By Data-Smart City Solutions • March 3, 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 discussed innovative uses of social media by governments who were semifinalists for this year’s Bright Ideas awards, recognized by Harvard Kennedy School’s Innovations in American Government awards program. Governments have used social media to create new ways to save money and add value to the services they deliver. For example, in Mobile, AL, the city’s innovation team has used Instagram to gather GPS information embedded in photos in order to create a mapping application for blighted properties.

Also on Data-Smart, Chris Bousquet highlighted ten governments that have implemented nudges—interventions informed by behavioral science that seek to overcome residents’ cognitive biases to promote healthier behaviors. Nudges are inexpensive, but can produce tremendous value. Examples include letters in Lexington that have greatly increased sewer fee repayment, smaller trash bins in Edinburgh that have increased recycling rates, and a handbook from the Bureau of Prisons that helps released inmates reintegrate into society.

The Harvard Ash Center’s Civic Analytics Network—a consortium of Chief Data Officers and analytics principals in large cities and counties throughout the United States—published an open letter on Data-Smart outlining eight guidelines for advancing the capabilities of government data portals. The guidelines include improving accessibility and usability, prioritizing geospatial data, and setting clear and transparent pricing.

The City of Boston released a preview (“beta”) version of its new open data platform Analyze Boston, accessible at As opposed to the old open data portal, on this platform, all of the city’s data will live in one place, data will be organized into topic areas, and the experience will be more user-friendly. The city is working towards a full launch in Spring 2017 and will continue to curate and publish high-quality datasets until then.

Also on the topic of open data, GovTech profiled The Sunlight Foundation’s Open Data Policy Wizard, a tool that asks basic questions about a user’s city, county, or state, and then creates a sample policy. The Sunlight Foundation has stressed that the created policy is “a starting point, not an ending point,” and that governments should explore other governments’ policies and work with residents to fully develop their policies.

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard published the Open Data Privacy Playbook, which seeks to codify responsible privacy-protective approaches for cities to adopt when publicly releasing data. The report centers around four recommendations: conducting risk-benefit analyses to inform design, considering privacy at each stage of the data lifecycle, developing operational structures that codify privacy management, and emphasizing public engagement.

Governing Magazine developed a Public Engagement Roadmap, a set of resources for practitioners aiming to develop a public engagement strategy. The roadmap draws upon insights from five cities and includes an interactive survey that generates ideas for structuring the engagement process, a guide outlining best practices, case studies, and an interactive learning exercise in the form of a board game.

Quartz wrote about the efforts of researchers in the UK and US to use behavioral economics to attract more diverse workforces in police departments. The Behavioral Insights Team—the organization started in the British Government that uses behavioral science to improve public services—has partnered with What Work Cities to tweak the wording in recruitment messages in order to appeal to a more diverse population. For example, Chattanooga, TN tested postcards that stressed the career benefits of police work and the challenge of the job, finding that people of color were 50 percent more responsive to these messages than their white peers.

StateScoop discussed a tool called that allows veterans to submit Yelp-style reviews of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. The free app allows users to search for medical facilities via an interactive map and submit rankings on a scale of 1 to 5. The goal is to give veterans a voice to express concerns with facilities, guide veterans to quality medical centers, and put pressure on the VA to institute higher quality standards.