City of Insights: Tapping into Private Sector Data for Inclusive Growth - The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth
The private sector can leverage its data assets to drive social impact in cities.

Every day, private sector companies capture valuable information in cities. When someone checks out on a food delivery app, swipes a credit card at the bodega or taps their phone to pay for a taxi, we and other companies capture and analyze that transaction data to reveal important trends.

Cities themselves also aggregate important data, including on how their citizens get around, school attendance, and where people receive treatment when they become ill.

For urban policymakers, the ability to tap into both private and public sector data can be powerful. There is now an abundance of aggregated information with the potential to transform city policies and impact measurements and potentially improve all sorts of socioeconomic outcomes. The hope is that better use of data will lead to better policymaking to meet some of the growing challenges of cities, such as increasing inequality, changing demographics and strained public services, to name but a few.

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is working in partnership with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. to develop data-driven metrics and methodologies to better answer key questions related to inclusive economic growth in U.S. metropolitan areas. The project will combine Mastercard insights with public data to create new indicators and identify new evidence to support and monitor equitable development efforts.

Sandy Fernandez, the Center’s director of programs for the Americas, spoke with Solomon Greene, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, about how the private sector can leverage its data and analytics capabilities to drive positive social impact in partnership with governments and nonprofits.

Sandy Fernandez: As more cities embrace smart innovations and the internet of things, how can we ensure social equity is built into these types of data-driven technology models?

Solomon Greene: Technology has the potential to create huge volumes of data, but it is always important to think about who the data leave out and what biases exist. For example, if a city uses data derived from a smartphone application, whether people are left out may not be a matter of whether they have a smartphone, but whether they use that specific app. Exclusion from the data that are used in decision-making can create and exacerbate inequalities.

At the same time, once you’ve accounted for any biases in the data, big data sources can answer equity questions that we have never been able to address before. It opens up whole new fields of research. For example, Twitter data has been used to better understand patterns of racial segregation and perceptions of neighborhood quality. Data collected by online real estate companies like Trulia can be used to understand housing affordability and who gets priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods and high-cost cities.

Fernandez: Can you talk about how you think about equity, and how it applies to data-driven urban development?

Greene: An equitable city is one that ensures no one is left behind. That involves ensuring that all people’s needs are met, with well-functioning safety nets and intentional efforts to alleviate poverty. At the same time, an equitable city ensures that everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or disability, has a fair shot. There needs to be equality of opportunity so that everyone can contribute to and benefit from a city’s prosperity. For a city to become truly equitable, both of those goals must be advanced.

Fernandez: What are the challenges you face when working with private-sector data?