City government works better when the people running it can anticipate problems and when the residents it serves know what's happening in their neighborhoods.
For years, New York City has been using predictive data analytics to save lives and taxpayer dollars. A department embedded within the mayor's office digitizes and structures its administrative records, analyzes the data to find patterns, and then collaborates with government inspectors and regulators to see if they match up with what's actually happening around the city.
As New Yorkers know, the data-driven approach to governance hasn't solved all of the city's problems, but it's demonstrated enough results that the "geek squad" former Mayor Mike Bloomberg established at the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics is still crunching numbers under Mayor Bill DeBlasio, guided by Amen Ra Mashariki, the city's chief analytics officer.
I sat down with Ra Mashariki in May at the International Open Data Conference in Ottawa, Canada, to discuss what he's doing and how it applies to millions of New Yorkers.
You can watch our interview in the video below, where we explore what his office does, how New York's open data plan relates to transparency, the digital divide and "data poverty," which Ra Mashariki describes as people not having access to information about their neighborhoods:
We also talked about the "data divide," where people may not be represented in the city's data because they're not connected to the Internet or don't know about digital services for reporting non-emergency complaints.
"The idea is that 311 shows you exactly what's going on in the city, but if certain people in certain areas don't have access to broadband and Internet in the way that they should, then they can't log complaints."
The release of open data, to him, is a powerful way to give New York City residents a sense of who they are, what they're doing and how they're doing it, as well as the strengths of their neighborhood so that they can work together to address quality of life issues.
"Neighborhoods that don't have data, that don't understand data about themselves as a neighborhood, then they can't begin to suggest to their representatives on city council, state and otherwise, the things that they need to make themselves better," Ra Mashariki said.