Data for social good: suicide prevention

Earlier this week, GOOD Magazine published an interesting piece by Mark Hay on suicide prevention titled “Can Big Data Help Us Fight Rising Suicide Rates?” The part of the article that talks about data-driven prevention starts about halfway through. What follows is an excerpt from that section.

Yet there is one frontier in suicide prevention that seems especially promising, though in a way, it maybe a bit removed from the problem’s human element: big data predictions and intervention targeting.

We know that some populations are more likely than others to commit suicide. Men in the United States account for 79 percent of all suicides. People in their 20s are at higher risk than others. And whites and Native Americans tend to have higher suicide rates than other ethnicities. Yet we don’t have the greatest ability to grasp trends and other niche factors to build up actionable, targetable profiles of communities where we should focus our efforts. We’re stuck trying to expand a suicide prevention dragnet, as opposed to getting individuals at risk the precise information they need (even if they don’t tip off major signs to their friends and family).

That’s a big part of why last year, groups like the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Research Prioritization Task Force listed better surveillance, data collection, and research on existing data as priorities for work in the field over the next decade. It’s also why multiple organizations are now developing algorithms to sort through diverse datasets, trying to identify behaviors, social media posting trends, language, lifestyle changes, or any other proxy that can help us predict suicidal tendencies. By doing this, the theory goes, we can target and deliver exactly the right information.

One of the greatest proponents of this data-heavy approach to suicide prevention is the United States Army, which suffers from a suicide rate many times higher than the general population. In 2012, they had more suicide deaths than casualties in Afghanistan. Yet with millions of soldiers stationed around the globe and limited suicide prevention resources, it’s been difficult to simply rely on expanding the dragnet. Instead, last December the Army announced that they’d developed an algorithm that distills the details of a soldier’s personal information into a set of 400 characteristics that mix and match to show whether an individual is likely in need of intervention. Their analysis isn’t perfect yet, but they’ve been able to identify a cluster of characteristics within 5 percent of military personnel who accounted for 52 percent of suicides, showing that they’re on the right track to better targeting and allocating prevention resources.

Yet perhaps the greatest distillation of this data-driven approach (combined with the expansive, barrier-reducing impulse of mainstream efforts) is the Crisis Text Line. Created in 2013 by organizers from DoSomething.org, the text line allows those too scared, embarrassed, or uncomfortable to vocalize their problems to friends, or over a hotline, to simply trace a pattern on a cell phone keypad (741741) and then type their problems in a text message. As of 2015, algorithmic learning allows the Crisis Text Line to search for keywords, based on over 8 million previous texts and data gathered from hundreds of suicide prevention workers, to identify who’s at serious risk and assign counselors to respond. But more than that, the data in texts can trip off time and vocabulary sensors, matching counselors with expertise in certain areas to respond to specific texters, or bringing up precisely tailored resources. For example, the system knows that self-harm peaks at 4 a.m. and that people typing “Mormon” are usually dealing with issues related to LGBTQ identity, discrimination, and isolation. Low-impact and low-cost with high potential for delivering the best information possible to those in need, it’s one of the cleverer young programs out there pushing the suicide prevention gains made over the last century.

It’ll be a few years before we can understand the impact of data analysis and targeting on suicide prevention efforts, especially relative to general attempts to expand existing programs. And given the limited success of a half-century of serious gains in understanding and resource provision, we’d be wise not to get our hopes up too much. But it’s not unreasonable to suspect that a combination of diversifying means of access, lowering barriers of communication, and better identifying those at risk could help us bring programs to populations that have not yet received them (or that we could not support quickly enough before). At the very least, crunching existing data may help us to discover why suicide rates have increased in recent years and to understand the mechanisms of this widespread social issue. We have solid, logical reason to support the development of programs like the Army’s algorithms and the Crisis Text Line, and to push for further similar initiatives. But really we have reason to support any kind of suicide prevention innovation, even if it feels less robust or promising than the recent data-driven efforts. If you’ve ever witnessed the pain that those moving towards suicide feel, or the wide-reaching fallout after someone takes his or her life, you’ll understand the visceral, human need to let a thousand flowers bloom, desperately hoping that one of them sticks. Hopefully, if data mining and targeting works well, that’ll only inspire further innovation, slowly putting a greater and greater dent in the phenomenon of suicide.

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Bridging the Digital Divide in Gigabit Cities

Denise Linn conducted this research as an MPP Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is currently a Program Analyst at the Smart Chicago Collaborative.

