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 Data Brigade of Tulsa, Oklahoma — CityLab
The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is learning to innovate and collaborate through the work of its Urban Data Pioneers, a group of around 50 city employees and community members. The group uses collected data to answers questions like “What is the relationship between higher education and per-capita income?” and “Does blight lead to violent crime?”
The coalition was originally the product of budget constraints (Mayor Bynum ran on a data-smart campaign, and after he was elected, he found the city didn’t have the money for a data science team), but since then the Pioneers’ efforts have sparked conversations about how departments should work together, as well as the potential risks and benefits of widening the use of data in the city.
“This is about creating agency and empowering people with skills,” says James Wagner, the city’s chief of performance strategy and innovation. “We really want that skillset to be infused throughout all the departments in the city.”
Drones Take Flight for Local Government — GovTech
The FAA is running a pilot program with local governments to ascertain whether its drone regulations ought to be relaxed. 150 different communities applied with different ideas for how to apply the technology. For instance, Mesa County, Colorado wants to fly drones to watch for forest fires—something which is made practically impossible by FAA regulations against flying drones beyond an operator’s line of vision.
The program demonstrates the FAA’s effort to predict and balance the potential risks and benefits of a new technology. If the experiment proves successful, then it may very well herald busier skies.
A Moneyball Approach to Clean Water in California — Route Fifty
The state of California is learning new ways to make its water data work for its citizens. The state is currently working with organizations like the National Science Foundation and Imagine H20 to compile and analyze water data siloed in different state and county departments.
California estimates that up to one million of its citizens lack access to clean, safe drinking water at some point during the year. Hopefully, access to clean data will lead to access to clean water for all.
Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company, is working with a Canadian government coalition to build “the most measurable community in the world.” This community will sit on the shore of Lake Ontario in a small Toronto neighborhood, and will feature “smart” amenities like automatic snow-melting sidewalks and “pay-as-you-throw” garbage chutes that filter trash from recycling.
Some worry that the city hasn’t properly assessed what it stands to gain from this tech partnership. “Toronto got excited…and the city lost control of the conversation,” says Simone Brody, executive director of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities. “This isn’t just a Google-Toronto problem. It’s an Uber problem. It’s an autonomous vehicle problem. Cities haven’t figure out how to take the power back.”
If Sidewalk Labs proves successful in this venture, they have a shot at developing another 800 acres in neighboring Port Lands, putting them in the position to potentially shape the future of global urban development.
Would You Pay $700 for a Digital License Plate? — Ars Technica
For $700 dollars and a $7 monthly fee, citizens of the state of California may now purchase digital license plates called Rplate for their vehicles. The actual plate is a Kindle-like display that looks almost like an actual license plate, it also offers tracking to prevent theft, and the ultimate goal is to allow users to update their registration and pay for tolls through their smartphones.
“You should be charged based on how you use the roads,” says Neville Boston, the CEO Reviver, the company behind Rplate. “Our platform supports the ability to do that… What I’m about is working to solve real problems with technology.”
‘Project Activator’ Tool Helps Cities Get Smart — StateScoop
The Smart Cities Council launched a new online portal called the “Smart Cities Project Activator,” which features visual models and dashboards that help cities plan and collaborate on smart city projects. The hope is that the Activator will allow remote cities to learn the same techniques and best practices as those which have access to the Council’s workshops and competitions.
Is Government Ready for AI? — GovTech
As data becomes easier and cheaper to store and access, interest in practical AI solutions for the public sector continues to grow. Currently, many local governments are experimenting with chatbots: computer programs that answer routine questions and learn to answer new ones through their interactions with users.
For those who worry about losing their jobs to robots, AI developers have a calming message: Currently, AI best serves to augment, and not replace, the work that you currently do. AI is best fit for the tedious work of sifting through data to find interesting correlations; the work of interpreting those correlations and making decisions off of them is still best performed by humans.
AI promises to save government workers a significant amount of time, but local governments first need to ensure that the data infrastructure necessary to run AI is already in place. In addition, public sector applications of AI demand greater transparency than do applications in the private sector. If we reach the point where AI begins to inform policy and decision-making, then its role must be made perfectly clear, lest its findings pass as objective and unquestionable.