The Public Policy Lab; The School for Visual Arts
Public sector innovation (PSI) is an emerging multidisciplinary field that is attracting practitioners from a wide range of sectors and industries, with a correspondingly broad set of skills and experience. PSI aims to significantly improve the services that a government has the responsibility to provide by taking a user-centered, partnership-based approach, from service content development through to methods of service provision (OECD 2012). Yet the work is complex and not without risk, if undertaken without appropriate foresight, thoughtfulness, and rigor. In particular, when it comes to pursuing PSI in the design of social service policy and its provision, some of the more substantial risks lie hidden in systemic power imbalances that can easily be exacerbated, despite practitioners’ best intentions. This article uses a case study about homeless service provision in New York City (NYC) to offer a candid portrayal of undertaking research and design work in...
The social welfare system was built to protect the vulnerable through the provision of basic needs. I left my social service job to join an organization with a mission to shift that system from safety nets to trampolines - from services designed to maximize safety, to those that develop agency and resilience. That’s meant interrogating and renewing my principles for ethical engagement with people who are getting the poorest outcomes from services. Returning people’s data to them, in the form of a story is now a practice at the heart of my relationships to the people with whom I do research. At the best of times this interaction is an intervention in and of itself, validating someone’s experience and allowing them to open themselves up to new self-narratives. But the goal of story return in not a positive reception; rather, it’s about following through on our ethical commitment to recognize people’s ownership over their own data, and allowing them the opportunity to benefit...
University of Albany, SUNY
Virginia Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her most recent book is Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, which dana boyd calls “the first [book] that I’ve read that really pulls you into the world of algorithmic decision-making and inequality, like a good ethnography should,” and Ethan Zuckerman calls “one of the most important recent books for understanding the social implications of information technology for marginalized populations in the US.” Eubanks is also the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper’s and Wired. For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and...