Today, we generate and have access to more data than ever before on almost any topic imaginable. And new and powerful technologies help us make sense of and apply that data to make better decisions—from smartphone apps that help us choose where to eat in our neighborhood, to digital platforms that enable us to combine voices to push for change on global issues. In the hands of local government—which oversees many of the systems that impact our daily lives and shape social and economic outcomes—the combination of today’s data and technology should theoretically grant us limitless opportunities to better understand and solve persistent, complex societal challenges.
For example, new data from Missouri reveal that, like many places across the country, there are major racial disparities in traffic enforcement. Black drivers were found to be 85% more likely to be stopped by police than their white neighbors, and more likely to be issued citations. When the system for resolving those citations is onerous and confusing, and vital information is challenging to find and use, the consequences can be severe. CivTech St. Louis partnered with the county of St. Louis to use public data to create a tech solution that simplifies that system, letting residents easily pull real-time data on tickets and receive text messages with court updates traffic citations online and from their phones. For St. Louis residents, effectively bridging data, technology and government systems became a matter of liberty, by helping to counter patterns that reinforce racial disparities and ultimately keep people out of the criminal justice system over minor traffic stops.
But this type of problem-solving is still all too rare. Putting the full potential of data and technology in the hands of local government requires stakeholders from across these fields to come together and collaborate in new ways.
When we started the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative, we were energized by how many of the local governments that we had been working with were already increasingly using technology to provide information about city services and infrastructure and inviting the public to participate in improving civic life in new ways. The rise of Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers and Chief Data Officers signaled that more cities were embracing their responsibility to enter the 21stcentury using new forms of stakeholder engagement and public data accessibility. We saw the potential to accelerate the use of data and tech as problem solving tools that could improve the lives of low-income urban residents.
“Could we combine the forces of our networks on the ground and bring technical assistance and financial resources to local teams of government, technologists and data intermediaries to tackle critical issues?”
We joined with two other national organizations—Code for America (CfA) and its brigades of volunteer technologists and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a network of local data intermediaries—to work with localities to understand what was possible. We asked ourselves, could we combine the forces of our networks on the ground and bring technical assistance and financial resources to local teams of government, technologists and data intermediaries to tackle critical issues?
Today we are sharing a suite of resources to support communities working to form similar collaboratives of government, tech and data partners, based on experiences from seven communities that participated in the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative (CTDC). We’ve shared a synthesis of lessons across sites, specific examples of local partnerships, stories of what they accomplished, and access to free resources that other communities can adapt.
Washington, DC, St. Louis, and Boston chose three priority issues–affordable housing preservation, traffic court ticket resolution, and summer youth employment placement, respectively–that could be better solved by applying technology, unlocking data, and cultivating local government leadership. We invited four other urban communities to learn along the way as they identified local issues and local stakeholders to partner with.
We hoped to offer the field tangible results from pilots that could be scaled and adopted by other municipalities. We also aimed to capture insights into how going beyond traditional relationships and roles to find new ways of working together can strengthen the connective tissue of ecosystems that harness data and technology for good. By starting with our networks, we believed we could increase the flow of information and resources to change the way power works locally, a critical shift necessary to create more equitable communities.
CTDC demonstrated that the public sector can solve system-level problems more effectively when it leverages the expertise of its residents, tech professionals, and its data community, going beneath the surface of how these collaborations have been brought to life in the past.
How can you use our resources?
- Go beyond traditional relationships inside and outside city hall and get to know your community data and technology experts who can inform your solution making process.
- Ask residents and community leaders, both informal and formal, what their priority issues are and collaboratively explore if and how data and technology might contribute to a solution.
- Engage frontline government staff who interact with residents about new approaches to service delivery or data analysis that could make them more effective in serving residents. This should include building the capacity of the staff to apply data and tech in their work.
- Look at the resources that you are (or are not) investing and figure out how they might be redeployed to support collaboration with data intermediaries, community members and tech professionals.
- Ask your grantees how you can support their collection and use of data and technology to improve programs and deliver services.
- Consider how you use the information you collect and how sharing it with the community served would create more equity.
- Invite technologists to contribute to user-designed solutions and inform how you and your grantees develop prototype solutions to advance initiatives with the community.
- Recognize the opportunity to drive lasting change with population-level results by investing in social entrepreneurs finding a home in city governments.
At Living Cities we are still learning and continuously striving to better leverage our tools and relationships. As a result of the CTDC, we have strengthened relationships with our partners at NNIP and Code for America and their networks. Internally, we are still determining how to best engage technologists in our work and the work of our grantees. We also are investing in our staff’s competency to use and value data to improve performance toward achieving our North Star Result—that all people in US cities are economically secure and building wealth. Join us as we develop an Economic Opportunity Roadmap with our networks so that they can connect with one another and share information to close racial gaps in income and wealth. This is our continuing investment in an ecosystem that harnesses the collective power of data, technology, and local leadership. What will yours be?