In my previous role as Chief Analytics Officer at New York City, the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), along with the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DoITT), created the “NYC Open Data Team.”
These departments created lots of strong open data tools connecting New Yorkers and NYC government in many ways and on many different platforms.
This blog is about one of those instances. It is the telling from my perspective of a big open data story that broke in NYC.
Ben Wellington is the creator of a blog called IQuantNY, as well as a data scientist at a hedge fund in New York. Through his blog, Ben uses NYC Open Data to do some very insightful, and sometimes humorous, analysis about the city.
One afternoon, Ben emailed me while I was at work. He gave me a head’s up about a blog he had written focusing on an erroneous action by the NYC government.
He had used Open Data to uncover the NYPD was systematically ticketing legally parked cars to the tune of millions of dollars.
He was not intentionally trying to be antagonistic to NYC government or NYPD for that matter. He used Open Data and made a discovery he felt obligated to share. He had been trying to engage with NYPD for a while on this story, but with no response. That is why he reached out to me. He figured my team and I would be a useful conduit to city leadership on this matter.
The NYC Open Data team discussed this blog and ultimately decided that it was good for city leadership, New Yorkers and the mission of NYC Open Data and quite frankly, open data all over the world.
Ben was showing the value of it and demonstrating how open data was meant to be used; to give ordinary citizens insight into the operations of their government, making it transparent so they can learn about their city and engage with their government.
At this point I did what I could to engage with city hall and get them to talk with Ben about his blog before publishing. My team and I, and of course Ben, saw this as a good thing for New Yorkers. It was time for those of us (primarily me) who travel the world getting invited to conferences to extol the virtues and value of open data and how it is a powerful tool for transparency, to put up or shut up.
I won’t bore you with any additional intricacies of this story except to share that soon after, Ben published his blog appropriately titled: “The NYPD Was Systematically Ticketing Legally Parked Cars for Millions of Dollars a Year- Open Data Just Put an End to It”.
If you don’t read the whole blog I want to share with you the end of his blog which was (and still is) in my opinion as well a written piece about the value of open data that I have ever read.
NYPD released a statement, at the end specifying: “Thanks to this analysis and the availability of this open data, the department is also taking steps to digitally monitor these types of summonses to ensure that they are being issued correctly.
Ben wrote in response to NYPD’s statement:
“This is what the future of government could look like one day. This is what open data is all about.
“This was coming from the NYPD, who is not generally celebrated for its transparency, and yet it’s the most open and honest response I have received from any New York City agency to date. Imagine a city where all agencies embrace this sort of analysis instead of deflect and hide from it.
“Democracies provide pathways for government to learn from their citizens. Open data makes those pathways so much more powerful. In this case, the NYPD acknowledged the mistake, is retraining its officers and is putting in monitoring to limit this type of erroneous ticketing from happening in the future. In doing so, they have shown that they are ready and willing to work with the people of the city. And what better gift can we get from open data than that.”
This is just one example of the power of an initiative that is still in its most nascent stage.
With respects to open data and building trust in government, I do think the best is yet to come.
Explore more of Dr Mashariki's blogs here.
This blog – and others from Amen Ra Mashariki – are published as part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program. View more articles here.