With the rise of coalitions like Next Century Cities and Gig.U and the development of groundbreaking networks in cities like Chattanooga and Kansas City, the buzz surrounding gigabit Internet speeds has swelled in the US. Cities are working closely with companies like Google Fiber or even building out fiber-optic infrastructure themselves. The suggested rewards of these investments include stronger local economies, vibrant tech startup scenes, progress in distance learning, telemedicine, research—and the list goes on.

But when superfast gigabit speeds are available in a city, what does that mean for people beyond tech entrepreneurs and other heavy Internet users? How can cities make sure that technological innovation lifts up the lives of every resident? This all leads to the ultimate question I examined in my recent research: What does the availability of high speed Internet mean for the digital divide?

Unpacking public data can shed some insight on this important issue. The 2013 American Community Survey’s tract and city-level demographic data merged with the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband subscribership data tell us a complex story about what faster speeds do to digital inclusion in metro areas. Though on the surface, both normal cities and gigabit cities do not appear to differ greatly in terms of overall broadband adoption, the data show that there is significant interaction between poverty and gigabit infrastructure. In other words, the presence of gigabit infrastructure has a significant correlation with higher connectivity in lower-income neighborhoods. Poorer cities and poorer census tracts are predicted to fare better when there is gigabit availability.

Why is this? There are a few possible explanations:

  1. Increased competition: It’s possible that faster speeds spur competition, lower prices, and make at-home broadband subscriptions possible for more people.
  2. Greater awareness of why the Internet is important: According to Pew, the number one barrier for broadband adoption in the home is lack of awareness or understanding of how the Internet is relevant to everyday activities. It’s possible that the community organizing process required to build gigabit networks engages low-income neighborhoods and heightens awareness of why the Internet is important throughout a city.
  3. Empowered anchor institutions in low-income areas: Within gigabit cities, anchor institutions—community-based organizations and libraries—deliver critical services to help get people online. In my research I saw interesting outliers—namely, very poor census tracts that were walkable and had easy access to public amenities or programs saw higher rates of Internet connectivity. For example, Hamilton County’s census tract 20 in Chattanooga, TN is both dense and is home to four churches and Howard High School. In 2013, 46% of households in this tract were living in poverty, but over 80% subscribed to broadband service.

The data analysis also points to weaknesses in high-speed Internet cities: broadband adoption in concentrated populations of non-English speakers and communities with low educational attainment. Interestingly, these residents are predicted to be worse off in gigabit cities. This observation points to what many might already suspect—that the relevancy and skill barriers to broadband adoption cannot be solved by faster speeds alone.

Fortunately, cities can understand and take ownership over their own digital divides, whether they are gigabit cities or aspiring gigabit cities. The public sector has a major role to play in digital inclusion. For example, cities can hire a digital inclusion specialist to work full time on the issue or create a grants program for local nonprofits. It’s clear that city governments can set the tone for broadband adoption. You can see my recommended digital inclusion actions for city governments here.

The National League of Cities, in partnership with Next Century Cities and Google Fiber, is conducting a webinar on August 6th to provide practical steps and specific case examples for city governments seeking to heighten their work in this area. Also, cities with great programs or programming ideas will have the opportunity to win a first-ever Digital Inclusion Leadership Award and share their success stories at the NLC conference in November.

To learn more about digital inclusion and dive deeper into the subjects covered in this post, see A Data-Driven Digital Inclusion Strategy for Gigabit Cities, or the summary here. Continua a leggere

Mapping youth well-being worldwide with open data

Ryan Swanstrom is a blogger at Data Science 101. This post originally appeared on DataKind’s blog.

How does mapping child poverty in Washington DC help inform efforts to support child and young adult well being in the UK and Kentucky?

Back in March 2012, a team of DataKind volunteers in Washington DC worked furiously to finish their final presentation at a weekend DataDive. Little did they know, the impact of their work would extend far beyond DC and far beyond the weekend. Their prototyped visualization ultimately became a polished tool that would impact communities worldwide.

DC Action for Children’s Data Tools 2.0 is an interactive visualization tool to explore the effects of income, healthcare, neighborhoods, and population on child well-being in the Washington DC area. The source code for Data Tools 2.0 and open data sources have since been used by DataKind UK and Code for America volunteers to benefit their local partners. There is now potential for it to reach even more communities through DataLook’s #openimpact Marathon.

See how far a solution can spread when you bring together open data, open code and open hearted volunteers around the world.

