Data Science for Social Good: “By analyzing data from police reports to website clicks to sensor signals, governments are starting to spot problems in real-time and design programs to maximize impact. More nonprofits are measuring whether or not they’re helping people, and experimenting to find interventions that work.
None of this is inevitable, however.
We’re just realizing the potential of using data for social impact and face several hurdles to it’s widespread adoption:
- Most governments and nonprofits simply don’t know what’s possible yet. They have data – but often not enough and maybe not the right kind.
- There are too few data scientists out there – and too many spending their days optimizing ads instead of bettering lives.
To make an impact, we need to show social good organizations the power of data and analytics. We need to work on analytics projects that have high social impact. And we need to expose data scientists to the problems that really matter.
That’s exactly why we’re doing the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship at the University of Chicago.
We want to bring three dozen aspiring data scientists to Chicago, and have them work on data science projects with social impact.
Working closely with governments and nonprofits, fellows will take on real-world problems in education, health, energy, transportation, and more.
Over the next three months, they’ll apply their coding, machine learning, and quantitative skills, collaborate in a fast-paced atmosphere, and learn from mentors in industry, academia, and the Obama campaign.
The program is led by a strong interdisciplinary team from the Computation institute and the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.”
Evgeny Morozov in Frankfurter Algemeine: “What we need is a sharper, starker picture of the information apocalypse that awaits us in a world where personal data is traded like coffee or any other commodity. Take the oft-repeated argument about the benefits of trading one’s data in exchange for some tangible commercial benefit. Say, for example, you install a sensor in your car to prove to your insurance company that you are driving much safer than the average driver that figures in their model for pricing insurance policies. Great: if you are better than the average, you get to pay less. But the problem with averages is that half of the population is always worse than the benchmark. Inevitably –regardless of whether they want to monitor themselves or not – that other half will be forced to pay more, for as the more successful of us take on self-tracking, most social institutions would (quite logically) assume that those who refuse to self-track have something to hide. Under this model, the implications of my decision to trade my personal data are no longer solely in the realm of markets and economics – they are also in the realm of ethics. If my decision to share my personal data for a quick buck makes someone else worse off and deprives them of opportunities, then I have an extra ethical factor to consider – economics alone doesn’t suffice.
All of this is to say that there are profound political and moral consequences to information consumerism– and they are comparable to energy consumerism in scope and importance. Making these consequences more pronounced and vivid is where intellectuals and political parties ought to focus their efforts. We should do our best to suspend the seeming economic normalcy of information sharing. An attitude of “just business!” will no longer suffice. Information sharing might have a vibrant market around it but it has no ethical framework to back it up. More than three decades ago, Michel Foucault was prescient to see that neoliberalism would turns us all into “entrepreneurs of the self” but let’s not forget that entrepreneurship is not without its downsides: as most economic activities, it can generate negative externalities, from pollution to noise. Entrepreneurship focused on information sharing is no exception….”
New Paper by Djoko Sigit Sayogo and Theresa Pardo: “Open data policies are expected to promote innovations that stimulate social, political and economic change. In pursuit of innovation potential, open datahas expanded to wider environment involving government, business and citizens. The US government recently launched such collaboration through a smart data policy supporting energy efficiency called Green Button. This paper explores the implementation of Green Button and identifies motivations and success factors facilitating successful collaboration between public and private organizations to support smart disclosure policy. Analyzing qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with experts involved in Green Button initiation and implementation, this paper presents some key findings. The success of Green Button can be attributed to the interaction between internal and external factors. The external factors consist of both market and non-market drivers: economic factors, technology related factors, regulatory contexts and policy incentives, and some factors that stimulate imitative behavior among the adopters. The external factors create the necessary institutional environment for the Green Button implementation. On the other hand, the acceptance and adoption of Green Button itself is influenced by the fit of Green Button capability to the strategic mission of energy and utility companies in providing energy efficiency programs. We also identify the different roles of government during the different stages of Green Button implementation.”
[Recipient of Best Management/Policy Paper Award, dgo2013]
Elena Craft in GreenBiz: Michael Heimbinder, a Brooklyn entrepreneur, hopes to empower individuals with his small-scale air quality monitoring system, AirCasting. The AirCasting system uses a mobile, Bluetooth-enabled air monitor not much larger than a smartphone to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants. An accompanying Android app records and formats the information to an emissions map.
Alternatively, another instrument, the Air Quality Egg, comes pre-assembled ready to use. Innovative air monitoring systems, such as AirCasting or the Air Quality Egg, empower ordinary citizens to monitor the pollution they encounter daily and proactively address problematic sources of pollution.
