SOTN2022 13 Keynote with Denice Ross
10:04AM Mar 3, 2022
police data initiative
chief data scientist
It is now my pleasure to introduce niece Ross, who in November 2021 joined the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as the US chief data scientist. By brief background, Denise Ross has been a senior fellow at the National Conference on citizenship, and a fellow at the beach Center for Social Impact and innovation. She comes from this work from New America, where she studied climate security and the power of networks to advance progress on big challenges. Prior to that, she was a presidential Presidential Innovation Fellow in the Obama administration and she co founded the White House police data initiative to increase transparency and accountability in the wake of Ferguson and worked with the Department of Energy on crowdsourcing private sector data to improve community resilience in disaster impacted areas. Prior to government, Denise co directed the Data Center, a nonprofit data intermediary, please join me in welcoming Denise to the stage.
Thank you. It's an honor to be here. This is my first in person conference in two years. And it's amazing to see all of you in this room, and hello to everyone who's remote as well. I'm almost four months into my role as the US chief data scientist and Internet policy influences nearly everything that I'm working on. The Internet, of course, is the enabler for all of our nation's data supply chains. Today, I wanted to talk about the data flows that we need for a healthy democracy and thriving equitable society. I especially want to focus on the intersection between data and the rollout of the bipartisan infrastructure law. With a few concrete ways that you all can help. During blue skies, it's easy to become complacent about the data we have access to When a crisis hits. That's when you really need more from your data. You need more frequent, more granular, more detail in your data. In order to address the compounding crises of the pandemic climate fuel disasters, the chronic stressors of inequality and racism. We will need data that is timely broken down by characteristic characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and veteran status for small geographic areas and tracked over time. The Internet and good policies surrounding it are critical for enabling both the collection and responsible sharing of data in the public interest. We saw failures here earlier in the pandemic with rural communities that had limited Internet access, having trouble reporting on vaccines administered, which slowed down their receiving of the second batch of doses from the federal government. We also saw were paper processes that might have worked fine during normal times, became untenable. For example, I remember seeing a photo of piles of paper death certificates, waiting for data entry, one pile for each month, March 2020, April 2020 May 2020. Each month of the pandemic had higher and higher piles of paper, but those data weren't digitized, and therefore, for weren't informing policy or action in a timely way. The challenges we are seeing are not new. More than 15 years ago, I came up to DC in a secondhand suit, still evacuated from New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. I came to talk with members of Congress about how New Orleans needed data to chart a path toward an equitable recovery. I also got to meet with the Census Bureau and the chief statistician of the United States. And I learned that the Federal Statistical system just wasn't really designed for tracking the types of rapid changes our city was going through. We didn't have enough Intel to know where to stand up temporary clinics, which parks to rehab first. And with 80% of the childcare centers shuttered. Where should we be prioritizing philanthropic dollars in that sector. Back then there was no census pulse household and Small Business Survey, which y'all are probably familiar with. And by the way that depends heavily on the Internet for response. We couldn't see aggregated cell phone records showing where people had been displaced to like we did after Hurricane Maria Maria in Puerto Rico, or during the early days of the pandemic. Instead, we reviewed the data on electricity hookups, water usage, and traffic patterns. We even looked at images from outer space showing nighttime lights. It turned out that the best way to see how many people were back in New Orleans and where they were living was to get monthly updates from a direct mail marketing company. You know how it is junk mail always find you when you move into a place or come back home. And that company that rents out those mailing lists had the best data on occupied households. Fortunately for us, somebody in that company had the foresight to archive their mailing list for July 2005. The month before the storm They ended up donating their company's data to the nonprofit data intermediary that I co lead. And because they gave us that pre Katrina baseline, we could track what percentage of households had returned and keep it updated every month. This data was a game changer for the recovery. neighborhood associations like the Lower Ninth Ward no longer had to use Spring Break volunteers to collect data, they could put them to work directly gutting houses. Even the police department use the junk mail data as the denominator for their crime rates for Isbell.