What a difference a DataDive makes

DC Action for Children, a Washington DC nonprofit focusing on child well-being, needed help understanding how Washington DC could be one of the most affluent and wealthy cities in the United States, yet have one of the highest child poverty rates. Could mapping child poverty help uncover patterns and insights to drive action to address it?

A team of DataDive volunteers, led by Data Ambassador Sisi Wei, took on the challenge and, in less than 24 hours, created a prototype that wrangled data in a multitude of forms from government agencies, Census and DC Action for Children’s own databases.  The 24-hours then evolved into a multi-month DataCorps project involving many DataKind volunteers. The team unveiled a more polished version to a large and influential audience in Washington DC, including the Mayor of DC himself! They then completed the final enhancements to create Data Tools 2.0, which is now live on DC Action for Children’s website.

The project has since released the source code on Github, and the team has continued to collaborate and advance the project to where it is today. In fact, if you’re local, check out the August 5th DataKind DC Meetup to join in and continue improving the tool.

This story alone is incredible and speaks to the incredible commitment of these volunteers and the importance of having a strong partner like DC Action for Children to implement and utilize the work as an integrated part of its mission.

And that’s usually where the story ends. Thanks to DataKind’s global network though, the impact of this work was just starting to spread.

A Visualization Goes Viral

Because the visualization used open data (freely available data for public use) and open source software or code (freely available code that can be viewed, modified, and reused), other volunteers could quickly repurpose the work and apply it to their local community.

DataKind UK London DataDive

The first time the visualization was replicated was in October 2014 for The North East Child Poverty Commission. The Commission had a similar challenge of wanting to better understand child poverty in the North East of England. A team at the London DataDive reused the code from DataTools 2.0 and created a similar visualization for the North East of England. This enabled the team to quickly produce valuable results that “thrilled” NECPC. One of the team’s Data Ambassadors continued to work with the organization and has since migrated the visualization to a different platform in Tableau.

DataKind UK Leeds DataDive

In April 2015, DataKind UK hosted another DataDive in Leeds with three charity partners, Volition, Voluntary Action Leeds and the Young Foundation, to tackle the structural causes of inequality in the city. All three charity teams came together to create a visualization tool that allows people to explore features of financial, young NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and mental health inequality. But they did not recreate the wheel—they leveraged past work and repurposed code from DC Action for Children. Read more about the event in this recap from DataDive attendee, Andy Dickinson.

Beyond the DataKind Network

Now, it’s great to see a solution scale within an organization’s network, but it’s even more impressive to see it scale beyond, in this case, into Kentucky and maybe one day India or Finland.

#HackForChange with Code For America

In June 2015, the city of Louisville, Kentucky teamed with Civic Data Alliance to host a hackathon in honor of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Kentucky Youth Advocates, a nonprofit organization focused on “making Kentucky the best place in America to be a kid,” wanted to visually explore the factors affecting successful children outcomes across Council Districts. There is a large variance in child resources throughout the city, which is having an effect on child well-being. The volunteers repurposed the original code and used local publicly available data to create the Kentucky Youth Advocates Data Visualization, which is now helping the city of Louisville better distribute resources for children.

#openimpact Marathon

DC Action for Children is also one of the projects selected for the #openimpact Marathon hosted by DataLook. The goal of the marathon is to get people and groups to replicate existing data-driven projects for social good. So far, there is interest in replicating the Data Tools 2.0 visualization for child crimes in India and another potential replication for senior citizens in Finland. There is no telling where this visualization will end up helping next. Get involved!

Ok ok, but what is the impact of all this really?

Aren’t these just visualizations? Yes, as any good data scientist knows, data visualizations are not an end in and of themselves. In fact, it’s typically just part of the overall process of gaining insight into data for some larger end goal. Similarly, open data in and of itself does not automatically mean impact. The data has to be easy to access, in the right formats, and people have to apply it to real-world challenges. Just because you build it (or open it), does not necessarily mean impact will come.

Yet visualizations and open data sources are often a critical first step to bigger outcomes. So what makes the difference between a flashy marketing tool and something that will help improve real people’s lives? The strength of the partner organization that will ultimately use it to create change in the world.

Data visualizations, open data and open source code alone are not going to end child poverty. People are going to end child poverty. The strength of the tool itself is less important than the strength of an organization’s strategy of how to use it to inform decision-making and conversation around a given issue.

