New York City

New York City working to help communities fight ‘data poverty’

Sam Diliberti

Communities that don’t share data will be left behind as technology advances to serve those who do, according to New York City’s chief analytics officer.

Amen Ra Mashariki of the Mayor’s Office of Data and Analytics spoke about the concept of “data poverty” at a panel on tech solutions for small business at City & State’s On Small Business forum on Tuesday at NYU.

“Data poverty is not the digital divide,” Mashariki said, referring to the difference between those with ready access to the internet and those without.

“There are some people who are being counted when we as a city, state, federal government use data. Think about it like when you have your Fitbit, or your UP or your Nike Fuel. You’re learning information about yourself. There are people who don’t have those, so they don’t learn information about themselves. So when Nike or Fitbit uploads all of that information and they modify their products to make them better, they’re not thinking about the people who don’t have the product. They’re modifying the product for the people who have been using, who’ve been sharing that information about themselves. So if you’re a community who’s not sharing information about yourself, who’s not part of that metric, then you may not get affected.”

Mashariki said his office is combatting data poverty by spreading the word about New York City’s data portal in all five boroughs. The office has met with community colleges and nonprofits and has launched a study with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs to find out how it can get diverse groups to start using open data.

Earlier in the discussion, panelist state Sen. Kevin Parker complimented such outreach efforts. “Part of the problem with small businesses is they simply don’t have the time to go seek the help. Even if you’re saying, ‘I have help, come get it,’ they’re between trying to make sales, do marketing, do accounting, and then trying to figure out how to get this help.”

The city provides over 1,500 data sets for free online, including contract awards, taxi trips and a list of every single legally operating business in the five boroughs. Mashariki highlighted one project, the Business Atlas, which prospective small business owners could use for market research. It provides the relative income, a list of new businesses and foot traffic for every neighborhood in the city.

Much like Fitbit reaches out to new customers, Mashariki said his office is reaching out to New Yorkers in “data poverty” and working to introduce them to the city’s open records. “Because when you use data is when you’re actually going to be a part of the data and the data metrics as well.”