As we look to the future of data and how we will use data to better serve the American people, we're going to need to get creative private sector data like we used 15 years ago in New Orleans, we'll certainly be a part of that equation. So we'll more robust state, local, tribal and territorial data. The infrastructure law, especially many of the investments in high speed Internet that NTIA is Alan Davidson will talk about soon will create opportunities to responsibly collect more data to help our society understand how and whether our systems are serving Americans equitably. It's easy to imagine incorporating Internet technologies into these infrastructure investments, like GPS and Internet enabled electric buses that increase predictability and productivity for the riders. Sensors on kept oil wells to detect leaks, and participatory science to monitor monitor water quality. As these historic investments roll out across America, one effort to watch is the equitable data working group formed from Best President Biden's executive order on advancing racial equity. This interagency working group is tasked with identifying inadequacies in our existing federal data collection infrastructure and laying out a strategy for improving equitable and responsible data practices in the federal government. So across federal agencies as we speak, they're looking for data gaps that stand in the way of conducting equity assessments of their policies, programs and services. When I see what is happening at the federal level on data and equity, he reminds me of the incredible impact that President Obama's Open Government directive had on me and, and other open data advocates when I was working at the local level. A decade ago, when we saw the transformation happening at the federal level, we realized that we shouldn't have to beg our own local governments for data on building permits or recovery investments, publishing that data should just be part of being a modern local government. We pitched then candidate for Mayor Mitch Landrieu on the idea and within a year, I was in City Hall working to release the data from the inside. When he took office in 2010. Then Mayor Landrieu committed to reducing the number of blighted storm damaged properties by 10,000. The Internet was critical at every step of that process, code enforcement officers collected photos and inspection findings on sites throughout the city. And we had to had to shift that process from one that involved yellow pads of paper and envelopes full of photographs to a centralized electronic system. With the ability to upload data from the field. We had to integrate timely, geographically accurate data from demolition crews, the courts and state recovery offices. And there had to be an easy way for citizens to report problem properties and check on the status of their remediation. We knew that meeting our goal of 10,000 properties remediate it was going to take the entire community. This was a problem bigger than government could fix. We brought in a team of from Code for America to help us organize all of the data about blighted properties into a single source of truth, a website where anyone could enter in an address and see where it was in the process of being fixed. I remember the first public meeting and after we released this tool, city council was holding a hearing on the Blight problem, and it was standing room only a woman walked up to the podium, and for her three minutes to speak. She talked about the house next door to her how it was threatening to fall over on her house. It was home to all sorts of vermin and criminal activity. She gave the address and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a printout from our new website. As she spoke, the city's blight czar looked up the address on his iPad, city council staff from staffers pulled it up on their laptops. For the first time since the storm, everyone had access to the same information at the same time. Instead of arguing about what the facts were, the conversation focused on what the solution should be. It was still a hard conversation, but it was much more productive. And thanks to that common base of information, we were able to blow past that goal of 1000 10,000 properties ahead of schedule, the digital transformation that occurred in the city of New Orleans a decade ago. That type of transformation is going to need to occur in communities all across the nation in order to meet the challenges that we are facing. That includes recovery from the pandemic and economic crisis. Preparing for and heading off the worst impacts of climate change and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities like those afforded by the bipartisan infrastructure law. The Internet, of course, is critical infrastructure for that transformation as a common base of information to enable scaling solutions across the nation. Successful implementation on the infrastructure law will depend on state, local, tribal and territorial capacity to design the local projects in collaboration with community stakeholders, and deliver the availability of relevant data and capacity to us it will be a common thread throughout the process. The first step is awareness about the programs. The law is vast, there's $550 billion in new funding over the next five years, with more than 350 distinct programs, from high speed Internet, to creating reliable public transit to replacing lead pipes. These investments are being rolled out with the priorities of equitable delivery, creating good jobs, using materials made in America, making sure that we build all of these to stand up to a climate, changing climate, and delivering these investments where they are most needed. In case you missed it a few weeks ago, we at the White House, released a guide firstname.lastname@example.org, that's b u i l d, that gov that covers each of these programs along with a spreadsheet for easy short, easy sorting. This is just the first version and we will be updating it with new information and additional data as it becomes available. For this crowd, I wanted to talk a little bit more about that spreadsheet of programs. We know that the highest capacity jurisdictions already have consultants who have been combing through the law, identifying the programs that they should get ready to apply for those communities that need the investments the most though, don't necessarily have high paid consultants. There's room for what you might call a translation layer to curate the programs that are most relevant for different types of communities, which programs bundled together in a way where the sum is greater than the parts, like laying fiber while expanding highways, or putting solar farms on remediated abandoned minds.
