseminate knowledge, enforce the law, keep us healthy, shape labor relations, and uphold social and religious norms. But institutions and the people who lead them cannot fulfill their missions if they have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people they are meant to serve.

Americans’ distrust of Congress is long-standing. What is less well-documented is how partisan polarization now aligns with the growing distrust of institutions once thought of as nonpolitical. Refusals to follow public health guidance about COVID-19, calls to defund the police, the rejection of election results, and disbelief of the press highlight the growing polarization of trust. But can these relationships be broken? And how does the polarization of trust affect institutions’ ability to confront shared problems, like climate change, epidemics, and economic collapse?…(More)”.

Humanizing Science and Engineering for the Twenty-First Century

Essay by Kaye Husbands Fealing, Aubrey Deveny Incorvaia and Richard Utz: “Solving complex problems is never a purely technical or scientific matter. When science or technology advances, insights and innovations must be carefully communicated to policymakers and the public. Moreover, scientists, engineers, and technologists must draw on subject matter expertise in other domains to understand the full magnitude of the problems they seek to solve. And interdisciplinary awareness is essential to ensure that taxpayer-funded policy and research are efficient and equitable and are accountable to citizens at large—including members of traditionally marginalized communities…(More)”.

Our Data, Ourselves

Book by Jacqueline D. Lipton: “Our Data, Ourselves addresses a common and crucial question: What can we as private individuals do to protect our personal information in a digital world? In this practical handbook, legal expert Jacqueline D. Lipton guides readers through important issues involving technology, data collection, and digital privacy as they apply to our daily lives.

Our Data, Ourselves covers a broad range of everyday privacy concerns with easily digestible, accessible overviews and real-world examples. Lipton explores the ways we can protect our personal data and monitor its use by corporations, the government, and others. She also explains our rights regarding sensitive personal data like health insurance records and credit scores, as well as what information retailers can legally gather, and how. Who actually owns our personal information? Can an employer legally access personal emails? What privacy rights do we have on social media? Answering these questions and more, Our Data, Ourselves provides a strategic approach to assuming control over, and ultimately protecting, our personal information…(More)”

Brain capital: A new vector for democracy strengthening

Report by the Brain Capital Alliance: “Democracies are increasingly under siege. Beyond direct external (e.g., warfare) and internal (e.g., populism, extremism) threats to democratic nations, multiple democracy-weakening factors are converging in our modern world. Brain health challenges, including mental, neurologic, and substance use disorders, social determinants of health, long COVID, undesired effects of technology, mis- and disinformation, and educational, health, and gender disparities, are associated with substantial economic and sociopolitical impediments. Herein, we argue that thriving democracies can distinguish themselves through provision of environments that enable each citizen to achieve their full brain health potential conducive to both personal and societal well-being. Gearing policymaking towards equitable and quality brain health may prove essential to combat brain challenges, promote societal cohesion, and boost economic productivity. We outline emerging policy innovations directed at building “pro-democratic brain health” across individual, communal, national, and international levels. While extensive research is warranted to further validate these approaches, brain health-directed policymaking harbors potential as a novel concept for democracy strengthening….(More)”.

Algorithms Quietly Run the City of DC—and Maybe Your Hometown

Article by Khari Johnson: “Washington, DC, IS the home base of the most powerful government on earth. It’s also home to 690,000 people—and 29 obscure algorithms that shape their lives. City agencies use automation to screen housing applicants, predict criminal recidivism, identify food assistance fraud, determine if a high schooler is likely to drop out, inform sentencing decisions for young people, and many other things.

That snapshot of semiautomated urban life comes from a new report from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The nonprofit spent 14 months investigating the city’s use of algorithms and found they were used across 20 agencies, with more than a third deployed in policing or criminal justice. For many systems, city agencies would not provide full details of how their technology worked or was used. The project team concluded that the city is likely using still more algorithms that they were not able to uncover.

The findings are notable beyond DC because they add to the evidence that many cities have quietly put bureaucratic algorithms to work across their departments, where they can contribute to decisions that affect citizens’ lives.

Government agencies often turn to automation in hopes of adding efficiency or objectivity to bureaucratic processes, but it’s often difficult for citizens to know they are at work, and some systems have been found to discriminate and lead to decisions that ruin human lives. In Michigan, an unemployment-fraud detection algorithm with a 93 percent error rate caused 40,000 false fraud allegations. A 2020 analysis by Stanford University and New York University found that nearly half of federal agencies are using some form of automated decisionmaking systems…(More)”.

Calls to “save democracy” won’t work if there is little agreement on what democracy is

Article by Nicholas T. Davis, Kirby Goidel and Keith Gaddie: “One of the most consistent findings in academic research is the existence of something called the principle-implementation gap. People can agree that an idea is perfectly reasonable but will largely reject any meaningful action designed to achieve it. It happens with government spending. People want government to create public goods such as law enforcement, healthcare, and national defense, but oppose new (or additional) taxes. It happens with climate change. The public largely accepts the idea that human-caused climate change is occurring but is unwilling to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. And it happens with racial equality. People decry racism, but they reject policies that reduce inequality. It also happens, it turns out, with democracy. People claim to love democracy, but willingly sacrifice democratic norms in pursuit of partisan political ends.

A recent New York Times/Siena Poll illustrates this point. Most Americans (71 percent) said they believed American democracy was endangered, but there was little agreement on the nature of the threat or the appropriate corrective action. In response to an open-end question, the most frequently identified threat (mentioned by only 14 percent of respondents) was corruption, not the undermining of democratic norms or the rule of law by former President Donald Trump and the almost 300 Republican candidates running for public office in this year’s midterm elections who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

Despite much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the “crisis of democracy,” a singular, widely shared understand of democracy is not on the ballot. Or, if it is on the ballot, it appears to be losing.

Why don’t right-wing populist threats against democracy inspire, mobilize, or persuade a public that professes to believe in democracy?

Our new book, Democracy’s Meanings: How the Public Thinks About Democracy and Why It Matters, suggests at least two reasons. First, according to open-ended responses, citizens mostly view democracy through the lens of “freedom” and “elections.” The United States is having an election this fall. It may be less free and less fair in some places than others, but, overall, the electoral apparatus in the United States hasn’t cracked apart – at least in the minds of ordinary voters who don’t pay much attention to the news or care much about the intricacies of electoral law….(More)”.