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How St. Louis is using data and technology to improve the lives of low-income residents


By GovFresh · July 1, 2015

[caption id=”attachment_19797” align=”alignnone” width=”1024”] Photo: Tim Hamilton[/caption]

As part of the new Civic Tech and Data Collaborative sponsored by Living Cities, Code for America and Urban Institute’s National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, civic technology teams in Boston and St. Louis were awarded $200,000 each to leverage data and technology to improve the lives of low-income residents.

Rise Data Management CoordinatorEleanor Tutt shares how St. Louis is working to make this happen.

What issues will you address during the collaborative period?

The St. Louis area has a fragmented system of municipal courts, including some that use ticketing to fund municipal operations, which disproportionately affects lower income black residents. We would like to reduce the inconvenience to residents who must engage with multiple court systems, in order to prevent a failure to pay tickets from turning into more serious charges, while at the same time, shine a light on predatory practices in order to induce a cultural shift in ticketing practices.

Why was this an important project to tackle?

We believe it is important to set a high standard for citizen responsiveness and approaching improvements to the justice system through an equity lens – and we believe that technology and design is an important facet of this work (and, in fact, that technology and design can inadvertently cause harm or exacerbate disparities when developed without residents at the table.) Our project is somewhat unique among technology projects in that residents affected by existing municipal court systems will be helping to create solutions and build tools, allowing people to shape how they want to engage with municipal court systems online.

What will be the process and timeline?/What technology do you plan to use?

While we have produced a tentative two year timeline, an important value of this collaboration is to work “with” the community and not “for” the community. For this reason, we are beginning our process with outreach to residents interested in helping to design, build, test, and use tools to ensure technology decisions are driven by true community needs. We would like to avoid being too prescriptive early on in order to allow for meaningful engagement.

How do you plan to share what you've learned and built for other cities to re-purpose?

One of the partners in this work is OpenDataSTL, our St. Louis Code for America brigade. While this project may require some code (code that connects to local court management systems) to remain closed , OpenDataSTL has a policy of releasing open source code and process documentation whenever possible for use by other communities. Additionally, our project will include training sessions on topics related to safety and justice as well as civic technology and user centered design for our brigade members, municipal courts, local government, and the general public. We will be documenting and sharing materials from these sessions.

Learn more about the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative.