GovLab Blog

Moving Toward Automatic Benefits in New York City

On Tuesday, GovLab’s director, Professor Beth Simone Noveck, appeared at a hearing of the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare to provide expert testimony in support of a bill aimed at easing the process of applying for public benefits. This bill, entitled “Notification of Public Assistance Eligibility,” was introduced originally in 2015 by Councilmember Ben Kallos to address the hurdles faced by New Yorkers in need of public assistance. Currently, applications for SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, Cash Assistance and various other benefits range from ten to fifteen pages each. These applications ask for much of the same information, including income information, household composition and living arrangements, but each in slightly different ways. This bill would require the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) to provide (either online or by mail) current recipients of any public benefits application forms for other benefits for which they should qualify. These forms would be pre-filled with any existing relevant information the HRA has on the recipient. In addition, the bill requires that renewal applications be provided to beneficiaries pre-filled so that if there are no changes, it allows for an easier renewal process.
Prof. Noveck, who served as Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States during the Obama administration, has previously written about automatic benefits and collaborated in 2015 with Councilmember Kallos on a memorandum that outlined the possibility of streamlining the enrollment process for public benefits nationwide in order to decrease the burden on applicants. That memorandum illustrated how data sharing across agencies is common and can simplify the application process.
In her testimony, Noveck stated that, if enacted, the bill has the potential to help New Yorkers most in need of public assistance receive the benefits for which they are eligible. She cited, as an example, that there are at least 600,000 New York City residents who are eligible for SNAP but do not receive it. She also explained that other jurisdictions have made significant progress in the effort to streamline applications for benefits.  For example, the states of Louisiana and South Carolina are able to enroll people in Medicaid automatically using their SNAP data, and both these states have been able to reduce administrative costs as a result of their programs. Most importantly, Professor Noveck emphasized that this bill would only be the first step towards a broader goal. In the ideal scenario, people would automatically be registered for all the benefits for which they are eligible just by filing their taxes or applying for one benefit.
After this hearing, the committee and Councilmember Kallos will review the testimony and determine whether changes need to be made to the bill. Subsequently, a date will be set for a vote, hopefully before the end of the year.
Professor Noveck’s full testimony can be found here.

GovLab Blog GovLab Index

The GovLab Index: Collective Intelligence

By Hannah Pierce and Audrie Pirkl
Please find below the next installment in The GovLab Index series inspired by the Harper’s Index. Following the 2017 Collective Intelligence Conference, this installment highlights outcomes, impacts and trends related to efforts to tap into collective intelligence toward solving public problems. We begin with a selection of statistics across the Collective Intelligence universe and follow with a sector-specific breakdown of the current state of play. We encourage readers to contribute to our own collective intelligence. If there are figures that should be shared here, please contact us at

The Collective Intelligence Universe

  • Amount of money that Reykjavik’s Better Neighbourhoods program has provided each year to crowdsourced citizen projects since 2012: € 2 million (Citizens Foundation)
  • Number of U.S. government challenges that people are currently participating in to submit their community solutions: 778 (
  • Percent of U.S. arts organizations used social media to crowdsource ideas in 2013, from programming decisions to seminar scheduling details: 52% (Pew Research)
  • Number of Wikipedia members who have contributed to a page in the last 30 days: over 120,000 (Wikipedia Page Statistics)
  • Number of languages that the multinational crowdsourced Letters for Black Lives has been translated into: 23 (Letters for Black Lives)
  • Number of comments in a Reddit thread that established a more comprehensive timeline of the theater shooting in Aurora than the media: 1272 (Reddit)
  • Number of physicians that are members of SERMO, a platform to crowdsource medical research: 800,000 (SERMO)
  • Number of citizen scientist projects registered on SciStarter: over 1,500 (Collective Intelligence 2017 Plenary Talk: Darlene Cavalier)
  • Entrants to NASA’s 2009 TopCoder Challenge: over 1,800 (NASA)


  • Number of submissions for Block Holm (a digital platform that allows citizens to build “Minecraft” ideas on vacant city lots) within the first six months: over 10,000 (OpenLearn)
  • Number of people engaged to The Participatory Budgeting Project in the U.S.: over 300,000. (Participatory Budgeting Project)
    • Amount of money allocated to community projects through this initiative: $238,000,000


  • Percentage of Internet-using adults with chronic health conditions that have gone online within the US to connect with others suffering from similar conditions: 23% (Pew Research)
  • Number of posts to Patient Opinion, a UK based platform for patients to provide anonymous feedback to healthcare providers: over 120,000 (Nesta)
    • Percent of NHS health trusts utilizing the posts to improve services in 2015: 90%
    • Stories posted per month: nearly 1,000 (The Guardian)
  • Number of tumors reported to the English National Cancer Registration each year: over 300,000 (Gov.UK)
  • Number of users of an open source artificial pancreas system: 310 (Collective Intelligence 2017 Plenary Talk: Dana Lewis)


