By Data-Smart City Solutions • April 14, 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, Stephen Goldsmith profiled Seattle’s open data policy, developed with the help of What Works Cities’ partner the Sunlight Foundation and the input of Seattle residents. In creating the policy, Seattle put an emphasis on privacy, drawing upon the expertise of a number of academic institutions and non-profits to create a set of privacy principles and a system for examining data before publication. The city has also promoted engagement with its open data by holding events to publicize applications of data, instituting trainings, and creating the position of Civic Technology Advocate.

Also on Data-Smart, Zachary Markin discussed a toolkit created by the City of New Orleans’ Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) and Princeton graduate student Richard Todd intended to promote departmental engagement around data. The kit includes presentation tools, an analytics typology, a website, a form for departments to express interest, and programming for departmental engagement. The NOLAlytics Use Case Typology provides the framework for the city’s engagement strategy, describing six potential applications for analytics in government: finding the needle in the haystack, prioritizing work for impact, developing early warning tools, making better and quicker decisions, optimizing resource allocation, and experimenting for what works.  

GovTech featured the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research Data Exchange, which has provided state and local governments with valuable mobility datasets that have led to improved transportation and infrastructural design. In addition to publishing datasets from the Smart Cities Challenge, Connected Vehicle Pilots, and Intelligent Transportations Systems Joint Program Office, the program has driven state and local governments to develop interoperable data standards in order to more easily access standardized data from the DOT’s portal.

GovTech also wrote about the Analyze Boston Data Challenge, a competition that asks technologists to build tools on Boston’s new open data portal Analyze Boston. Participants choose to work on one of five tracks: reducing Boston’s carbon footprint, making open data local, learning more from BuildBPS data, identifying fire risks, and telling a story through data. The city hopes that the challenge will highlight the potential of its new portal and produce publicly-available tools that can make life better for Boston residents.

Also in Boston, CityLab highlighted the city’s bus revamp, which uses models from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to improve routes and attract new riders. MIT’s model allows the city to estimate when people are traveling, where they are getting on trains and buses, where they are transferring, and where they end their journeys. Based on this data, the city has begun incrementally adjusting bus schedules in order to provide better service, especially for low-income residents that live between rail lines.

CityLab wrote another piece examining a new project from design firm Sasaki that provides digestible data visualizations around homelessness in the United States in an effort to increase awareness and dispel common myths about the issue. The project provides a brief historical snapshot of homelessness in America and answers critical questions, like who qualifies as homeless and what are common causes of homelessness. Among other visualizations, the tool includes an interactive dot-map of American homelessness that allows users to filter by economic, sociological, geographic, and demographic factors.

NextCity profiled a database tool called BuildingBlocks, developed by the Office of the New York State Attorney General to reconcile disparate databases from different agencies. The tool is intended specifically to help municipalities address blighted properties, allowing local governments to bring together data from the department of finance, utility providers, building code enforcement, housing authority, and police department in order to better predict blighted properties and target resources.

Route Fifty analyzed the potential for governments to use behavioral insights and randomized control trials (RCTs) to improve performance management. Cities including New Orleans, Denver, and South Bend, IN have partnered with What Works Cities to incorporate behavioral science into policy, developing initiatives that change the context in which residents make decisions in order to improve those decisions. Moreover, within government itself, process improvement techniques such as Lean provide government employees with structured ways of identifying and solving problems, overcoming behavioral habits, and improving performance.