Crafting a Thoughtful Blend of Public and Private Data

Over the past four years, we have seen an incredible shift in government data: more is open source and more information is being measuredespecially in urban environments. Cities are developing unique data sets that include Urban Analytics where real-time information about traffic and pollution is measured by a variety of tools. This data is expanding in volume and complexity. There is no doubt this is contributing to social and urban innovation. Check out a few of the numbers:

If it’s not open-source data, just forget about it. Right?

“Open source” data is synonymous with ideas of public, universal, and collaboration, but let’s not overlook other options. Specialized, private data sets make open source data sources more meaningful. It is the combination of both of these types that is most powerful for moving our ideas of public, universal, and collaboration forward. Combined, the two types create a rich landscape for an infinite amount of insights to be mined.

A small data set making a big difference

Recently, the NYC Department of Probation asked Bureau Blank to explore ways that technology and data could be used to encourage positive behavior change among its clients and build safer, stronger communities for all New Yorkers.

After twenty weeks of research, we equipped the DOP team with a simple tool for addressing a complex challenge: the nation’s first app where probation clients earn points for accomplishing community goals. Local businesses, and community residents set goals and probation clients earn points for participating. For the first time, these two parties are able to engage in a way that is less didactic and more collaborative while capturing data digitally. Our approach was to create a digital experience that is both customizable and reward-based.

All the data the app collects is user-generated. It captures which community goals are completed most often and use this to investigate why. Over time, this information may prompt the department to develop educational and career paths that probation clients can choose and charter. In partnership with open data sets, the volume of community goals can be mapped against declining costs of the justice system. Points, or scorecards, can be measured alongside local levels of public safety to analyze or discover relationships with nationwide trends. We see three potential benefits and useful outcomes:

  • This data crafts more compelling content. Community members replicate what is succeeding by creating more goals that are similar to the ones that have the highest numbers of completion.

  • The metrics make us ask more questions. What community goals are not being completed? Why might this be the case?

  • It’s simple information that identifies gaps. How fast are clients completing certain goals? What is the average completion time for types of community goals? What kinds of community goals are not represented in certain locations?

The NYC DOP, who pioneered Neighborhood Opportunity Networks (NeONs), is among city and state agencies leading the nation in reducing the amount of technical violations and increasing the amount of step-downs and discharges. NYC DOP has embarked on a new model of probation heavily influenced by the Justice Reinvestment Framework, which channels costs saved by the justice system back into the communities where people on probation reside. The New York Times Editorial Board recently touted this approach as a solid one that “more states need to adopt.”

While it is a relatively small data set, it’s affecting one of the largest local probation departments in the country. It’s the layering of this new, specialized data set with open-source data that sets the stage for a deeper understanding of our communities.

Read more on Harvard’s blog here. Between our recent work with the NYC Department of Probation and Pay for Success, we welcome additional resources and conversations regarding data and the criminal justice system. Feel free to reach out to me personally: [email protected] or shout out to us on Twitter @bureaublank.

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