  • Number of submissions from 40 countries to the 2017 Open (Government) Contracting Innovation Challenge: 88 (The Open Data Institute)
  • Public-service complaints received each day via Indonesian digital platform Lapor!: over 500 (McKinsey & Company)
  • Number of registered users of Unicef Uganda’s weekly, SMS poll U-Report: 356,468 (U-Report)
  • Number of reports regarding government corruption in India submitted to IPaidaBribe since 2011: over 140,000 (IPaidaBribe)


  • Reviews posted since Yelp’s creation in 2009: 121 million reviews (Statista)
  • Percent of Americans in 2016 who trust online customer reviews as much as personal recommendations: 84% (BrightLocal)
  • Number of companies and their subsidiaries mapped through the OpenCorporates platform: 60 million (Omidyar Network)

Crisis Response

Public Safety

  • Number of sexual harassment reports submitted to from 50 cities in India and Nepal to SafeCity, a crowdsourcing site and mobile app: over 4,000 (SafeCity)
  • Number of people that used Facebook’s Safety Check, a feature that is being used in a new disaster mapping project, in the first 24 hours after the terror attacks in Paris: 4.1 million (Facebook)
GovLab Blog

Data, Solidarity and Philanthropy

By Natalia Adler (UNICEF) and Stefaan G. Verhulst (GovLab)
How do you tackle the world’s most complex socio-economic problems at a time of big data? It is widely recognized today that using data can greatly improve decision-making, optimize operations, and lead to new insights to address increasingly complex problems such as migration, obesity, urbanization, climate change amongst others.
When it comes to data science, however, the private sector leads the way. Not only do companies typically own and control access to vast troves of data, but they also typically possess the leading talent in the field. A central question for those concerned with the public good in our times is: How can governments, public agencies, nonprofits and other philanthropic organizations take advantage of the proliferation of data—and the potential of data science–to better serve their own needs and goals?
At the EFC’s 2017 Annual General Assembly and Conference which focused on“Courage to re-embrace solidarity in Europe –Can philanthropy take the lead?” in Warsaw last month, we both spoke at a session that tried to answer this question. The session “Data Science at the service of Philanthropy” was wonderfully chaired by David Gutelius (The Data Guild) and curated by Ciro Cattuto (ISI Foundation) with support from the Fondazione CRTCompagnia di San PaoloFondazione Cariplo and Fondazione ISI. We were joined by Joanna Macrae (GiveDirectly) and Juan Mateos-Garcia (NESTA).
Our two presentations were based on our Data Collaboratives initiative, which seeks to improve children’s lives through the exchange of data and expertise across sectors.

What’s the value of Data Collaboratives?

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 4.31.15 PMSharing corporate data for the social good is an emerging phenomenon – often called data philanthropy. The Govlab’s Data Collaboratives Explorer has documented over 100 cases where the exchange of corporate data sought to create public value. Case studies contained within the Explorer show that data can be used, among other goals, to enhance:

  • Situational Awareness and Response, leading to a greater understanding and ability to track conditions on the ground to improve interventions. For example, The World Bank and Orbital Insights are using satellite imagery data to track global poverty.
  • Public Service Design and Delivery, for instance by enhancing  access to previously inaccessible datasets to enable more accurate modeling of public service design and delivery. The TrafficJam Challenge, for example, made transit data available to spark the development of data-driven solutions to Toronto’s commuting troubles.
  • Knowledge Creation and Transfer, in some cases by bringing more diverse datasets to bear to fill knowledge gaps and ensure that the most useful information for solving a problem is at hand. For example, the Digital Ecologies Research Partnership is sharing public user data with academic institutions to support research on Internet social behavior.
  • Prediction and Forecasting, sometimes through new predictive capabilities to help institutions be more proactive, putting in place mechanisms based on sound evidence that mitigate problems or avert crises before they occur. IBM researchers at Green Horizons, for example, are using government air quality data to predict how pollution spreads throughout the city of Beijing.
  • Impact Assessment and Evaluation, often by improving access to additional datasets tohelp institutions monitor and evaluate the real-world impacts of policies. For instance, Researchers at the University of Twente were given access to millions of tweets to evaluate the effectiveness of cancer early detection campaigns on social media.

