June 24, 2015

One of the highlights of SIPA’s upcoming conference on Technology and Innovation in the Public Service will be the five audiovisual case studies—filmed on location in the United States and at Columbia Global Centers in Brazil and India—that were researched and developed as part of a President’s Global Innovation Fund Award project. 

“As we looked to innovate and use new digital tools to expand the scope of SIPA’s teaching, we knew that case studies needed to be at the center of our work” said Adam Stepan, the director of the Picker Center Digital Education Group. “Professor [William] Eimicke’s long history of service in city and state government opened doors, and allowed us to get cameras in places that normal documentary film crews would not be able to enter.”

The Picker Center team included both student researches and professional case writers, who traveled on location with the film crew. The results are a collection of 10-minute films and traditional 15-to-20 page written cases, all delivered on the School’s new digital platform.

“We have used our initial cases in both online and face-to face classroom settings,” said Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute and faculty sponsor of “Public Private Partnerships for Green Space in NYC,” a case that explores the Central Park Conservancy and the Highline.

“For students who don’t know New York City, or know the history of New York City, and the degree of degradation that we had in our parks in the 1970s and 1980’s, seeing these images, and hearing directly from these players and actors has huge value” Cohen added.

Another featured case is “From Compstat to Gov 2.0—Big Data in NYC”, which goes inside the New York City police department, and explores the creation of the modern “Big Data” revolution, with interviews with then Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and Police Chief William Bratton.

“This was the first time a film crew had been allowed inside a Compstat meeting in 20 years,” said Eimicke. “The case allows our students an unprecedented inside look at how a 50,000-person police force is run, and opens the door for all sorts of additional research and discussion."

Another related case explores the use of big data in Rio de Janeiro, both at the Rio mayor’s own “Geek Squad” and by the Rio de Janeiro police force, who worked with IBM and others to create a state of the art new command and control center.

The case covers also an innovative and controversial new program to use and test body cameras on patrol in Rio’s newly pacified slums or favelas (see photo at left), as well as a project to map many of these communities.

"We were pleased to have had Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio recently at SIPA's annual gala and to host 40 officials from Rio's city hall at an executive training this year," said SIPA Dean Merit Janow. "Our connection to Rio is an important one. We feel this new case will bring a critical perspective to a timely issue that is impacting cities around the world.”

Other cases also explore digital tools used to deliver government services. “Digital India,” which features an interview with acclaimed Columbia economist Jagdish Bhagwati (pictured at below right), explores the campaign by new Indian Prime Minister Modi to collect biometric data for India’s 1.2 billion citizens, and greatly expand a series of projects aimed to include India’s rural masses in its economic mainstream.

“We were able to film inside a major Indian IT firm, as well as with top officials in the government and also private players such as Citibank and others,” Stepan said. “There is a huge value to actually seeing these places, and seeing how these technologies are being used in a place such as rural India.  When combined with our in-depth written case, and the additional materials we make available on the course website, we deliver a comprehensive package that allows students to immerse themselves in a certain issue."

Other cases to be featured a piece on the use of telemedicine in primary care in India, and “Letting Them Learn,” a study of the research of Teachers College Professor Brian Perkins on urban schools in New York, Rio, and Mumbai.

For Eimicke, the role of key faculty advisors and sponsors is key.

“Here at SIPA, and at partner schools such as Teachers College and Mailman, we have the world’s best and most diverse faculty, an amazing collection of experts. We relay on their research and scholarship, and also their on-the-ground knowledge and perspective.”

The other key ingredient to making the case studies possible has been the active involvement of the Rio, Mumbai, and Beijing Global Centers. With grants from the President’s Global Innovation Fund, each has assigned local researchers and facilitators to support the on the ground research and filming efforts.

“We feel the case method has great promise, and can be a unifier across geographies” said Safwan Masri, executive vice president for Columbia Global Centers and global development at Columbia University. “While not all these innovations and programs are perfect, there is much to be learned from studying these new projects, and a great desire across the Global Center network for South-South learning and exchanges. Cases like these, and conferences such as this one, deliver on that promise.”

The conference is open to the public but space is limited. View registration information and a complete agenda of cases and speakers at www.sipagovtech.org.

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