Earlier this week, the NYC Technology Committee voted in favor of Int. 1137-2018 (introduced by Council Member Adrienne E. Adams), which would codify the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) into the City Charter. BetaNYC strongly supports the legislation.
MODA was created through Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 306. Since then the Office has played a pivotal role in coordinating the city’s open data initiatives, supporting agencies in performing data analysis, and fostering the City’s Open Data movement through civic engagement. Their leadership has not only made it possible to coordinate the publication of datasets, but also to ensure that open datasets are accessible, well-documented, and publicized in ways that encourage widespread use.
MODA has proven that they share our beliefs that open data should serve the needs of all New Yorkers. Encoding the duties of the Office into the City Charter will ensure that this important work continues and is supported regardless of mayoral administration turnover.
BetaNYC finds the following components of the legislation particularly significant:
Acknowledging the City’s Open Data Ecosystem
Since its introduction on October 17, 2018, the legislation has been revised from its original version to better reflect the role that DOITT plays in supporting the City’s Open Data Platform, automating the publication of key datasets, and ensuring that datasets are in compliance with the technical standards manual. DOITT, for example, is responsible for providing technical support for geocoding eligible datasets to get them in compliance with the geospatial standards outlined in the technical standards manual (with each row including fields for house number, street, unit, postcode, borough, latitude, longitude, community board, council district, census tract, Building Identification Number, BBL – Borough Block Lot, and Neighborhood Tabulation Area). This has drastically improved the usefulness of the datasets to the civic tech community. Ensuring that the city’s agencies are in compliance with the Open Data Law and its amendments truly requires a team effort, and MODA and DOITT have effectively divided the tasks to make this possible. We support these revisions as they better characterize the coordinated efforts required to maintain the City’s open data resources.
Open Analytics Library
The legislation requires that MODA maintain an open analytics library where the Office can share source code for data analytics projects. BetaNYC believes that such a library can serve as a repository for algorithms that make automated decisions about New Yorkers’ lives (such as how social services get distributed, how defendants are deemed to have criminal risk, and how students get placed in schools). In this sense, this component of the legislation advances the aims of NYC’s Open Algorithms initiative, which we’ve supported since 2017.
Public Education Strategy and Community Board Training
The legislation codifies into law that MODA must guide the training of agency staff, community boards, and members of the public on the use of the open data portal and that they develop and implement an open data public education strategy. We believe this focus on skill-building to be essential for ensuring that open data initiatives are inclusive and equitable.
We are particularly thrilled to see training for community boards written directly into the legislation, since … we have come to understand both the opportunities open data can afford to legitimizing community board claims, along with the challenges they face in accessing and analyzing open data.
We are particularly thrilled to see training for community boards written directly into the legislation, since, based on our research into community board information workflows, we have come to understand both the opportunities open data can afford to legitimizing community board claims, along with the challenges they face in accessing and analyzing open data.
Since joining the broad coalition that brought about the City’s Open Data Law, BetaNYC has advocated for better use of government data in and out of government. For the last few years, BetaNYC has secured support from Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Fund for the City of New York, NY City Council Members Peter Koo and Keith Powers, Microsoft Cities, and private donors to build out a Civic Innovation Lab to help community boards express their technology and data needs, a fellows program to educate CUNY Service Corps members in government technology, an interlocking set of public data classes, and continue to host NYC School of Data. We fundamentally see NYC open data as another tool to discuss our communities’ issues and hold our government accountable.
Overall, codifying MODA into the City Charter marks New York City’s commitment to sustaining momentum around open data beyond mayoral administrations. BetaNYC has collaborated with MODA on several civic tech projects, and we look forward to the opportunity to continue partnering with them on future initiatives. We especially look forward to working with the City’s new Chief Analytics Officer, Kelly Jin, and ensuring responsible and ethical data practices are adopted across government and non-government entities alike.
To learn more about our research and work, check out our recent reports:
Goldman, Emily, Noel Hidalgo, and Lindsay Poirier. 2018. “BetaNYC’s Civic Innovation Fellows Community Board Technology Needs Report 2018.” BetaNYC. https://beta.nyc/publications/betanycs-civic-innovation-fellows-community-board-technology-needs-report-2018/
Poirier, Lindsay, Noel Hidalgo, and Emily Goldman. 2018. “Data Design Challenges and Opportunities for NYC Community Boards.” BetaNYC. https://beta.nyc/publications/data-design-challenges-and-opportunities-for-nyc-community-boards/