Tech Talk

Tardy Transit? Tweet About It

Tweeting a complaint or suggestion, even posting one on Facebook, is old hat in the private sector. After all, you can use an app these days to, say, hail a ride on Uber, Lyft or Sidecar. But if you encounter a bad driver or surly ticket agent while riding public transportation, there’s no app for that (or an easy way to tweet directly at an agency, for that matter). Times are changing, though, and public transit agencies are finally catching up.

This past December, New Jersey Transit decided to send some of its front-line employees to get retrained in customer relations. Officials weren’t prompted by comments submitted through the usual online form, however. They were spurred to action by tweets and posts on Facebook. Employee behavior was a top issue on the agency’s social media dashboard. READ MORE

Governments Making It Easier for Citizens to Know the Law

In 2012, Dave Zvenyach, chief counsel for the District of Columbia City Council, received a phone call from a software developer who wanted a copy of the D.C. Code, which contains all the laws enacted by the D.C. Council.

“I told him he could find the official code at the city’s library, where it’s stored in books,” said Zvenyach. But the developer wanted a digital copy and all the underlying data (the special language that allows text files to be used in different ways) that it contained. The problem was Zvenyach didn’t have a digital copy, nor could he obtain one because of restrictions imposed by the code’s publisher. READ MORE

The Data Gap

Helping prisoners who have a substance abuse problem get back to a productive life isn’t easy. It’s even harder when these individuals have mental health issues too. The recidivism rate for offenders with drug addictions is extremely high -- nearly 73 percent, according to Ted Smith, chief of civic innovation for the city of Louisville, Ky. Smith is working on a project to help dual-diagnosed prisoners receive health care and substance abuse treatment. But one of the challenges he’s facing is pulling together all the data needed to help this vulnerable group. “The world of data is not perfect,” Smith says. “And when it comes to case management, certain data sets can be scarce.”

These gaps Smith’s program has encountered are a microcosm of a larger problem nationwide: a growing data disparity between the rich and poor. The importance of data-driven services and programs has grown significantly in recent years, especially in health care, education and financial services. But not all segments of society are benefiting from the explosion in data collection, leading to what some experts are calling a data divide. “We’ve already recognized there are gaps in technology that can significantly impact an individual’s ability to thrive,” says Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation and author of the report The Rise of Data Poverty in America. “If there’s also a lack of data, we will see a similar failure.” READ MORE

4 Tech Trends Changing How Cities Operate

Louis Brandeis famously characterized states as laboratories for democracy, but cities could be called labs for innovation or new practices. With far fewer resources than states or the federal government and responsibilities to people on a daily basis, cities have to be scrappy and creative when it comes to delivering services and running their operations. Having less to spend and fewer workers means cities try to automate where possible. And because more people deal with city government directly -- whether it’s sending their kids to public schools, riding public transit or having their trash picked up -- the need to perform effectively has far greater importance.

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Open Data’s Hidden Value

San Francisco has DataSF. Chicago has the Data Portal. New York City has NYC Open Data. Even mid-sized Asheville, N.C., has a digital hub. For more than five years now, states and localities have been leading on open data, allowing the public free and unfettered access to the reams of data they collect on everything from neighborhood crime statistics to restaurant inspections to real-time bus arrivals. What’s driven the open data movement is the idea that government needs to be more transparent. But now, a growing number of experts and policymakers are saying it’s time to shift the conversation about open data away from transparency to economic value.

MORE: Read the rest of the December issue. READ MORE