By Data-Smart City Solutions • April 13, 2018

Each week we will bring you a summary of what happened this week on our site, on Twitter, and in the wider world of civic data. Suggest stories on Twitter with #ThisWeekInData.

The New York Times profiled the efforts of planned community developer LStar Ventures and General Electric to create a connected city from the ground up in Weymouth, MA. The companies hope to embed smart technology into all aspects of the urban landscape, including the energy, water, lighting and transportation systems, envisioning amenities like driverless shuttle services, heated sidewalks, and a super-resilient energy grid that keeps humming through the harshest of storms. G.E. will use the new community, called Union Point, as a laboratory for testing new products and as a showroom for working systems, and LStar hopes the city will be a place for experimenting with and innovating on what a city could be.


Communities like Union Point raise a number of critical questions about privacy and accountability in data collection and use. An article from CityLab argues that as the outrage over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal continues, citizens should also turn their attention to cities and vendors collaborating to collect data through smart devices. Data breaches and misuse can happen in any area where cities or companies employ tech or collect data on residents—in transit systems, airlines, ride-hailing services, and even walking, biking and jogging. Just as many are calling for more research into social media data practices, researchers and policymakers need to pay closer attention to regulating smart technology, even in its early stages.


GovTech reported that West Hollywood is molding itself into an ideal place for testing smart city technologies. Because of its small size yet high density, the area faces many of the challenges of larger cities, but has more ability to test solutions that wouldn’t be politically or economically viable in a large city. West Hollywood recently adopted the West Hollywood Smart City Strategic Plan to guide projects in a number of areas, and has already launched several pilots, including a video analytics for public safety project.


On Stephen Goldsmith’s Better, Faster, Cheaper blog for Governing Magazine, Hanna Azemati and Gloria Gong of Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab outlined how cities can take advantage of $100 million in newly available pay-for-success (PFS) federal funding. Azemati offered five recommendations for cities to take advantage of new funding: identify programs with major federal cost savings, make sure the program is appropriate for PFS funding, prioritize programs connected to the most pressing social challenges, generate evidence about successful solutions, and prioritize rigorous evaluation.  


UCLA Anderson School of Management published research on the cost-effectiveness of behavioral nudges relative to more traditional forms of government intervention. In addition to conducting their own experiments, the researchers looked at published research that addressed four areas where public policy initiatives aim to move the needle to improve individuals' choices: saving for retirement, applying to college, energy conservation and flu vaccinations. The study found that nudges consistently delivered a high return on investment relative to traditional mandates and policies, and encourages government to expand their use of behavioral interventions.


FedTech discussed the immense potential for the Internet of Things to help agencies improve services and save money, but the surprisingly anemic adoption of these technologies in the public sector. In July 2016, the Center for Data Innovation interviewed experts in the public and private sectors involved in government IoT solutions and discovered a number of innovative examples, including a building energy monitoring effort by the General Services Administration that will save $15 million yearly and the U.S. Geological Survey’s earthquake monitoring system ShakeAlert, which uses hundreds of sensors to report earthquake activity to a control center in real time. However, the absence of a comprehensive IoT vision in the federal government, a lack of funding, an outdated procurement process, and concern over privacy have made adoption difficult, requiring federal reforms to establish more leadership and planning for IoT.


Fast Co.Design outlined the need to prioritize sustainable design in technological solutions. Perhaps surprisingly, app and even website design have an effect on the environmental impact of tech. Unnecessary interconnections—like those created when you have Alexa turn on your lights rather than flipping a switch yourself—suck up vast amounts of energy, as do clunky site designs that require users to scroll for ages before finding what they’re looking for. And, sustainable UX, in prioritizing clarity and simplicity, also coincides with user-centric design best practices.


NYU’s AI Now Institute published a paper titled “Algorithmic Impact Assessments: A Practical Framework for Public Agency Accountability,” which offers a guide for public agencies to assess automated decision systems and to ensure public accountability. Of late, concern about the opacity of the algorithms used by government agencies to inform deicisionmaking has abounded. This paper offers that a public agency algorithmic impact assessment should include five key elements: a self-assessment of existing and proposed automated decision systems by agencies, the development of external review processes, disclosure of existing and proposed systems and their assessments, solicitation of public comment, and enhanced due process mechanisms for affected individuals to challenge assessments.


Also for GovTech, Stephen Goldsmith and Chris Bousquet highlighted three consumer technologies that could make city operations more effective and responsive. From AR products that provide city employees with field information, to AI chatbots that handle simple resident requests, to blockchain systems that protect data shared via the Internet of Things, the consumer market is full of products that are relevant to city policy. By showing their interest in leveraging these tools and actively working with the private sector to tailor consumer technologies for government use, cities can ensure that flashy tech translates to better results for residents.