Thankfully, DC Action for Children has been a tremendous partner and is using Data Tools 2.0 as a key part of its efforts to improve the lives of children in DC. It’s exciting to see the tool now spreading to equally impressive partners around the world.

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Data for Good in Bangalore

Miriam Young is a Communications Specialist at DataKind.

At DataKind, we believe the same algorithms and computational techniques that help companies generate profit can help social change organizations increase their impact. As a global nonprofit, we harness the power of data science in the service of humanity by engaging data scientists and social change organizations on projects designed to address critical social issues.

Our global Chapter Network recently wrapped up a marathon of DataDives, helping local organizations with their data challenges over the course of a weekend. This post highlights two of the projects from DataKind Bangalore’s first DataDive earlier this year, where volunteers used data science to help support rural agriculture and combat urban corruption.

Digital Green

Founded in 2008, Digital Green is an international, nonprofit development organization that builds and deploys information and communication technology to amplify the effectiveness of development efforts to affect sustained social change. They have a series of educational videos of agricultural best practices to help farmers in villages succeed.

The Challenge

Help farmers more easily find videos relevant to them by developing a recommendation engine that suggests videos based on open data on local agricultural conditions. The team was working with a collection of videos, each focused on a specific crop, along with descriptions, but each description was in a different regional language. The challenge, then, was parsing and interpreting this information to use it as as a descriptive feature for the video. To add another challenge, they needed geodata with the geographical boundaries of different regions to map the videos to a region with specific soil types and environmental conditions, but the data didn’t exist.

The Solution

The volunteers got to work preparing this dataset and published boundaries of 103,344 indian villages and geocoded 1062 Digital Green villages in Madhya Pradesh(MP) to 22 soil polygons. They then clustered 22 MP districts based on 179 feature vectors. They also mapped the villages that Digital Green works with into 5 agro-climatic clusters. Finally, the team developed a Hinglish parser that parses the Hindi titles of available videos and translates them to English to help the recommender system understand which crop the videos relate to.

I Change My City / Janaagraha

Janaagraha was established in 2001 as a nonprofit that aims to combine the efforts of the government and citizens to ensure better quality of life in cities by improving urban infrastructure, services and civic engagement. Their civic portal, IChangeMyCity promotes civic action at a neighborhood level by enabling citizens to report a complaint that then gets upvoted by the community and flagged for government officials to take action.

The Challenge

Deal with duplicate complaints that can clog the system and identify factors that delay open issues from being closed out.

The Solution

To deal with the problem of duplicate complaints, the team used Jaccard similarity and Cosine similarity on vectorized complaints to cluster similar complaints together. Disambiguation was performed by ward and geography. The model they built delivered a precision of more than 90%.

To deal with the problem of identifying factors affecting closure by user and authorities, the team used two approaches. The first approach involved analysis using Decision Trees by capturing attributes like Comments, Vote-ups, Agency ID, Subcategory and so on. The second approach involved logistic regression to predict closure probability. Closure probability was modeled as a function of complaint subcategory, ward, comment velocity, vote-ups and similar other factors.

With these new features, iChangeMyCity will be able to better handle the large volume of incoming requests and Digital Green will be better able to serve farmers.

These initial findings are certainly valuable, but DataDives are actually much bigger than just weekend events. The weeks of preparation that go into them and months of impact that ripple out from them make them a step in an organization’s larger data science journey. This is certainly the case here, as both of these organizations are now exploring long-term projects with DataKind Bangalore to expand on this work.

Stay tuned for updates on these exciting projects to see what happens next!

Interested in getting involved? Find your local chapter and sign up to learn more about our upcoming events.

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Data-driven policy visualizations from Central and Eastern Europe

Last year the Open Society Foundations’ Think Tank Fund published an online portfolio of a set of projects they supported from 2010 to 2013. The projects are all applications of data-driven policy in Central and Eastern Europe. The portfolio includes:

View the accompanying report here.

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Better Permits, Better Cities: How Hacking City Policy Can Improve the Public Realm

Jake Levitas is a civic designer, organizer, and activist based in San Francisco. Cross-posted from Medium.com.

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody. — Jane Jacobs

Cities are at their best when they change with their citizens; when, to quote Rebar principal Matthew Passmore, “a city’s evolution keeps pace with its own cultural evolution.” Unfortunately, cities are often preventing themselves from doing just that—from being responsive enough to their own changing dynamics to continue existing as accurate reflections of and platforms for their own cultures. Outdated permitting processes are keeping a large swath of promising projects in art, design, technology, and other modes of expression from ever becoming part of the urban landscape. Along the way, cities are missing opportunities to add economic and cultural value in a time of constrained resources.

