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Alexander Howard
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Entries by Alexander Howard

Twitter Reverses Stance On Archiving Politicians’ Deleted Tweets

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2015 | 10:04 AM


Twitter reached an agreement on Thursday with two transparency-focused organizations, Sunlight Foundation and the Open State Foundation, that will allow them to resume publishing the deleted tweets of politicians and government officials in the new year.


In August, Twitter cut off access to Politwoops,...

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How Tech Helped Us -- Or Didn’t -- In 2015

(0) Comments | Posted December 30, 2015 | 10:11 AM

The more technology changes, the more we can see when our societies stay the same. 2015 was a year for progress on many issues, from civil rights to climate change. Here's a quick look at some important shifts in the intersection of technology and our lives, including the obstacles...

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Someone Let Your Voting Data Leak Online. Here's What That Means

(1) Comments | Posted December 28, 2015 | 1:53 PM

There's a database of 191 million voter records online, and no one knows where it came from or who owns it. 

That revelation comes from security researcher Chris Vickery, who found the data on Dec. 20 and shared his discovery with an anonymous privacy advocate at DataBreaches.net and CSO...

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China's New Big Brother Law Is A Clone Of The West's Bad Ideas

(3) Comments | Posted December 27, 2015 | 11:28 AM

A new anti-terrorism law passed in China Sunday will require tech firms to help the government access sensitive user data. The law comes on the heels of a broadly worded national security law passed in July that mandated that the country’s Internet infrastructure be "secure and controllable."

The new...

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Here's A Side Of The City From 'Breaking Bad' You've Never Seen Before

(0) Comments | Posted December 22, 2015 | 2:20 PM

You might know Albuquerque as the setting for AMC's "Breaking Bad" TV series, but New Mexico's biggest city earned praise this year as one of the country's most "digital" cities. Albuquerque may be small, relative to digital powerhouses like New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles, but GovTech...

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This Nonprofit Believes Anyone Can Make Cities Better. And It’s Accepting Applications

(0) Comments | Posted December 22, 2015 | 11:37 AM

If you know how to implement a great idea for improving how cities work, a French nonprofit wants to help you make that idea scale globally.

The New Cities Foundation is looking for founders of civic startups and social enterprises to join its network of urban innovators. The...

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This Is How Visualizing Open Data Can Help Save Lives

(0) Comments | Posted December 21, 2015 | 10:34 AM

Cities are increasingly releasing data that they can use to make life better for their residents online -- enabling journalists and researchers to better inform the public. 

Los Angeles, for example, has analyzed data about injuries and deaths on its streets and published it online. Now people can check its...

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Why Some People In The U.S. Still Don't Have Internet Access

(0) Comments | Posted December 18, 2015 | 2:03 PM

While the vast majority of Americans now have access to the Internet and mobile devices, regional and economic disparities persist for wired broadband access in the largest 100 American cities. 

That was the conclusion of a report on broadband access published last week by researchers at the Brookings...

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The Huge Growth In Tech Has Created Digital Inequality

(0) Comments | Posted December 17, 2015 | 9:36 AM

The trends are clear: In 2017, we're going to be more connected on more devices creating more data than ever in human history. But what does that mean for us? And what does it mean for the economy? According to a new report from the McKinsey...

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Congress Ties Controversial Cybersecurity Bill To Key Spending Package

(0) Comments | Posted December 16, 2015 | 9:35 AM

Buried deep within a 2,009-page congressional document is a cybersecurity bill that could have a major impact on your personal data.

Sharp-eyed reporters spotted the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 in a spending bill that was approved Tuesday. That $1.1 trillion...

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Tech Innovations That Could Hit The Mainstream In 2016

(0) Comments | Posted December 15, 2015 | 10:12 AM


Every year, we get to see how much technology has changed the world -- and how much it hasn't. In 2015, smartwatches went mainstream, but they haven't fundamentally shifted how society works just yet. What should we expect in 2016? 


Some predictions will...

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After Criticism, Uber Adds Wheelchair Option In D.C.

(0) Comments | Posted December 14, 2015 | 2:35 PM

Uber announced last week that it added a new option to its app, letting people order rides from wheelchair-accessible vans in Washington, D.C. 

The car-hailing service will not buy the wheelchair-friendly vehicles. Rather, it will tap into an existing pool of taxi drivers who rent and operate specialized vans...

