From criminal justice, to health care, to municipal services, “civic tech” is transforming the public sector. This course explores the emerging disciplines of data science, digital services, and user-centered design and their implications for government institutions and public policy.
Data products can provide clarity on impact, helping to identify which policies and practices are working, and where interventions are most needed. Digital services that integrate data and user-centered design are helping governments a) deliver in ways that are both convenient and cost-effective for the public, b) build trust by providing transparency into and accountability for how institutions are functioning, and c) engage the civic-minded community to build ongoing constructive feedback mechanisms. On the other hand, the use of these approaches also poses unique challenges, ranging from poor data quality, to (mis)interpretation of statistics, to difficulty in conveying insights, and using those insights to transform operations and service delivery.
This course will use recent events in the criminal justice system and the California Department of Justice’s new OpenJustice initiative(openjustice.doj.ca.gov)as a central case study to understand the challenges and solution space for data-driven public policy. It will cover the full lifecycle: from the dynamics of passing data legislation, to data collection and sharing, to data analysis (statistics, machine learning), publication (open data, visualization, dashboards), engagement strategies, and policy making. It will explore the challenge of ensuring that data is actionable for internal and external users, that it is acted-upon, and that it actually informs and improves services and service delivery.
Overall, the goal is for students to understand the various components required to move from the limited uses of data as a “box-checking” exercise to a primary policy driver. Students will explore these topics via individual and group-based projects, including hands-on classroom assignments. The mid-term project will include a legislative proposal for new data collection and an implementation plan. The final project will include robust analysis of existing data, visualizations of findings, and an engagement plan. Data sets will be drawn from the OpenJustice portal as well as other public safety, public health and education data sources.
Knowledge of Excel is recommended; familiarity with statistical programming in Python or similar languages may be helpful but not required. Recommendations for resources to learn these skills will be provided as part of the course. Prerequisite: n/a