When Harvard University Looks at Municipal Innovation — What Data is Reviewed?


Wyatt Cymar published and article (below) about the lens and data available to look at our cities. The article is called, 

What Cities Can Learn from The Opportunity Project


At the 16th convening of the Project on Municipal Innovation (PMI), chiefs of staff and policy advisors from the nation’s largest cities discussed tools the federal government currently provides cities with to improve public services and economic opportunity. Guests Aden Van Noppen, Senior Advisor at the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy, and Tara McGuinness, Senior Advisor at the White House Office of Management and Budget, presented a number of projects to PMI members, including the Data-Driven Justice Initiative, the Promise Zone Initiative, the Smart Cities Initiative, the Department of Justice’s Diagnostic Center, and the TechHire program.

One initiative that resonated with the PMI audience was The Opportunity Project, a U.S. Census Bureau-led project to leverage open data for economic mobility. Partnering with the Department of Commerce, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Presidential Innovation Fellows, the Opportunity Project curates federal and local datasets that illustrate access to opportunity on a neighborhood level.

Responding to an open call to create tools using Opportunity Project data, companies and civic organizations created dozens of applications addressing a number of areas of opportunity, equity, and wellbeing. Here are three example projects that illustrate the range of tools developed for the Opportunity Project that are particularly useful to city governments.


Addressing the needs of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Office of the Surgeon General, mySidewalk collected dozens of datasets from a dozen cities — Baltimore, Chattanooga, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. — to help answer a number of questions, from how many car accidents happened in a given zip code last year to where food deserts exist in cities. Planners and policy advisors may use this data not only as a means to gather insights about their own mobility and health concerns, but also as as a useful point of comparison with other regions.

National Equity Atlas

Produced by PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, the National Equity Atlas aggregates data describing urban equity issues across the county. Using the Atlas, one can visualize metrics of racial inclusion, demographical shifts, and economic welfare across 100 of the U.S.’s largest cities. The National Equity Atlas is a powerful diagnostic tool for cities seeking to improve welfare and inclusion among their residents.

Open Data Network

The Open Data Network, produced by Socrata, allows planners and policy advisors to compare metrics across U.S. cities. By layering data maps, anyone may compare metrics concerning demographics, education, employment and economic welfare. With the Open Data Network, city planners and policy advisors can ask specific questions, like: What percentage of people didn’t graduate the 9th grade? What are the median earnings for female workers in my city? How does my city compare to others?

Beyond looking at the tools The Opportunity Project already provides, members of city governments would do well to consider replicating the model of The Opportunity Project when creating their own applications. By aggregating the necessary data around a theme – such as equity, mobility, or housing – and then pairing that data with a specific problem to solve, cities can more easily source innovation from the private sector, nonprofits, and citizen hackers.

Please read more…


Student Empowerment Program, Inc. Reading Assignment:

Step 1

Search your city using the Open Data Network

Step 2

Find three areas of interest to you

Step 3

Write a 500 word report on what you discover.

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