Harnessing the Power of Data to Catalyze Urban Resilience: The NYC Data Platform CoLab

Located in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) works daily to overcome challenges related to data sharing. The agency has taken up the mandate of OneNYC, the city’s comprehensive strategic blueprint, to expand internal data integration capacity and build an integrated data platform for citywide use – for goals as far-reaching as expediting service delivery to reducing crime, improving emergency preparedness and air quality to developing the city’s workforce.

New York City is not alone in highlighting the foundational role of data in helping to mitigate resilience challenges. 100 Resilient Cities defines urban resilience as the ability of a city and its systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of any shock or stress. More and more, robust data capabilities are becoming essential to this process. Data has emerged as a major cluster in the Resilience Strategies published worldwide by cities in the 100RC Network; in fact, 20% of all initiatives are related to the creation or enhancement of citywide data management systems.

To get everyone together, 100RC issued a challenge to member cities seeking interest to participate in a Data CoLab. Eleven cities from five continents responded; New York was selected for its long-standing commitment to open data and its current efforts to design and deploy an enterprise-wide data platform to help meet resilience objectives. The global group that assembled for the three-day collaborative workshop, a signature 100RC tool, included a cross-agency contingency from the City of New York; data and tech leads from Greater Manchester, Cape Town, and San Francisco; and a host of experts from prominent local universities, civic tech firms like BetaNYC and New Lab, and (inter)national influencers like the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation.

The CoLab put the group to work defining the problems of urban data use, developing potential solutions, and identifying next steps – grounded in real, data-driven use cases guided by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency (ORR). A Living Lab at the NYC Office of Emergency Management further demonstrated the value of breaking down agency silos and fostering effective citywide data sharing and included a demonstration of current city efforts to develop a complete 3D view of the city’s underground infrastructure using data from multiple agency sources.

A number of actionable proposals emerged from the CoLab’s design and innovation sprint, including:

  • Better Data Builds Better Communities: A campaign to build internal and external support around data sharing and integration, using storytelling as a means to gather buy-in among city agencies and executives, as well as bringing community groups to the table as data partners.
  • One Account NYC: A one-stop data portal offering an integrated experience for all city residents. Each household would have their own account by which they could access every data point that touches them.
  • Improving Data Systems Resiliency: A pilot for a point-based risk auditing process to evaluate and replace at-risk legacy systems currently ineligible for capital funding. These operational risks would be escalated to receive executive commitment and prioritization.
  • Unified Data Response – Shocks and Stresses: Similar to the organized, citywide response activated in the event of an emergency or other shock, regular “stress charrettes” would take a deep dive on those chronic challenges which are identified in OneNYC – resulting in broader data sharing between agencies.
  • Data Catalogue: Under current constraints, it is difficult for city employees to find the data they need and verify its quality. To reduce the time to knowledge, a comprehensive catalogue of existing data sets from participating city agencies would be available for all city employees.
  • Data Action Initiative: This cross-agency initiative for data enrichment would formalize current efforts to link one agency’s data with that from other sources – building upon a practice undertaken in times of emergency.
  • NYC Data Corps: Inspired by U.S. Peace Corps and Americorps, this initiative would embed a data team in all city agencies, encouraging greater collaboration as they work toward implementing an enterprise-wide data solution.

Driving the conversations throughout the three days were ongoing advances in cloud computing, mobility, big data, and software applications that have significantly improved the technical feasibility and value for a city to build and maintain a centralized data platform. The CoLab activities supported the hypothesis that such a platform is key to the digital transformation of cities and potentially a powerful tool in catalyzing urban resilience.

Participants have been tasked with building out their proposals over the next thirty days and reconvening with an eye toward implementation. We are excited to see a couple of things happen in the meantime. First, the CoLab has certainly opened the door for greater collaboration among city agencies, effectively broadening the conversation on data sharing beyond DoITT and making room for the goals and needs of other entities. Secondly, as New York City embarks on a refresh of OneNYC, there is an increased opportunity to bake data into the process from the beginning and leverage it for even more robust goals and actions. It’s a process we can’t wait to support.