A small town that desperately needs a new bridge or high speed Internet to connect their residents will often have a part time mayor who is not single handedly going to have the time or expertise to identify which programs to apply for and then write the grants themselves. So this is where you all come in. If you work for a university, think about how you can scrub in. Could your computer science department help cities predict where to dig for lead pipes, or helps locate your state's most dangerous abandoned mines? Can you help the community apply the most current climate science to ensuring that any designs for bridges and stormwater management upgrades will stand up to future climate conditions. If you work for a nonprofit, you might find might use that website that email@example.com to help guide your constituents to the programs that their communities most need. You might convene a community of practice within your geographic area, or across geographies, to figure out the best way to blend and braid these data dollars to holistically meet the needs of communities. If you work for a state, local, territorial or tribal government or know people who do start getting your ducks in a row for the massive investments that are coming your way, reach out to universities and nonprofits for help. And if you're a technology professional or a tech policy professional, consider joining us in the federal government. If you're early career, check out the US digital core as a way to serve your country. If you're further along, consider a tour of duty in the US digital service 18 F or as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, that's where I got my start and keep an eye out for good government jobs. And federal ones can be found on USA Jobs and and local ones will will be obviously in the communities that they're working on. And don't be deceived by their sometimes boring job titles. That's something we need to work on still in government. But some of there's some really fantastic jobs out there in tech and data policy. And then lastly, if you work for a company, think about what data or technological infrastructure you might be able to responsibly put toward solving a challenge in our society. And I wanted to close with a little comment about the congressional Apps Challenge and keep an eye out for this year's congressional Apps Challenge. That would be a fantastic opportunity for young people and high school and junior high to make the data about these infrastructure investments in their community, super relevant for their leaders. So my point here is that with the infrastructure law, we have a once in a generation investment in our nation's infrastructure. And for every infrastructure project, we will need data infrastructure to target the investment where it's most needed, track how it's going so we can make mid course corrections if needed, and build evidence about what works so we can be better prepared for the next shock. Since stressors that come our way, thank you
very much. So he asked about police Data Initiative, which I was involved in, in 2015 2016. The great thing about data transparency is like once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's hard to put it back. And so the transparency that we started, there became more of a sort of a, just what you do is a good transparent modern Police Department. And certainly some of the vendors started to step up step up to make open data part of their their offerings. One critical piece of the open data ecosystem, though, is that you need people using the data and sort of holding government accountable. So we saw some examples in Boston, for example, the the police rolled back a little bit on their transparency, and the local newspapers stepped in and the data started flowing again. Yes,
wait one second Wait.
My name is Derrick Wyatt, and I used to be a member of parliament in England. My question is, what you're doing is what everyone, every nation state that's had COVID, once a kind of this is coincidental, for what you've done, once something like what you've done. So this is a private ready question. Do you ever talk to our embassy here in Washington, and show them what you're doing? So they can bring their your best practice to Britain?
We would be happy to do that. In fact, I think I think Britain inspired a lot of our really open government work. So I would love to continue that conversation.
If no one else has a question, I will go ahead and ask what Jeremy mentioned at Carnegie Mellon University. So we recognize that data is a hugely valuable asset. In fact, few years ago, The Economist ranked above oil in terms of its value worldwide. But in my research, I found that there's no clear way to actually assess that value, especially when we compare in the public and private context, what are your thoughts on that?
I feel that pain. I I've come to believe that data needs to be embedded in larger processes. It's not, of course, an end in itself. And so that's why we I believe that we need a data person at every policy table. So that that we can be measured by the success of the overall policies that we're trying to implement. So as I'm working on the, on the infrastructure work, the the metrics for data that I use is how many lead pipes we replace in American communities. So better alignment. Yep.
Hi, I'm Raman, there's a USC, Gould School of Law. And I was wondering what your perspective is on the role of diversity and on the flip side of that coin, bias in data collection processes, and how we can sort of mindfully tackle all the issues associated with that.
Yeah, I'm glad you asked that representation is, for me, the most important element of data science is have a representative professionals at the table at all levels.
Okay, thank you very much. Thank you all for asking great questions.