EdBoard – Wearables for Health, E-Petitions, Citizen Reporting for Housing Discrimination and Open University Data

The GovLab Editorial Board Meetings (“EdBoard”) showcase news and events that encourage thought and discussion about The GovLab’s work.

EdBoard is a twice-weekly opportunity for The GovLab team to reflect on a) how approaches and technologies could help solve problems differently, and b) how news items relate to our projects with an eye toward ensuring our work creates real-world impacts. More than anything, EdBoard is about getting people talking.

EdBoard is held on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Each EdBoard is led by one or two members of The GovLab team. We will post recaps of each week’s EdBoards on our blog.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Andrew Young

Dwoskin, Elizabeth and Joseph Walker. Can Data From Your Fitbit Transform Medicine? Wall Street Journal. June 23, 2014.

  • Summary
    • The use of wearable gadgets is expanding beyond the fitness community to health patients experiencing or recovering from a variety of health issues – from heart surgery to type 2 diabetes. The ability for individuals and their doctors to track physical activity could help people stay active enough to improve their health.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • How can the expansion of the use of wearable activity trackers help citizens play a more active and effective role in decisions and activities that affect their lives?
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • To date, wearable technology use has often been quickly abandoned after initial interest and excitement. Although many believe that the Quantified Self movement embodied in these trackers can help improve health outcomes for practically all segments of the population, the greater targeting of individuals for whom tracking activity can have immediate impacts could help mitigate concerns over abandoning devices after initial interest begins to fade.

Karpf, Dave. How the White House’s We the People E-Petition Site Became a Virtual Ghost-TownTechPresident. June 20, 2014.

  • Summary
    • Although We the People has received over 9.2 million signatures on user-generated e-petitions since it launched in 2011, engagement appears to be dropping, with few petitions surpassing the 100,000 signature threshold for an official response. Worse, some petitions that have reached the signature threshold have not yet received the promised government response, with no explanation given.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • Does an e-petition site provide for meaningful opportunities for citizen engagement, or are there better pathways for citizens to play a role in the decisionmaking processes of their governing institutions?
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • Despite appearing to fit the GovLab’s mission, We the People does not represent the type of citizen engagement and participation processes the GovLab is working to foster. Instead of giving citizens clear paths to playing meaningful role in governance, We the People often solicits unserious (e.g., deport Justin Bieber) or unrealistic (i.e., suggestions that would require congressional action) petitions, and the platform only promises a “government response” should a petition reach the signature threshold, not any particular action – and even that response often does not materialize. Projects in Crowdlaw, for example, present citizens with participation opportunities more likely to create impact.

Kitroeff, Natalie. A Guide Who Knows the Turf. New York Times. June 20, 2014.

  • Summary
    • This article profiles Tama Robertson, a New York City real estate broker works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients who often are the subject of housing discrimination.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • Can technology and citizen reporting help to mitigate discrimination, in real estate and elsewhere?
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • Housing discrimination is a persistent, prominent issue in New York City, and citizen reporting projects like India’s I Paid a Bribe could be looked to for inspiration when considering possible solutions. That being said, such a system would experience challenges both around false positives and the fact that, in many cases, an apartment-renter who is being discriminated against cannot know which apartments they are not being shown.

Carroll, Matt. Senate Bill Would Open More Penn State Data to PublicGovernment Technology. June 20, 2014.

  • Summary
    • The Pennsylvania State Government Committee endorsed a bill that would require state universities – Penn State, Temple, Pittsburgh and Lincoln – to create searchable and sortable public databases including budget, revenue, expenditure data and non-personal employee and student data.
  • Why it’s relevant for the GovLab
    • Does increasing access to information held by universities and other educational institutions help to improve accountability within the institutions and create new value outside of them?
  • Main highlight from discussion
    • This proposed expansion of the Pennsylvania Open Records Law is a first step toward greater university openness in Pennsylvania. A strong next step would involve expanding beyond this type of financial data – which can play a role in increasing institutional accountability –  and creating a multi-faceted data portal with datasets on everything from campus bus schedules to noise complaints, in the interest of giving the developer community more fodder for creating new applications and services.

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