An effort to harness the transformative power of data technology to improve the lives of low-income people

It’s almost cliché now to talk about the impact that data and technology have had on society. From smartphone apps that help you find your car in a parking lot to analytics that help Starbucks decide how to stock their stores on any given day, data and technology have fundamentally changed the way we understand and navigate the world. Our three organizations share a sense of urgency to harness these powerful forces to transform systems that affect the daily lives of low-income people living in cities.

The need for this transformation is great. Every day, city residents navigate a maze of systems to complete basic tasks like accessing government services or paying traffic tickets. These tasks, inconvenient for everyone, can be so numerous, burdensome and time-consuming for lower-income people that they can amount to a job unto themselves. And, recent events in Baltimore and around the country highlight how, at their worst, these systems contribute to, compound, and undergird pervasive inequities that have destructive and devastating consequences in people’s lives.

We are now actively weaving these networks together in order to advance a new, greater movement for modern times in America’s cities.

Our organizations each support three movements to address these challenges. Urban Institute, through its National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, supports a community-driven movement to generate, open and use the explosion of data in cities to support evidence-based policy. Civically minded technologists, organized through the Code for America volunteer Brigade, have developed groundbreaking tools that make working with government simpler, and have inspired millions to reimagine a government for and by the people in the 21st century. And a growing movement to reinvent local government from the inside and out has found support from Living Cities and a growing corpus of allies.

We are now actively weaving these networks together in order to advance a new, greater movement for modern times in America’s cities. This movement will harness the power of civic data, technology, government and communities to make cities more inclusive, equitable and democratic. We call this new endeavor the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative.

Financial Support

$200,000 Teams in Boston and St. Louis will be receiving $200,000 in support from our collaborative to use data to address a pressing problem in their city. This support is made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The work of this collaborative will be driven at the local level. In two cities, Boston and St. Louis, volunteer technologists participating in local Code for America Brigades, data practitioners affiliated with the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, local governments and community groups will work together to use data and technology to address a pressing problem in their cities. The team in Boston will streamline the process for connecting young people to summer jobs, which could put money in the hands of thousands more of Boston’s youth while also helping to build their resumes and professional skills. The St. Louis team will aid in an ongoing court reform effort by helping to make the local criminal justice system easier to navigate. Each of these teams will be receiving $200,000 in support from our collaborative, made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We will also help our local partners raise as much as a 1-to-1 match, provide them with ongoing technical assistance, and connect them to one another and other cities in our networks to facilitate cross-city learning and problem-solving.

We believe that these movements are greater than the sum of their parts, and we are confident that our investments in these cities will not only prove the power of this approach to achieve dramatically better results in the lives of low-income people, faster, but will also define a new paradigm that local leaders can use to weave their own civic technology and data networks together. Our local partners, and perhaps even you, will shape this paradigm. We invite you to connect with the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative to become part of this exciting endeavor.

Special thanks to Living Cities' President and CEO, Ben Hecht, for his contributions to this post.

Image source: Data Path on Flickr, CC by SA-2.0.