In other words: cities can be more healthy, engaging, beautiful and productive if they make it easier for citizens to contribute to making them so.

Historically, projects that alter the public realm have been generally divided into two camps: those that play by the rules (city-sanctioned installations, community murals) and those that don’t (graffiti, vandalism). Recently, this dichotomy has been disrupted by projects that make practical and aesthetic improvements to public space—but don’t always ask for permission. This approach is driven by citizens with the passion to improve their cities and the impatience to not wait through the full public permitting process to take action. But what if that process weren’t so intimidating, time-consuming, and costly for the average city resident? Could we make cities better, faster?

Why Civic Design Policy is Like Rocket Science
In between powerful ideas and powerful change lies powerful bureaucracy.

Internally, city governments are tasked with ensuring that public infrastructure and funds are used safely and responsibly. Permits that utilize these funds or resources are, for good reason, a big part of this.

But from an outside perspective—for community members, designers, artists, architects, makers—the process of getting a project approved and permitted by city departments might as well be rocket science. The entire tactical urbanism movement exists largely as a band-aid solution for citizens who lack the resources, time, or patience to navigate this complex approval system, and prefer taking matters into their own hands to create local change. A key question moving forward is how this process can be opened up to look less like rocket science, and more like the DIY science kits that turn kids everywhere into excited, engaged brainstormers. How can we make the permitting process sexier to better engage the average citizen?

Let’s get into the details a little bit. Say you want to install an Urban Prototyping project like Urban Parasol in your city—attaching a modular shade structure to a light pole. In San Francisco, the light pole you’re attaching to is managed by SFPUC, the sidewalks people are standing on underneath your structure are managed by SFDPW, and the street thoroughfare your overhang stretches above is managed by SFMTA. You might need permits and approvals from all of these agencies before you even think of hitting the street—and often, existing permits aren’t set up to handle these types of ideas.

While you’re at it, you might want to talk to someone in the SF Arts Commission, City Administrator’s Office, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, or your local Community Benefit District about gaining local support for the project. Then you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t make the area less beautiful, more dangerous, or more prone to attract noisy late-night revelry in the eyes of the neighbors nearby. And finally, you’ll also need a way to pay for the material costs, and find a way to get your work paid for if you’re not planning to donate your time as a civic volunteer. All of this work is on top of the citizens’ principal focus of creating the best public art piece, design intervention, or interactive installation they possibly can—which is a huge job in itself.

Understandably, it’s hard for most citizens who want to contribute to know where to begin. The process isn’t made easier by the fact that most government websites are difficult to navigate (though there are exceptions!), and most departments don’t have a liaison dedicated to making this process easy and accessible for the community.

Better permits will allow artists and designers to focus more on what they’re good at—creating great civic projects—while allowing city planners to focus on their own invaluable strengths—navigating the crucial regulatory nuances of City Hall that can make these projects a reality.

Why It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
Cities want to help, and the barriers aren’t as big as they seem.

Here’s the good news: the obstacles to getting public design projects approved, built, and installed are actually not as complicated as they seem—and they’re pretty much exactly what you would think they are. In speaking with city officials in several San Francisco agencies recently, they all outlined the same five barriers as the root causes of bureaucratic slowness and difficulty. I’ve listed these below, along with some basic steps toward getting around them:

