Data is Critical Infrastructure for Disaster Recovery

Originally published by the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation on Medium.

A pandemic may seem like the worst time to fix slow-changing, infrastructural data challenges, but there is no better time to begin correcting systems that just aren’t working.

Chief Data Officers (CDOs) manage critical data infrastructure that helps states innovate and make data-driven policy decisions. Earlier this month, we published Leveraging Data for Economic Recovery, a report showing how CDOs can focus their work to guide states to equitable economic recoveries. But within state governments, CDOs often struggle to make the case for sustainable data reforms when there are more pressing demands on frontline workers.

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Urbanists play an important role in city protests

Last week, CityLab published a piece by Chilean journalists Juan Pablo Garnham and Nicolas Alonso connecting the Metro fare hikes in Chile to the structural instability and state oppression that the country’s residents have mobilized to protest over the last few weeks. When I first saw the headline about Chilean protests under the CityLab banner (and before seeing the authors’ personal connections to the struggle), I expected a milquetoast effort to connect current events to CityLab’s consistent coverage of innovations in transit. Something about how equitable access to transit is fundamental to running a peaceful, functional city. What I got instead was a deeply generous account of how urbanists might understand the interconnectedness of social policy at the city level and its effects on civic responsibility and political action.

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Opening decisions in the social services ecosystem

Originally published on the Sunlight Foundation blog.

Anyone who has worked in social services will tell you that navigating bureaucratic government systems can often be the most time-consuming and soul-sucking part of the job. In her TED talk in 2015, Hillary Cottam, a social entrepreneur and design research expert, highlighted the ways in which social service systems are broken: entangled in a world of government contracts. Social service systems, by design, place a significant administrative and reporting burden on case managers and social workers already responsible for caring for those with the highest need in our society. 

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Digital rights in the era of data collection and smart city tech

Authors: Katya Abazajian and Becca Warner
Originally published in the Sunlight Foundation blog.

In September 2018, the New York Times reported that a security breach at Facebook had exposed 50 million users to data theft. The breach of such a ubiquitous social media site, which houses a host of personal data from email addresses to credit card information, is a startling reminder of the power technology companies have in dictating our digital lives. And now tech giants like Google’s Alphabet are turning their focus toward urban data collection, enabling sensor-laden cityscapes to collect data on large swathes of cities’ residents. 

Cities don’t control private entities and how their tech developments shape cities, but they do control public spaces, public infrastructure, and democratic decision-making, and they must leverage that power to ensure residents have an active say in how technology shapes public life.

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Cities should be smart about smart cities agreements

Originally published on the Sunlight Foundation blog.

Recent breaches of data privacy at Facebook have been flash points for discussion and potential Congressional action about how private companies are collecting, storing, and using our personal data. As tech companies around the world scramble to implement new privacy policies, repair trust in their products, and comply with new privacy standards, city governments should be paying attention.

Private companies are dominating figures in the push toward “smart cities”. They are developing technologies that will allow cities to collect and analyze data about their residents’ behaviors through our everyday built environment including pedestrian traffic sensors, connected bikeshare, license plate readers, and more.

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How Seattle, WA is balancing openness with privacy

Authors: Katya Abazajian and Alex Dodds
Originally published on the Sunlight Foundation blog.

As we all learn more about how personal data lives online and affects us offline, people are understandably asking questions about how municipal governments are collecting or protecting sensitive data.

The City of Seattle in Washington, which has been recognized for excellence in open data, recently partnered with the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) to assess how well the city is protecting residents’ privacy as it publishes open data…

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