 Using Data Collaboratives to Improve Children’s Lives

The problems we seek to address within the UNICEF/GovLab Data Collaboratives cover a wide range of complex issues. For example:

  • Suicide is the second highest cause of death among young people aged 15-24 in India, accounting for about 60,000 deaths in 2013. To better understand this growing phenomenon, data scientists from the ISI Foundation in Italy and Microsoft Research in Israel are exploring how different kinds of search queries online could be used as proxies for broader insights and more informed interventions on the ground.
  • Researchers from Telefonica in Santiago, Chile, are looking at data from the use of cellphones to better understand how people move in megacities. As cities continue to expand, the poor have to travel greater distances to work, study, and live. Insights from this research can be used to advocate with transport authorities for regulations, policies and programs that increase the safety of children and women.
  • Similar data, along with satellite imagery, can also help identify the needs of millions of refugees in the border between Syria and Jordan. Since humanitarian access to those areas is limited, this kind of data would allow for the ability to track the distribution of aid and monitor the movement of populations dispersed throughout the country in a more strategic way.
  • Data science can also be used to mine publicly available data. Researchers from the ISI Foundation are scraping social media sites and online forums to help advocacy campaigns that seek to reverse the increase in C-sections in Brazil. The number of C-sections grew from 15% in the 1970’s to 56% today. In private hospitals, that number can be as high as 90%. Improved visibility of public attitudes towards natural births would enable UNICEF and partners to better target public engagement actions.

Complex problems affecting children are universal in nature and childhood obesity is a case in point. In Scotland, more than 210,000 children currently live in poverty in Scotland, and 28% are overweight or obese. Data Collaboratives are being set up in Scotland with a wide range of partners to look at food production, access, consumption, advertisement as well as access to green spaces for exercising. These problems cannot be fully addressed by one organization alone, but by connecting the dots across a range of them – from supermarkets to school meal programs.
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Data collaboratives = #Data4Solidarity

The theme of the EFC’s annual conference focused on solidarity (#Courage4Solidarity) – a theme well aligned with the Data Collaboratives initiative. “Solidarity’ refers to the “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” The Data Collaboratives initiative is also about matching problems with potential problem-solvers in the form of data and expertise, united with a single purpose: using the latest technologies to do some good in the world.
Further efforts to establish effective Data Collaboratives to serve these global challenges are ongoing. For more information visit or contact us.
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GovLab Blog

Announcing the Data Collaboratives Research Network: Understanding how public value can be generated from private data

by Iryna Susha and Stefaan G. Verhulst
Last week the CUNY College of Staten Island, NY welcomed participants in the Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (dg.o). This year’s dg.o conference hosted a keynote plenary panel titled “Data Collaboratives: How to Create Value from Data for Public Problem Solving?” The panel brought together academics and practitioners, including, among others, Natalia Adler (UNICEF), Marijn Janssen (TU Delft), Todd Harbour (New York State), Theresa Pardo (University at Albany), and ourselves. The audience consisted of researchers and practitioners in the domains of digital government, political participation, civic engagement, and technology innovation.

What are data collaboratives?

Data Collaboratives are an emerging form of cross-sectoral partnership that seek to leverage generally untapped sources of data (often held by corporate entities) for the greater public good. They bring together actors from a wide variety of backgrounds, seeking to establish mechanisms and institutions for these actors to collaborate in how they access and use the data. The panelists highlighted a number of successful examples, for example the work done by UNICEF and GovLab in setting up data collaborative to better understand childhood obesity in Scotland or suicide rates in India. As part of its research, the GovLab has built a database of ongoing efforts: the Data Collaboratives Explorer lists 100+ cases of data collaboratives from around the world.
Yet despite the growing prevalence of such collaboratives, little research—and certainly little systematic research—has been conducted on their use and impact.  One of the key goals of the panel was to begin a conversation between practitioners and academics to develop a better understanding of the issues—including both opportunities and challenges–at stake. For example, while a variety of different models exist for data collaboratives, there has been little systematic effort to categorize these models (e.g., in a taxonomy of data sharing) and to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses.
The panel focused primarily on the question of value creation by data collaboratives, discussing mechanisms to generate public value as well as the underlying value proposition of data collaborative for both the public and private sectors. According to Stefaan Verhulst data collaboratives can create value in five primary ways:

  • improving situational awareness and response;
  • improving public service design and delivery;
  • enabling more accurate forecasting and prediction;
  • supporting evaluation and impact assessment of policies; and
  • contributing to knowledge creation and transfer between sectors.

A number of obstacles to better value creation were discussed. In particular, it was pointed out that in crisis situations, it is often necessary to access private sector data in real-time or at least very quickly. In practice, however, such access is often very difficult to arrange or negotiate. This is largely due to a mismatch in incentives between corporations and other entities (e.g., in the public sector or civil society), and a lack of compelling value proposition models. The panel discussed a number of possible mechanisms to address such problems, including better data governance, standardisation, enhanced data management practices, and the roles and capabilities required to “orchestrate” an effective data collaborative. A detailed research agenda is under preparation by the panel participants to define and structure future work on such topics.

Join the Data Collaboratives Research Network!

The panel at the dg.o conference clearly showed the value in—and the urgency of—bringing together practitioners and academic to work together on the topic of data collaboratices.
As a next step,  The GovLab invites researchers and practitioners to join the Data Collaboratives Research Network, which will aim to tap and connect expertise on data collaboratives and to work collectively on the challenges, obstacles and opportunities identified.
Iryna Susha is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Informatics of Örebro University.
Stefaan G. Verhulst is the co-founder and Chief of R&D at the GovLab, and lead behind the project