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Here's What You Need to Know About Registering Your New Drone

(0) Comments | Posted December 14, 2015 | 11:14 AM

Back in October, Americans learned that we were going to have to register our drones this holiday season, but the details were still up in the air until today. 

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration made official its proposed regulation, publishing an interim final rule laying...

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To Combat Racial Bias By Airbnb Hosts, Try Blind Reservations

(0) Comments | Posted December 10, 2015 | 4:36 PM

A new Harvard study found racial discrimination by Airbnb hosts -- a poignant reminder that new technology doesn't automatically eliminate old problems.

As Bloomberg Business reported, researchers at the Harvard Business School found that people with names that sounded African-American had a harder time booking a place to...

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Microsoft Is Trying To Predict The Next President

(0) Comments | Posted December 9, 2015 | 12:12 PM


At this point in the 21st century, the jury is still out on whether technology and social media are improving how government works or ruining politics. What we do know is that the 2016 election cycle is well underway, and with it the next...

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How IBM Is Using Big Data To Battle Air Pollution In Cities

(0) Comments | Posted December 9, 2015 | 10:52 AM

For the past year, IBM has been helping Beijing to combat its air pollution crisis using a data analysis platform called Green Horizons. On Wednesday, Big Blue's Research division announced four more partnerships -- two in China, one in India and one in South Africa -- to increase the...

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Bloomberg's Program To Build Better Cities Just Got Bigger

(0) Comments | Posted December 8, 2015 | 4:09 PM

When he was mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg used to quote statistician W.E. Deming’s famous saying: “In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data.” 

Now that the billionaire has returned to the private sector, his charitable organization is putting tens of millions of dollars behind getting other mayors to govern under the same principle. The idea is to make cities all around the United States better places to live.

On Thursday, New York-based Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that it added 13 more cities to its What Works Cities initiative, a program launched in April 2015 that provides grants to technical experts to help urban governments solve local problems. This brings the total number of cities involved in the project up to 21. What Works Cities plans to expand to as many as 100 cities by 2017, admitting new ones on a rolling basis.

Here are the most recent cities to join: 

  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Bellevue, Washington
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Denton, Texas
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Independence, Missouri
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Saint Paul, Minnesota
  • San Francisco, California
  • San Jose, California
  • Tacoma, Washington
  • Waco, Texas

This initiative will invest a total of $42 million over the next two years to support expert consulting and technical assistance for mid-sized cites to adopt the data-driven governing techniques that distinguished Bloomberg's administration in New York City. While Bloomberg was in office, New York City exemplified data-driven local government. He established a new Office of Urban Analytics, which saved lives and taxpayer dollars in the Big Apple.  

Using data to make better decisions isn't new, but the increasingly digital nature of  government has created vast amounts of it -- and cities now have a huge opportunity to make sense of it. By collecting, structuring and analyzing the vast amounts of data previously trapped in paper records, officials can identify more quickly than ever before which policies are working and which aren't.

That's a big opportunity for mayors and their constituents, and that's why Bloomberg Philanthropies is putting so much money behind making real the return on investing in data-driven government.

"Mayors are hungry to use data to improve performance, to engage citizens, to better understand what's happening on the street," Jim Anderson, head of government innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, told The Huffington Post.

"There is a wealth of administrative and performance data that can be unlocked and harnessed to help mayors do all of those things," he added. "They need the tools, some technical assistance, some coaching, and to develop the culture within their governments to learn those tools and put them into practice. We're pushing against an open door. What mayors really need are resources, best practices and a chance to learn from one another, and then the sky is the limit."

When city hall, policy experts and technologists collaborate, they can mine data to find trends and to figure out where to target regulators, police the streets, improve traffic patterns, detect drug trafficking and prevent contractors from defrauding the city, among many other potential improvements. 

While making poor decisions based upon bad data will always be a risk, there's also potential for massive public good. Approaches like "predictive policing" can simultaneously both raise civil liberties concerns and lower crime.

As an increasing number of governors and mayors have discovered over the past decade, however, adopting data-driven government isn't just about about technology. 

"We are seeing and hearing that cities get that this isn't about high-tech platforms and big IT buys. It's about people and culture," said Anderson. "There's a real recognition that this is a moment to shift culture within government for the better. Using data and evidence drives what works and facilitates accountability and transparency. It's also serving as a catalyst in government for a new way of working."

