By Data-Smart City Solutions • March 9, 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.

GovTech analyzed whether the open data efforts of the last decade have accomplished the goals policymakers set out to address. While early efforts aimed towards transparency, current open data initiatives focus on data use, seeking to spark civic engagement and cross-departmental collaboration. In the interest of tracking success on this front, cities monitor metrics like the number dataset downloads or number of departments with data on their portals and have deployed user feedback forms. Thus far, the numbers look good, but measuring the true impact of open data in terms of public benefit is still a work in progress.


The Open Data Institute published a paper “Using open data to deliver public services,” exploring how open data can be used in public service delivery and its potential to drive collaboration, joint problem-solving, and open innovation. The paper identifies three high-level patterns of open data use: 1) using open data to increase access to services for citizens or organizations, 2) using open data to plan public service delivery and make service delivery chains more efficient, and 3) using open data to inform policymaking.


Wired highlighted the creative methods cities are using to acquire data from Uber and other ridesharing companies. While their data could help cities make decisions about traffic patterns and public transit, these companies have been hesitant to share trip data for fear of endangering rider and driver privacy or revealing proprietary secrets. To gather this missing data, researchers have used methods like constantly pinging Uber and Lyft APIs to track movements around cities, sending students to catch rides en masse, or signing up to drive themselves. However, these methods have yielded mixed results, not always accurately portraying Uber’s presence in cities, so better access to rideshare data is still in high demand.


The Emerson Engagement Lab launched the Data Culture Project, a hands-on learning program to kickstart data culture within organizations. The project provides facilitation videos to help organizations run creative introductions that get people across sectors talking to each other about how to leverage data. The Engagement Lab ran a pilot in 25 organizations, which each completed three activities as brown-bag lunches over the last six months and garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback.


The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School is now accepting applications for the Technology and Democracy Fellowship, an initiative to explore technology’s role in improving democratic governance. Over the course of the fellowship, participants design, develop, or refine a substantive project that is salient to their field.


On Data-Smart, Stephen Goldsmith and Chris Bousquet profiled New York City’s data drills, which stress test the city’s data protocols in emergency situations. Data drills may take many forms, but often consist of city officials and data experts gathering at a table, starting from a hypothetical emergency situation and proposing a series of response steps. These drills are useful not only for testing the data infrastructure a city has put in place, but also for discovering potential gaps that the city hasn’t even considered.


According to StateScoop, San Francisco has deployed a new IT procurement chatbot, PAIGE. PAIGE helps city and county officials who want to buy IT products navigate the often-perplexing procurement process. Built on a natural language processing engine backed by Facebook, the bot can understand about 1,000 questions and has about 400 answers at the ready, and new functionality is being added all the time.


Child relief agency Terre des hommes and data-driven NGO CartONG released a toolkit for collecting mobile data in the humanitarian and development field. The kit includes tutorials and training material concerning all the phases of mobile data collection (MDC), from thinking through the prerequisites of using MDC to the preparation of forms and tools and the analysis of data. 


The IBM Center for The Business of Government released a new paper to help agencies understand effective practices in adopting AI and cognitive technologies, Government Executive reported. Titled “Delivering Artificial Intelligence in Government: Challenges and Opportunities,” the report reviews recent progress made in applying artificial intelligence to public sector service provision, drawing on lessons learned from commercial experience as well as burgeoning cognitive computing activity by governments at all levels. Using these real-world examples, the paper outlines a maturity model for agencies to use in guiding their journey forward in applying AI to improve mission performance.


The City of Fishers, IN has launched an Internet of Things (IoT) laboratory, a hub for innovation that will enable the city's departments and agencies to evaluate new connected tech use cases. City leaders hope that local talent can help companies design and implement technologies and techniques core to the IoT movement in order to drive economic development, including edge-device development, cloud computing and data analytics. Read more at StateTech.


For Data-Smart’s Map Monday series, Chris Bousquet highlighted a visualization created by the Urban Institute that compares maximum SNAP benefits with the cost of low-income meals for every county in the 48 contiguous states. The visualization shows that in 99 percent of counties, the maximum SNAP benefit does not cover the cost of a low-income meal and that the average cost of a low-income meal ($2.36) outpaces the average SNAP benefit per meal ($1.86) by 50 cents. This map can help state and local governments design programs to supplement SNAP benefits, and can serve as an advocacy tool for change at the federal level.