This technology is part of a growing movement to enable the use of small sensors. In response to inquiries about small-sensor data, the EPA is researching the next generation of air measuring technologies. EPA experts are working with sensor developers to evaluate data quality and understand useful sensor applications. Through this ongoing collaboration, the EPA hopes to bolster measurements from conventional, stationary air-monitoring systems with data collected from individuals’ air quality microsensors….
Like many technologies emerging from the big data revolution and innovations in the energy sector, microsensing technology provides a wealth of high-quality data at a relatively low cost. It allows us to track previously undetected air pollution from traditional sources of urban smog, such as highways, and unconventional sources of pollution. Microsensing technology not only educates the public, but also helps to enlighten regulators so that policymakers can work from the facts to protect citizens’ health and welfare.
GovLoop: “In this guide, we share 7 examples where government is improving access to services and information along the spectrum of citizen engagement: ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘can do’ moments.…
“Must Do” Moments: These are the compulsory points of engagement. How do we leverage these “forced” moments to inform and invite citizens to other opportunities for engagement? We share two innovative examples in this section:
- Retooling Tax Time: How the IRS Educates and Engages Taxpayers on the Go
- Rejuvenating Jury Duty: How a “Captive” Audience Can Become a Catalyst for Action
“Should Do” Moments: These are the points of engagement when citizens aren’t required to participate, but it behooves them to do so. How does government make it easier to take advantage of these opportunities? This section covers case studies where government has effectively facilitated a connection:
- Helping the Hard to Reach: How Savvy Social Workers Build Digital Bridges
- Transforming Town Hall: How Takoma Park’s Co-Located Community Center
“Can Do” Moments: Sometimes citizens create their own rallying point. How does government most effectively come alongside these initiatives to appropriately fuel the positive, collective energy of a committed group of citizens? This section shares case studies of citizen-led, government-supported partnership.
- Enabling Citizen Energy: How Raleigh Opens Up Opportunities for Innovation
- Mobilizing a Movement: How Online Community Connects Neighbors in Need
- Overcoming Budget Constraints: How Crowdfunding Supplements Tight Budgets”
Ronald Brownstein in The National Journal: “Washington may be paralyzed by partisanship, but across the country, grassroots innovators are crafting solutions to our problems….This special issue of National Journal celebrates these pragmatic problem-solvers in business, the civic sector, local government, and partnerships that creatively combine all three. At a time of endemic stalemate in the nation’s capital, think of it as a report from the America that works (to borrow a recent phrase from The Economist)….
Another significant message is that the communications revolution, by greatly accelerating the sharing of ideas, has produced a “democratization of innovation,” as author Vijay Vaitheeswaran put it in his 2012 book, Need, Speed, and Greed. This dynamic has simultaneously allowed breakthroughs to disseminate faster than ever and empowered more people inside companies and communities to tackle problems previously left to elites. “One of the most interesting stories in social change today is how much creative problem-solving is emerging from citizens scattered far and wide who are taking it upon themselves to fix things and who, in many cases, are outperforming traditional organizations,” David Bornstein, founder of the Dowser.org website that tracks social innovation, wrote in The New York Times last year. Our honoree Eric Greitens, the former Navy SEAL who founded The Mission Continues for other post-9/11 veterans, personifies this trend. Across the categories, many honorees insist they have pursued new approaches in part because they could no longer wait for Washington to address the problems they face. In a world where barriers to the dispersal of ideas are crumbling, waiting for elites to propose answers may soon seem as outdated as waiting for a dial-up connection to the Internet.
The third conclusion limits the first two. Even many of the most dynamic grassroots innovations will remain isolated islands of excellence in this continent-sized society without energy and amplification from the top. Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, notes the federal government is unavoidably a major force on many of the challenges facing America, particularly reforming education, health care, and training; developing regional economic strategies; and providing physical and digital infrastructure. Washington need not direct or control the response to these problems, but change on a massive scale is always harder without stronger signals and incentives than the federal government has provided in recent years. “It is possible to feed change aggressively from the bottom,” Kettl says. “[But] the federal government, for better or worse, inevitably is involved…. There’s a natural limit in what’s possible to bubble up from the bottom….
