By Data-Smart City Solutions • October 20, 2017

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.

Here on Data-Smart, Laura Adler examined American cities’ investment in equity indicators in order to address inequalities in income, housing, education, and health, especially across racial differences. By leveraging existing data and employing cutting edge technologies like data visualization and real-time data feeds, cities can better understand these issues in order to target interventions. Cities should also work with local partners, other cities, and key stakeholders in developing these indicators to ensure they both meet resident needs and provide actionable information for policymakers.  

Also on the topic of inequality, Stephen Goldsmith wrote an article for Governing Magazine on the power of civic technologies to address inequality, but the critical need to make these tools accessible and responsive to all residents. In Los Angeles, for example, the city has begun mapping residents' access to good schools, jobs, safe streets and other basic necessities critical to enabling upward mobility. To ensure these tools are inclusive, cities must pair these efforts with outreach and training initiatives, as did Chicago’s Civic User Testing Group, a foundation-supported civic organization that compensates individuals from around the city for focus-grouping civic tech products.

The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) released its most recent team update report, which outlines findings from BIT and its global partners between September 2016 and August 2017.  Notable results from this year’s work include a 34 percent increase in acceptances by disadvantaged students to top universities following a letter from a current top-tier university student from a similar background and an 8 percent reduction in annual household gas consumption following installation of smart heating controls. This year also saw the creation of a new Data Science team within BIT, which has begun to explore the use of machine learning to improve and tailor interventions.

BIT also wrote an article on eight things that cities can do today to generate evidence and outcomes. Recommendations include using the “flip test”—if you flip a piece of communication over and can’t figure out what a resident is supposed to do within 5 seconds, you should adjust the message. Another simple adjustment is using residents’ first name on all communications. BIT also recommends running A/B tests for all things digital—send two versions of every email to residents and see which gets a better response. Read more on Medium.

As a part of Data-Smart’s From Research to Results series, Chris Bousquet examined a paper from the International Institute of Administrative Sciences that outlines and tests a method for measuring citizen trust in government organizations. The model narrows trust down to three elements: perceived competence, perceived benevolence, and perceived integrity. Using the model presented in this paper, cities can gain a better understanding of resident trust in city agencies and work to improve it.

Sidewalk Labs is building a mixed-use, complete community in Toronto using innovations in construction techniques, self-driving, climate friendly energy systems and more to build a community that’s affordable and accessible with a focus on connected technology. Sidewalk Labs developed the idea in response to a Request for Proposals issued by Waterfront Toronto to foster development of Toronto’s lakefront areas in a way that focuses on urban sprawl, climate change, and ease of resident transportation. Read more on TechCrunch.

CityLab profiled New Orleans’ bail reform efforts, which have used a risk assessment tool to identify who was most likely to return to court without incident, and then the city released these residents without making them post bail. People released in the pilot returned to court at roughly the same rate as defendants in other commissioners’ courtrooms, although the rearrest rate was slightly higher—4.5 percent as compared to 2.9 percent. New Orleans hopes the method will help dramatically reduce the city’s pretrial jail population.

Chris Bousquet profiled the Iowa Bridge Conditions story map for Map Monday on Data-Smart. Based on inspections by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the state’s GIS team plotted the condition, serviceability, and presence of any restrictions for every bridge in Iowa. The tool was originally designed for Iowa’s 2017 legislative session in order to help the Iowa Legislature understand the condition of bridges throughout the state and direct funds accordingly. The state also rolled the map out publicly so that drivers could understand the conditions of the roads they were driving on and lobby for repairs in critical areas.

Futurism analyzed the potential for crowdsourced morality to determine the ethics of artificial intelligence. In an effort to teach cars to make ethical decisions as a human would, MIT created a website that asked users to make choices regarding what an autonomous vehicle should do when faced with rather gruesome and morally-charged scenarios—for example, if a driverless car was being forced toward pedestrians, should it run over three adults to spare two children. However, some argue that such a system would include biases based on the sample queried and that different algorithms would reach different conclusions from the same dataset.