By Data-Smart City Solutions • March 2, 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.

Route Fifty highlighted a partnership between Alaska’s Department of Transportation, Microsoft, and IoT company Fathym to use data and machine learning to plan road maintenance during snow storms. Some of the department’s snow plows and light-duty vehicles are now equipped with a system of mobile sensors that track road temperature, precipitation, and pavement conditions. The sensors feed data back at three-second intervals to Fathym’s analytics platform, WeatherCloud, which churns out real-time and forecasted road weather conditions info that supplements data from other road weather information systems in the area to direct maintenance efforts.


TechCrunch discussed the potential for cities to use algorithms to make zoning decisions in order to ensure more affordable housing and equity. The idea is to first take datasets like mobility times, unit economics, amenities scores, and health outcomes, among many others and feed that into a machine learning model that is trying to maximize local resident happiness. This model would then manage a currency system of tokens to provide signals to the market of what things should be added to the community or removed to improve happiness. For instance, while a luxury apartment developer might have to pay tokens, another developer who converts their property to open space might be completely subsidized by tokens that had been previously paid into the system.


“No One Owns Data” is the provocative title of a new paper from University of California Hastings College of the Law. The paper enters the debate about who should own the vast troves of data generated by connected cars, industrial machines, artificial intelligence, and other devices on the Internet of Things (IoT). The author argues that in fact, data is not subject to any property rights and should therefore remain relatively open, while protected by a complex landscape of access rights restrictions.


On Data-Smart, Chris Bousquet examined New York City’s analytics approach to housing voucher discrimination and tenant harassment, which seeks to keep New Yorkers in affordable housing. The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) worked with supervising agencies in order to collect data and create risk scores to spot landlords denying housing vouchers and harassing tenants out of rent-regulated units. Using this analytics approach, the city has won a number of major victories for residents against offending landlords and management companies.


Next week is Open Data Week in New York City. Running from Saturday, March 3—International Open Data Day—until March 10, Open Data Week will include a number of conferences, events, and workshops hosted by New York City Open Data, BetaNYC and the New York City civic tech and data community.


The Verge profiled New Orleans’ use of predictive policing technology from Palantir starting in 2012 with little public oversight. Because Palantir worked with the city under a philanthropic relationship and New Orleans has a “strong mayor” model of government, the agreement never passed through a public procurement process. Likely due in part to controversy surrounding the company’s technology, Palantir has a history of secrecy, and New Orleans is not the only instance of the company conducting business with government agencies through associated nonprofits, avoiding the public procurement process.


The Omidyar Network published “Public Scrutiny of Automated Decisions: Early Lessons and Emerging Methods,” which provides recommendations for how the public can scrutinize, understand, and govern automated decisions. Based on an extensive review of computer and social science literature, a broad array of real-world attempts to study automated systems, and conversations with experts, the report seeks to help governments understand the benefits of making automated decisions auditable and lay out a policy framework.


In celebration of International Open Data Day, San Francisco’s data office DataSF is releasing a four part series on how to manage an open data program. The four parts of the series are 1) DataSF’s operating manual for open data, 2) How to monitor your open data portal, 3) How to tame open data with standards, and 4) Why you need to profile your open data.


On Data-Smart, Jess Weaver highlighted how cities including Pittsburgh, Chicago, South Bend, and New Orleans have cultivated powerful partnerships across a range of sectors to make headway on some of their thorniest citywide challenges. Thinking creatively about different groups’ relative resources, emphasizing shared concerns, aligning on scope, and finding areas for capacity building are critical to developing effective partnerships


BBC profiled Singapore’s success in using behavioral nudges to influence residents. The city state has worked with the Behavioral Insights Team to develop interventions that encourage residents to take care of the environment, eat more healthily, travel at off-peak times, and partake in a number of other desirable behaviors. As a few examples, garbage bins are placed away from bus stops to separate smokers from other bus users, utility bills display how energy consumption compares to that of neighbors, and outdoor gyms have been built near the entrances and exits of public housing so they are easy to use, available and prominent enough to consistently remind residents. 


Chris Bousquet profiled the City of Scottsdale’s efforts to embed behavioral science into city operations. To ensure their interventions would be as effective as possible, the city pursued trials in the most interested and engaged departments, and in policy areas that both addressed critical city goals and possessed characteristics ideal for low-cost evaluations. However, making behavioral interventions a regular feature in city policy has had its challenges, as departments can be resistant to change. Read more on Data-Smart.