While What Works Cities is still a relative newcomer to the world of civic innovation, it's already had an impact through its partners. Those include the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University, the Behavioral Insights Team from the United Kingdom, Results for America, a nonprofit focused on evidence-based decision-making, the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Sunlight Foundation, a D.C.-based nonpartisan nonprofit focused on technology-fueled government transparency.

"What's most exciting and novel about this work is that it takes the form of coaching and capacity-building, so these cities will be able to replicate what we have taught them to other areas of practice," Andrew Nicklin, director of open data at the Center for Government Excellence, told HuffPost.

Mayors are hungry to use data to improve performance, to engage citizens, to better understand what's happening on the street. Jim Anderson, Bloomberg Philanthropies

One success story from the first round of What Works Cities grantees is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Using a combination of data about crime rates and abandoned buildings to establish where "hot zones" are in the city, officials then positioned police officers in those areas to reduce crime.

"An empty building is a dangerous building," Andy Berke, the mayor of Chattanooga, told HuffPost. "Illegal activity happens there, people get hurt there, fires happen there, residents know that those buildings devalue the properties in their neighborhoods."

Two building inspectors are now working in the police department to focus on the locations associated with the biggest problems. That's a direct parallel to how New York used data analytics to prevent fires, scoring the buildings that present the greatest fire risk, and it's the kind of approach that everyone involved in What Works would like to see scaled nationally. 

"People expect their tax dollars to go farther and for the services that we perform to be delivered better and more efficiently than in the past," Berke told HuffPost. "Part of open data and performance management is to ensure that we meet those expectations. For us, this is all about providing a better end product that makes Chattanoogans' lives better."

What distinguishes What Works Cities from other efforts to share best practices around data-driven governance is its focus on medium-sized cities, as opposed to metropolises like Chicago or Los Angeles, both of which have become leaders in opening government data

"The What Works Cities initiative is a unique opportunity to reach mid-sized American cities who are interested in making the commitment to open data, but might not have otherwise known where to start," Sunlight Foundation President Chris Gates told HuffPost. 

What's most exciting and novel about this work is that it takes the form of coaching and capacity-building, so these cities will be able to replicate what we have taught them to other areas of practice. Andrew Nicklin, Center for Government Excellence

Beth Blauer, executive director of the Center for Government Excellence, explained to HuffPost why the size of the cities selected is significant.

"Out of necessity, they don't have the internal capacity to solve most pressing problems," she said. "They need stakeholders to help them improve the lives of people living there. It's definitely evident in the work: There's less entrenched bureaucracy and more willingness to release information.

Blauer highlighted Jackson, Mississippi, another What Works city, as a great example. Like Chattanooga, Jackson has a big challenge with abandoned buildings in residential and commercial areas, along with its downtown.

After the city received a grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the issues, Jackson improved the performance of its public works agency, moving from five buildings demolished or rebuilt annually to 20 buildings a year.

 That's good news for Jackson, and it could be good news for a city near you.

"We hope to learn a lot from those experiments and then share those lessons with other cities," said Anderson. "It's about creating a network of peer-practitioners who are working on these issues around the country, elevating the successes and sharing them with others. This is why this is the right program at the right time."

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said What Works Cities offers grants to urban governments. In fact, the grants go to technical experts, who use the money to work with...

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Amazon Founder Offers To Send Donald Trump To Space

(4) Comments | Posted December 7, 2015 | 7:05 PM

After billionaire Donald Trump commented that Jeff Bezos was "screwing the public" by sheltering his money through an investment in The Washington Post -- a dubious claim that experts and journalists quickly debunked -- the founder of Amazon.com replied by offering the pugnacious presidential...

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Your City Could Be The First To Embrace The Future Of Transportation

(0) Comments | Posted December 7, 2015 | 5:00 PM

No one is sure what a "smart city" is, exactly, but a new contest will offer $50 million to the city with the most compelling vision of what this concept could be.

The Department of Transportation will provide $40 million dollars of the prize money in this Smart...

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JebBush.com Takes You To Donald Trump's Website

(0) Comments | Posted December 7, 2015 | 3:45 PM

Jeb Bush is not the master of his domain.

While the Republican presidential hopeful's campaign owns and operates an official website, Jeb2016.com, it apparently failed to secure JebBush.com. If you try visiting the unofficial domain, you'll be redirected to DonaldJTrump.com, the campaign site for GOP frontrunner Donald...

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