Since 2017, Data Days CLE has been a spot for Greater Clevelanders and civic and nonprofit data professionals to share knowledge and best practices and find new ways to collaborate.
The event, which I co-founded, was spurred by Cleveland’s lack of open data. Our goal is to encourage transparency through data sharing and be a voice for prioritizing data in service of social justice. The event is now a partnership between Signal Cleveland and the Cleveland Public Library and is supported by the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the Center for Community Solutions.
On-ramps to civic data
Through this year’s theme, “On-ramps to civic data,” we aimed to build new ways to engage Cleveland and Northeast Ohio with civic data. More than 270 people joined us across four events.
Our flagship day-long conference featured:
- An update from the City of Cleveland Department of Urban AI with an announcement of an executive order on open data
- 16 breakout sessions with more than 50 speakers from Cleveland and Northeast Ohio
- A keynote speech from Tawana Petty, who set the tone for how to use open data to advance racial equity and discussed important considerations for maintaining privacy.
For the first time, we hosted two smaller gatherings called “Data Dives,” where we invited people to the Signal Cleveland office to learn about and interact with data.
One session featured City Council’s casino fund data. The other was on the Cleveland Property Survey. Both are data sets that we’ve heard our Documenters and readers express interest in.
Finally, we offered an affordable, hands-on training opportunity with a day of workshops to facilitate skill-building with data.
Here are some of the highlights of what we learned at Data Days this year.
Tawana Petty, a leader in AI ethics, delivered our keynote address. She started her talk, Data Are Not Neutral, Privacy Matters, Coercion is Not Consent, and Surveillance Ain’t Safety, with an interactive reminder of why we all need information privacy and how people must sacrifice privacy in order to access community supports like Medicaid and housing and utility subsidies.
Based in Detroit, Petty discussed how narratives shape communities, especially the perceptions of young people. She also talked about how Cleveland and Detroit have faced similar negative narratives.
Narratives aren’t just stories we tell, she said. In the hands of powerful people, narratives impact what types of data we think about, how we think about people as data, what policies are implemented, and what resources are invested or disinvested in a community. These narratives have psychological, emotional and literal impacts on the residents who live there.
Indiscriminate data collection can reinforce existing biases
Petty walked through the landscape of police surveillance technology in Detroit, which includes:
- Traffic cameras that read license plates
- Video surveillance placed in neighborhoods that use facial recognition technology.
She described times when the surveillance tools have led to the false identification of innocent people as criminal suspects. Detroit is home to 50% (a total of three) of the known facial recognition misidentification cases in the United States, she said.
There are no innocent people, she said. There are only people who have to prove their innocence when you let this indiscriminate data collection be the rule of the data, especially when there isn’t racial equity at the center.
How to center racial equity in working with civic data
Petty walked through the process of centering racial equity in data collection and discussed the proposed AI Bill of Rights. Then Petty delivered a list of questions for all data practitioners to ask themselves in order to center racial equity in working with civic data:
- What problems are you hoping to solve? Who determined it was a problem?
- Was the community you hope to serve involved in your planning or collection process?
- Is the data you are collecting necessary? Has it been collected in the past?
- Does your data collection process provide revocability? Do community members have a right to be forgotten?
- Are you retaining data longer than necessary?
- What are the societal implications of the data you are collecting?
- Who has access to your data?
- Are you centering racial equity throughout the collection process?
Open data is coming
Elizabeth Crowe, director of the city’s Department of Urban AI, announced that the mayor is set to sign an executive order on open data. This order provides instructions and guidelines for implementing an open data policy and governance framework. It includes:
- Creating an inventory of the cities’ data sources and data sets
- Classifying each with whether or not it can be shared publicly
- Creating and implementing high-quality standards and procedures so published data is timely and accurate
- Convening a board to oversee data strategy
Clevelanders are curious about civic data on important topics in our community
Through Data Days, Signal Cleveland invited people to dive into two data sets we heard a lot of interest about: Cleveland City Council’s use of casino funds and the Cleveland Property Survey.
Participants said they appreciated getting a walk-through of the data and high-level trends. They also noted they would like to see publicly accessible tools that make the data easy to navigate expressed interest in other civic data sets.