Special issue at https://web.archive.org/web/2013/http://www.nationaljournal.com/back-in-business ”
Ethan Zuckerman in Slate: “As the historian and technology scholar Langdon Winner suggests, “The arrival of any new technology that has significant power and practical potential always brings with it a wave of visionary enthusiasm that anticipates the rise of a utopian social order.” Technologies that connect individuals to one another—like the airplane, the telegraph, and the radio—appear particularly powerful at helping us imagine a smaller, more connected world. Seen through this lens, the Internet’s underlying architecture—it is no more and no less than a network that connects networks—and the sheer amount written about it in the past decade guaranteed that the network would be placed at the center of visions for a world made better through connection. These visions are so abundant that they’ve even spawned a neologism: “cyberutopianism.”
The term “cyberutopian” tends to be used only in the context of critique. Calling someone a cyberutopian implies that he or she has an unrealistic and naïvely overinflated sense of what technology makes possible and an insufficient understanding of the forces that govern societies. Curiously, the commonly used term for an opposite stance, a belief that Internet technologies are weakening society, coarsening discourse, and hastening conflict is described with a less weighted term: “cyberskepticism.” Whether or not either of these terms adequately serves us in this debate, we should consider cyberutopianism’s appeal, and its merits….
If we reject the notion that technology makes certain changes inevitable, but accept that the aspirations of the “cyberutopians” are worthy ones, we are left with a challenge: How do we rewire the tools we’ve built to maximize our impact on an interconnected world? Accepting the shortcomings of the systems we’ve built as inevitable and unchangeable is lazy. As Benjamin Disraeli observed in Vivian Grey
, “Man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men. We are free agents, and man is more powerful than matter.” And, as Rheingold suggests, believing that people can use technology to build a world that’s more just, fair, and inclusive isn’t merely defensible. It’s practically a moral imperative.
Excerpted from Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman.”
Tom Slee in The New Inquiry: “Since the earliest days of Linux and of Wikipedia, conflicting attitudes to profit have co-existed with a commitment to digital sharing. Whether it’s source code, text, artistic works, or government data, some see the open digital commons as an ethical alternative to corporate production, while others believe that sharing and profit go together like wine and cheese. And now, as massively open online courses bring the rhetoric of digital openness to education and Web-based startups are making it easy to share apartments and cars and unused parking spaces and jobs, the seeds have been planted for a sharing economy whose flowering is welcomed both by idealists who value authenticity, sustainability and community sharing over commodity ownership and by venture capitalists looking to make their next fortune. Strange bedfellows.
Cities have long been sites of commons and commerce: full of trade and private enterprise but shaped by parks and streetscapes, neighborhoods and rhythms of daily life that grow from non-commodified sharing. In his 2012 book Rebel Cities, David Harvey observes how, in cities, “people of all sorts and classes mingle … to produce a common of perpetually changing and transitory life,” from the irrepressible energy of Manhattan to the café culture of Rome to Barcelona’s distinctive architecture to the symbolic meaning of modern Berlin. Yes, by 2009, volunteers had spent a hundred million hours building Wikipedia, but cities put this dramatic number into perspective: Every year the citizens of Canada alone volunteer roughly 20 Wikipedias for hospitals and children’s sports, for charities and the arts — the equivalent of more than a million full-time jobs in a population of 30 million — and there is no reason to believe that the count is complete or that Canada is exceptional.
The similarities between urban and digital worlds are not incidental. Both are cultural spaces, and cultural spaces have always been iceberg-like. Above the surface, market forces and state interventions; beneath, a mass of noncommercial activity organized, at least in part, as open commons. But while digital entrepreneurs look to the “Internet’s way of working” to disrupt the bricks and mortar of our cities, urban experiences have sober lessons for the digerati if they will listen: The relationship between commons and commerce is fraught with contradictions. Harvey never once mentions computer technology in his book, but his reflections on cities make a compelling case that money-making and sharing are far from natural allies, and that the role of openness must be questioned if commons-based production is to be a real alternative.”
OSTP: “Today, the Administration’s interagency National Science and Technology Council released Smart Disclosure and Consumer Decision Making: Report of the Task Force on Smart Disclosure—the first comprehensive description of the Federal Government’s efforts to promote the smart disclosure of information that can help consumers make wise decisions in the marketplace.
Whether they are searching for colleges, health insurance, credit cards, airline flights, or energy providers, consumers can find it difficult to identify the specific product or service that best suits their particular needs. In some cases, the effort required to sift through all of the available information is so large that consumers make decisions using inadequate information. As a result, they may overpay, miss out on a product that would better meet their needs, or be surprised by fees.
The report released today outlines ways in which Federal agencies and other governmental and non-governmental organizations can use—and in many cases are already using—smart disclosure approaches that increase market transparency and empower consumers facing complex choices in domains such as health, education, energy and personal finance.”