By Data-Smart City Solutions • May 19, 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, Katherine Hillenbrand profiled Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team, which united different people and projects working to improve performance and leverage data and enabled them to streamline their efforts toward a common vision for a data-driven Boston. Based in the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), the analytics team has a strong focus on serving departments collaboratively and helping them solve problems. Going forward, the team is building its capacity by bringing on specialists in areas like public safety and education and hopes to expand its predictive work.

The City on a Hill has also used data to determine the most efficient prices for metered parking, according to an article by Wyatt Cmar on Data-Smart. For years, Boston has had underpriced parking, leading to a shortage of available spaces, congestion, pollution, and distracted driving. Last year, the city launched the Performance Parking Pilot, which tested two experiments: one simply raising prices from $1.25 to $3.75 and another using smart meters that calibrate prices based on the time of day and driver demand.

Also in transportation innovation, Washington D.C. company Open Data Nation is working with cities to develop an analytical model designed to predict where crashes happen. The initiative builds on efforts by New York City, which partnered with Datakind and Microsoft with the hopes of developing a platform capable of predicting and quantifying the outcome of any road engineering intervention. While the project failed to produce such an ambitious tool, New York did successfully create a traffic exposure model, which uses AI to estimate the volume of cars on any road at any time. Read more at CityLab.

The Sunlight Foundation announced that it is seeking feedback from residents and subject matter experts on a draft of the open data policy the organization created with Tempe, AZ. The policy emphasizes the need to release data proactively, without fees, and without restrictions on its use. Users can read and comment on the policy here.  

The Financial Post wrote about the challenges that the Canadian government has experienced in trying to attract interest and investment in open data companies. In 2015, the Canadian Treasury Board announced the Canadian Open Data Exchange (ODX), intended to incubate 15 new companies, create 370 direct and indirect jobs and attract $50 million in venture capital over its three-year mandate. While ODX is on track to meet its jobs and company incubation goals, it has failed to attract significant investment in open data companies; these companies lack access to enough open government data to create real economic value, underscoring the need for more available data.

The Center for Data Innovation released a report outlining ten steps that Congress can take in 2017 to accelerate how data is collected, shared, and used in the United States. Among other recommendations, the report suggests that Congress establish a permanent open data policy for the federal government, establish an API for legislative data, and ensure that consumers can access their utility data.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, May 24 from 1-2 pm EST that introduces viewers to the 500 Cities Project, an initiative that provides first-of-its kind data on nearly 30 health indicators and costly and preventable diseases in 500 of the largest U.S. cities. During the webinar, experts from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Centers for Disease Control will provide an overview of available data and a tutorial on how to use the interactive web feature, and community leaders will share how they are already using the data to drive change in their communities.  

In an article for Data-Smart, Stephen Goldsmith discussed Washington, D.C.’s efforts to use low-cost evaluations in policymaking. Last year, the city launched the Lab @ DC, which brings diverse scientific skillsets in house that allow the city to implement low-cost initiatives and research methods in its operations. As an example of its work, the Lab is testing redesigned paperwork for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in order to increase applications.

15 states and local agencies have also committed to integrating scientific processes into their policies, participating in the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project, which applies behavioral science to human services programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States. In each of the agencies, project teams identified problems appropriate for behavioral interventions, designed behavioral solutions, and rigorously tested outcomes. The findings suggest that small changes in program outreach or communications can reduce some of the complexities in human service programs and improve accessibility for low-income populations. Read more at MDRC.

Route Fifty discussed Los Angeles’ new virtual assistant Chip, which can provide answers to 900 business questions. Using machine-learning, Chip is constantly learning answers to new questions based on the follow-up questions that users pose. The city’s Business Assistance Virtual Network support, which was once fielding 80 to 100 questions a week, now sees only 30 to 40 with Chip handling the majority of the load.