By Data-Smart City Solutions • April 28, 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, we announced the Map of the Month contest, an initiative of the Innovations in Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation that recognizes outstanding maps and data visualizations. Priority will be given to visualizations that display quantitative information relevant to government agencies, combine data from multiple sources, have delivered impact, and/or cut across government silos. Submit your maps here!

On the topic of data visualizations, a number of research institutions and government entities have released maps to help policymakers and residents better understand data. On the federal level, the Urban Institute created a county-level map of rental affordability that allows users to explore the number of affordable housing units per 100 extremely low income (ELI) households. On the state government level, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) updated and expanded a visualization that displays the availability of food-related data, services, initiatives, and institutions throughout Maryland. And, on the municipal level, Atlanta opened to the public a formerly internal platform called CommuteATL, which provides real-time commuter data to help residents navigate a recent bridge collapse. Finally, with the hope of streamlining mapping services, Topcoder issued a challenge for developers to find automated methods for extracting map-ready building footprints from high-resolution satellite imagery in order to replace the arduous manual extraction techniques traditionally used.

Emphasizing the power of maps, on his Better, Faster, Cheaper blog, Stephen Goldsmith argued that cities should prioritize making their open data useable, highlighting data visualizations’ ability to make data accessible and therefore more actionable. Goldsmith points to Pittsburgh’s Burgh’s Eye View—a site that maps service requests, arrests, police actions, and building code violations to help residents better understand their neighborhoods—as one example of the empowering potential of data maps.

CityLab argued that technological advances can, perhaps counterintuitively, improve trust among citizens and between citizens and government institutions. Civic engagement tools, from advances in 311 to crowdsourcing and social media, can improve government’s responsiveness and transparency. The article cites Stephen Goldsmith as saying, “Refreshingly, we also see that a citizen’s judgment concerning the trustworthiness of the local government can be facilitated by public transparency and social media use, resulting in more participation in solving the community’s problems.”

CityLab also discussed the privacy concerns raised by Singapore’s efforts to create a “Smart Nation,” characterized by a network of sensors that collect information on every aspect of urban life and transmit that data to a central platform accessible to all government agencies. Demonstrating the extent of the country’s sensing efforts, developers are working on systems that can detect when residents are smoking in non-smoking areas and the government recently piloted a program to track the movements and sleeping patterns of older residents. Thanks to lax personal data protection rules and a high level of citizen trust, there are few limits to the ways Singapore’s agencies collect and share data. However, going forward, residents will likely demand greater transparency and security measures.

On Data-Smart, Stephen Goldsmith profiled Boston’s results-driven pavement contracts, which incentivize vendors to achieve desired outcomes in order to improve the quality of asphalt resurfacing projects. With the help of Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab (GPL), the city reformed its contracting to improve communication and transparency with vendors and enhance the articulation and measurement of outcomes.

StateScoop reported that the state of Illinois has partnered with Microsoft and the IoT Talent Consortium to create a series of free online data science, analytics, and coding courses intended to accelerate tech job growth, especially for low-income residents. The state hopes that the courses will attract tech companies by increasing the tech-savvy of its citizenry. Courses are available via the state’s website.

Also on Data-Smart, we also published a Public Safety in Focus, a collection devoted to the theme of public safety that includes news, resources, case studies, and more. The collection includes a predictive analysis of fire risk in Baton Rouge, LA, an article highlighting the NYPD’s efforts to use technology to improve policing and citizen engagement, and a piece highlighting Cincinnati’s adoption of a situational awareness tool for emergency response.

On its blog, Microsoft announced a partnership with data science non-profit DataKind to support Vision Zero efforts to reduce traffic fatalities in New York, Seattle, and New Orleans. Each city identified a particular safety challenge, and DataKind then used city data to develop machine learning models that identify potential sites and impacts of local interventions.