Civic Analytics Network Makes Case for Replicating Urban Analytics Use

February 08, 2019

A newly-released Civic Analytics Network Mobility Management paper has been issued by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. This is the second in a two-part series providing an overview of two recent works, the first being a policy brief on Rideshare Regulations.

Recent and relevant work published by the Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is certain to be well-received by city leaders, urban planners and civic data analysts seeking valuable perspective, resources and guidance.

In addition to a new policy brief, “Rideshare Regulations,” the Ash Center has published a paper, written by the Civic Analytics Network, addressing the value of “Replicating Urban Analytics Case Studies.” Smart & Resilient Cities will cover both the ridesharing policy brief and the urban analytics paper separately as part of a two-part series. Following the first overview, detailing the paper on Rideshare Regulations written by Professor Stephen Goldsmith, this is the second overview, focusing on the Civic Analytics Network policy paper. Its author is Craig Campbell, a fellow with Ash Center's Innovations in Government, who serves as the Assistant Director for Policy & Operations for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), and developed the piece for the Civic Analytics Network (CAN). 

Replicating Urban Analytics Use Cases

Peer learning communities, clearinghouses, pro bono technical assistance, as well as procurement support are just a few of the many resources presented to urban analytics practitioners and urban analytics networks in a newly-published paper written by Craig Campbell for the Civic Analytics Network. The paper, “Replicating Urban Analytics Use Cases: Conceptual Shortcomings, Implementation Challenges, and Recommendations for the Field,” was published in January, 2019, by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, based at the Cambridge, MA-based Harvard Kennedy School.

In presenting the wide-ranging, practitioner-focused paper on civic analytics, Craig Campbell, a fellow with the Ash Center’s Innovations in Government, discusses replicating data-analytics use cases from city to city. For example, how can Pittsburgh use a statistical model for rodent mitigation developed in Chicago. In the paper, Campbell lays out a series of recommendations for cities working to replicate analytics use cases. Notably, his work offers Inspiration Methods, such as Peer Learning Communities and Clearinghouses, as well as Implementation Vehicles, such as Pro Bono Technical Assistance, and Procurement.

Within one of the many areas of civic analytics he covers, predictive policing software, Campbell offered several key takeaways:

• No cities are exactly the same. “Each has very different philosophies of approaching the job that they do—that’s the nature of law enforcement,” said Brian MacDonald, PredPol CEO.

 • Simpler solutions are often more elegant and usable—and more effective. MacDonald said that “it is possible to have too much data, and too much irrelevant data,” which can over-fit models. Limiting the PredPol model to only three variables—people, place, and time of past crime incidents—makes the product more applicable in multiple jurisdictions. Successful implementation depends on “ease of deployment and ease of use,” he said.

• Empower people close to the operation. Bringing the algorithm to the department from city leadership in the mayor’s office “does not work,” according to MacDonald. The project champions in the police department “want to be the ‘guy’ who thought of [the innovative solution].”

Several universities have recently begun capturing examples of success using data in urban governance. Because analytics in public administration is only recently gaining ground as its own discipline, outside of its subject-specific application in fields such as land-use planning or criminology, the field lacks the scientific rigor of peer-reviewed journal articles and formal evaluation protocols, though no shortage of grey literature exists. Campbell cites examples, including:

• Data-Smart City Solutions, a web publication run through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, captures success stories of data use and analytics in American cities. It includes a “Solutions Search,” a database of 200 examples of how cities use data to create value. Data-Smart City Solutions' Professor Stephen Goldsmith was the author of the Ash Center's recently-published policy paper on Rideshare Reguatlions, featured on this site.

• The Pew and MacArthur foundations teamed up to create the “Results First Evidence Gateway” project, a database that aggregates domain-specific evaluations of evidence-based programs from such clearinghouses as Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development, Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, U.S. Department of Justice’s, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices Promising Practices Network, U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, and What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse.

About the Author and the Civic Analytics Network

Craig Campbell is the Assistant Director for Policy & Operations for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA). Prior to working for the City of New York, Craig researched trends in municipal data analytics, supporting several national policy networks and research programs at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School. Campbell holds a degree in architecture and mathematics from Amherst College.

For its part, the Civic Analytics Network is a peer group of chief data officers and analytics principals from over 20 U.S. cities, convenes biannually at the Harvard Kennedy School to collectively advance the field of municipal data and analytics. The Network and its outputs, are funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is based within the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, MA. The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education, and public discussion. By training the very best leaders, developing powerful new ideas, and disseminating innovative solutions and institutional reforms, the Center’s goal is to meet the profound challenges facing the world’s citizens. The Ford Foundation is a founding donor of the Center. The Ash Center works to strengthen democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. As noted by the authors, the research papers are part of a series published by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The views expressed in the Ash Center Policy Briefs Series are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the John F. Kennedy School of Government or of Harvard University. The papers in this series are intended to elicit feedback and to encourage debate on important public policy challenges.


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