BetaNYC’s testimony to NYC Council on using technology to proactively address health and safety issues in New York City.

Date: Wednesday, 23 April 2014

From: Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC

To: NY City Council’s Committee on Technology.

Subject: Oversight hearing on using technology to proactively address health and safety issues in New York City.

Dear Chair and Committee Members,

It is a great honor to address you and represent New York City’s technology community. Particularly, a rather active group of technologists – the civic hacker.

I am Noel Hidalgo, the Executive Director and co-founded of BetaNYC. With over 1,700 members, BetaNYC’s mission is to build a city powered by the people, for the people, for the 21st Century. Last fall, we published a “People’s Roadmap to a Digital New York City” where we outline a digital roadmap for the people. We are a member driven organization and members of the New York City Transparency Working Group, a coalition of good government groups that supported the City’s transformative Open Data Law.

While there are many specifics that could point out, I will focus on three points of governance.

  • Leadership
  • Data Standards and Quality
  • Citizen Centric Design


During the last three years of the Bloomberg administration, New Yorkers were turned on to a well oiled analytical machine. Championed by the City’s Chief Analytics officer, Executive Order 306 of 2013, and the City’s open data law, citizens were able to see the value of a interlocking 21st century government.

Four months into the de Blasio administration, the City is missing a suite of leaders who steward technology, data, and a progressive vision. Currently, the City is missing a Chief Information Officer at Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), the Chief Analytics Officer at the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), the Chief Digital Officer at NYC Digital, and the Executive Director at NYC Technology Development Corporation.

This leadership gap affects all agencies. We need coordination across each agency. The City needs Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) who can properly value internal and external data collaboration. Systems like 311, NYC DataShare, and Data Bridge are fundamental underpinnings to a fully integrated, efficient government.

We need the Mayor’s office to hire a progressive technology leadership team. These leaders set the tone for data and coordination. Without them, we are unable to collectively build a progressive technology agenda that maps to the City’s needs.

Data Quality

Currently, the City is not maximizing its return on data sharing.

First, the City’s GIS department is unique. They are the first line of attack in making NYC’s data useful. Their maps, while helpful, often obscure access to the data. The City’s Rat Information Portal (RIP) contains unified rat inspection data under a complicated / frustrating map interface. I can not find this merged data on the City’s open data portal.

A month or so ago, one of our members needed to find a child care center. The data provided on Health and Mental Hygiene lookup tool was inaccurate, nor could she find this data on the City’s data catalog. Several of our members saw this as a noble challenge, scraped the data, and produced a usable map. Sadly, this is just a snapshot of data and needs a partnership with HMH to keep this map alive.

These are two examples of City data being locked behind frustrating interfaces. We need the City’s open data law to be expanded and enforced. This year, we ask the City Council to update the open data law to ensure that these curated datasets are accessible to general public.

Data standards.

Over the last ten years, technologists have worked to build commonly defined data environments. These environments have created commonly defined schemas. In the broadest sense, these are internationally recognized words, sentences, and shared narratives. More or less, structured languages for computer applications.

In 2012,, the City of San Francisco, New York City, and Code for America announced the formation of the “LIVES” standard. A uniformed data standard for restaurant inspection scores. When the standard launched, New York City was suspiciously absent.

I mention this because the City’s four year old restaurant inspection score data continues to be riddled with data errors and not compliant with the LIVES standard. We have complained, and no one seems to care. Again, the City has produced its own restaurant inspection website and app. Both, have a frustrating interface.

No one checks these agencies websites before choosing a restaurant. Consequently, one of the biggest benefits of the inspection data – shifting market demand to more sanitary options – is lost.” – David Eaves

These are three examples of useful data being locked away behind a glass wall. Health and Mental Hygiene, Housing Authority, Department of Transportation, NYPD, Department of Buildings, 311, Department of Consumer Affairs all have health and safety data pools that should be open and shared in common data standards.

We ask the City to adopt data standards to maximize our collective data sharing investment.

Citizen centric design

Once we get better data quality, we can build better notification tools. A guiding principle of citizen centric design places data and information where citizens need data the most.

If I am going out to eat, I’m not going to walk around and look at restaurants’ health inspection scores.

There are countless data flows that citizens, parents, consumers, eaters, motorists, bicyclists, transit riders, etc. should have. Without placing good data into the hands of civic technologists and civic hackers, the city is not maximizing its fiduciary duty.

  • Imagine a parent subscribed to their child’s day care center sanitation alerts.
  • Imagine a restaurant owner subscribed to street construction alerts.
  • Imagine your constituent getting personalized notifications assaults, thefts, etc…

These systems are possible if agencies consistently shared data via consistent data standards.


The City should invest and grow in intra-agency and public data sharing. If the city is going to invest in a regulatory process to protect its constituents, it needs to share that information by physical and digital means.

Access to information is fundamental human right. In the 21st century, access to good, clean health and safety data is a fundamental right.

Thank you for your time.