  1. Liability + injury potential: Perhaps the biggest obstacle from a legal perspective is determining who is responsible if someone is injured or otherwise harmed directly or indirectly by a project. Most projects need someone to cover liability associated with them, which sometimes means working out a deal with the city or a local business owner who already has a policy in place. This can be tricky but certainly isn’t impossible, and could be streamlined by the city to make it even easier—for example, by creating a guide that helps citizens understand the liability process and their options for getting approved.
  2. Citizen complaints: Many projects can be derailed due to concerns from locals over issues like noise, aesthetics, traffic, or safety. Working with the community and conducting preliminary testing and meetings before a full installation can go a long way toward easing the public’s mind and garnering support for a project
  3. Funding + procurement: Procurement requirements—standards for the entities and people that can provide services to and receive funding from the city—can be a barrier for individual citizens and smaller organizations to create real projects that take advantage of city improvement funds and other public funding. There are a few easy ways to help remedy this: designers and artists can work through nonprofits and firms that are already city vendors; the city can make it easier for citizens to both become vendors and/or connect with existing vendors; and the city can also fast-track projects with external funding (from grants, individuals, or crowd funding) to increase the value they are able to capture from outside City Hall.
  4. Lack of interagency dialog: Every city has a web of responsibilities that is often spread across a complicated web of departments and individuals. However, most cities lack an interagency review board or task force to streamline the process of approving public design projects. Others make it difficult for departments to simply talk to each other, making it harder to find the creative regulatory solutions sometimes necessary to bring projects to life. We’ve started forming an Urban Prototyping Task Force in San Francisco to help get the ball rolling on these issues, and a culture of dialog can also be taken much further when it is promoted from the top by a visionary mayor or planning director.
  5. Lack of a good public interface: As mentioned above, there’s generally no central government touch point for citizens who want to design for the public realm. Ideally this touch point should be a combination of 1) well-designed and accessible informational resources and 2) dedicated staff members to support them and interface with the public directly. In San Francisco, we’re fortunate to have the SF Better Streets initiative—a simply fantastic effort that gets closer to this interface than anything else I’ve personally seen.

Finally, most city staff members I’ve met with are just as frustrated with the typical regulatory process as we on the outside are—and they’re actively looking for great new citizen-led projects and the means to take them forward. This may be somewhat unique to San Francisco, birthplace of the parklet, but my sense from speaking with officials in other cities is that the broader culture is changing—the permits themselves just haven’t been able to catch up yet.

Where We Go From Here
We know the problems—so let’s start tackling them together.

If the good news is that barriers to permitting civic design projects are well-known and surmountable, the better news is that many cities are already heading in the right direction. San Francisco’s groundbreaking work creating the parklet permit has been well-documented, and Boston’s City Hall to Go program is another great example of making city services and processes more accessible to the general public. Even more importantly, the conversations between City Hall insiders and outsiders—those in need of city approvals and those providing them—have become much more frequent and robust in recent years—a welcome change from the sometimes stereotypical bureaucratic Iron Curtain. Technology and new forms of engagement are only making these interactions easier.

To be clear, “hacking” the permitting process—rethinking it to make it more efficient, effective, and attractive—isn’t necessarily going to be easy, fast, or fun. It took about five years to formally establish the parklet permitting process in San Francisco. If we’re going to hack city policy successfully, our best tool is the continued dialog between citizens and government. Understanding each others’ needs and contexts is the first step to change, and it’s already starting to happen today.

Every citizen can be a part of this change by tracking down supportive officials in the right departments, sharing successful project examples, and organizing open discussions (like this one) to promote understanding and (most importantly) action. Together, we can ensure that better permits will create better cities.


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Imagining Better Cities through Apps

Adrienne St. Aubin is a Policy Analyst at Google

Google is excited to sponsor this year’s international AppMyCity! Prize from the New Cities Foundation, celebrating mobile applications that improve the urban experience, connect people, and make cities more fun, vibrant, sustainable places.

We’re bullish on the value of open public data to inspire innovation and improve citizens’ daily lives. Last year Francisca Rojas of Harvard Kennedy School’s Transparency Policy Project highlighted the positive impact of open transit data on the number of transit apps developed—and the indication that more people are likely to utilize public transportation systems when apps help improve the experience via real-time information. Imagine the possibilities for other kinds of public data like health, employment, education, environmental, demographic and cultural info.

The first step toward generating value from public data is for governments to make data available in machine-readable formats, not just PDFs or image files, and ensure it stays up to date. No one wants to build or use an app that shows out-of-date schedules or last year’s parking zones. But governments aren’t the only ones who have a responsibility here, even though they are the generators and keepers of the data. Developers and citizens have a role to play too, by using what’s out there, giving feedback about how it can be improved, and growing the demand side of the market.

Of course, the value of open data isn’t just about apps. But creating and using apps is one of the most concrete ways we can engage with the public information around us. Imagine together how it can make our communities—and the world—a better place.

About the AppMyCity! Prize

Entries are now being accepted at www.appmycity.org and the submission deadline is April 26, 2013. The New Cities Foundation will announce ten semi-finalists on April 30, 2013. This list will be assessed by a panel of expert judges, who will select the three finalists. The finalists will be announced on May 7, 2013.

Three AppMyCity! Prize finalists will be invited to attend the New Cities Foundation’s New Cities Summit in São Paulo June 4-6 to present their project to an international audience of urban leaders, thinkers and innovators, and the winner will receive 5,000 USD to support further development of the app.


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