Sustainability in the age of Big Data – Government and Regulation Perspective Q&A

Sustainability in the age of big data – Government’s perspective
Mark Headd of City of Philadelphia and Cary Coglianese of university of Pennsylvania.

Government has for the longest time the largest user of data. The volume of data being collected by government is huge but with this new age of big data how does government then deal with it?
Mark Headd is the head of data collection and analysis at the city of Philadelphia. A unique and unusual job title at this current age and time but one that will become the norm as big data is becoming more and more important in shaping policies and regulations.
Cary Coglianese, Penn Law Faculty, deals with regulations, sustainability, and big data from the social cognitive perspective. His new book, Does Regulation Kill Jobs? Is currently out and is stirring an interesting conversation among the colleagues here at Penn.

Question: What are some of the challenges of making data available in a city
Mark: The two main challenges is cultural and technique. Technology is easier to solve. In the past, systems on data collection and data analysis was created in the age where data sharing was not the main concern. This legacy system needs updates as today, data transparency is necessary and data sharing is happening on a day to day basis. Culture challenge Is more difficult. The way how government is setup, there is a challenge in terms of what type of data can be shared and what media can it be shared through. Data itself can cause no harm, it is how data is interpreted and how data is transformed that may bring change and government has no way of controlling how people interpret data.
Question: What types of data does companies such as code for America use and how does this transform the field of big data
Mark: Code for America grew out of the age where information from government is released to the public to show transparency through hackthons, How does the public and private corporation deal with the data that government is tossing out? Events such as data jams, hackthons are better because it removes the barrier of position. You do not have to worry about what institution you come from, you are there to help analyze the data, to make it available for the public, to transform the data into knowledge. Project: Grounded for Philly is a collaboration between government and the public to address the vacant lots in Philly, information as to who owns the land, what type of property was there before it became vacant, and allow people to make solutions as to how to transform the vacant lot.
Question: The old model of command and control in data is becoming less and less as this new age in data and in sensing technology. How is regulation transforming in this new age of big data?
Cary: The goal of regulation is to understand the data, to analyze the data, and to use the data. There are a lot of potential and ideas in using big data in regulation and policy. 6 different areas and regulations that can be affect by big data. 1. Engagement with public. The social media is a great example. 2. Solve large problems that few cannot tackle but many can. Sensors and public analysis can help governments tackle unregulated areas such as non-point data. 3. Tools and strategies of regulation. The current command and control is slowly decaying because data allows for various paths in experimentation, in finding better and more optimal ways of dealing with problem. For example data sensing technology can help monitor and control an organization’s air emissions release to allow for regulations on air emission to be more flexible as long as the organization is in compliance. 4. More responsive. Data by the seconds allow for better and faster fix. 5. Improvement of old systems. Data analysis is changing every day. Better methods of surveying and analyzing data is allowing for more efficient process of regulating. And finally 6. Evaluations of regulation. data is allowing for real-time evaluation of how regulations are affecting and whether or not it is doing what it intends or something differently and data can help government and regulation assess how it is doing.
Question: Concept of if we have all the data and data analysis is accurate. Can you comment on data and the gaps in data?
Mark: One question that many government often ask is whether a data is clean, clear, whole, fresh. We often talk of big data as data quantity, but data quality is also very important. There is always gaps in data, we can never get the full data but with the current data, we can reach a full picture.
Cary: look at the example of the toxic waste emission regulation online. The database is huge. There are two perspectives, the quality and the behavior change associated with it. Is it a complete picture of all the toxic waste? No, but is it enough to change human behavior? Yes. Companies are using the database in its operations. Manufacturing in the economy has shifted to removing many of the waste materials that is listed in the data. Public awareness of the database is pushing how products are being made and what raw materials are being use.
Question: information on regulation is not a new story. Security concerns is something that is important. Is disclosure of data being affected by this? How about privacy? How much data can be made public?
Mark: so security is a key in regulation of big data. We cannot control how people interpret data but we can control what type of data is released. So the question the question here is whether data is effective or not and how whether the facility is affecting privacy or affecting security. Effective data collection and data analysis is then the key. I do not have the answer to this question, but the question is not on the data but on the information. Is the information being release what is intended? Do we also release the data along with the information?
Question: Cary, you talk about data assessment. Can you talk a more about feedback loop?
Cary: there are various pilot projects around the nation that is showing that this age of big data is slowly tearing away this command and control perspective. Policy does not move as quickly as technology. Slowly technology will bring about a change in policy. In terms of these pilot projects, the time frame has becoming shorter and shorter. The feedback loop is becoming smaller not because of the lack of it but because of how effective it can become. Several different pilot programs for one specific topic can occur at the same time and the technology in sensing and data collections can allow for direct comparison of these different types of programs. This is something that was impossible in the past when technology was lacking, but now. We can compare project A to B to Z at the same time on a real-time monitoring.


About t5huang

Masters in Environmental Science at UPenn Candidate
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