Getting a Handle on the Future Transportation experts join with policymakers and entrepreneurs to tackle the impact of disruptive technology on urban mobility

By Will Livesley-O’Neill

Getting around Southern California has never been easy. But the infamously congested region has grown even more complicated with the arrival of new private services — including ridehail companies such as Lyft and Uber and electric scooter operators such as Bird and Lime — looking to disrupt how people travel.

Motorized scooters are often seen at UCLA.

As in any field impacted by technology-fueled disruption, transportation policymakers want to find ways to adapt. And that requires taking stock of what the transportation system is meant to do and, more importantly, whom it is meant to serve.

This was the focus of the 28th annual UCLA Lake Arrowhead Symposium, hosted by the Institute of Transportation Studies (UCLA ITS) and Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, in October. At the university’s retreat center in the San Bernardino Mountains, dozens of the nation’s leading experts on transportation and land use policy pondered the symposium’s theme, “From Public Transit to Public Mobility.”

The changing nature of travel means different things for elected officials, planners, academics, advocates and tech leaders. But everyone fundamentally agrees that, as LA Metro chief planning officer and symposium panelist Therese McMillan put it, “there’s a public interest in how private activity happens in a public space.” The modes may change, but the mission of a safe, effective, accessible transportation system remains the same.

John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, set the tone for a discussion of balance between tradition and innovation. Lyft has been actively expanding beyond ridehailing into other forms of mobility, including e-scooters and automated vehicles. The company’s stated goal of providing more options for consumers and reducing the number of people driving

alone benefits the environment — as well as those profiting from the service.

But the way that some tech companies roll out new products — a “move fast and break things” model — often leads to public backlash.

Southern California has been ground zero for arguments about the traffic tie-ups and sidewalk clutter allegedly caused by ridehailing and scooters. Public officials are being forced to make policy on the fly — although some such as Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer in Santa Monica, describe that as an opportunity. Santa Monica recently partnered with Lyft, Uber, Bird and Lime to introduce new regulations on the number of e-vehicles in the city while funding infrastructure improvements.

“[We] made a conscious choice to embrace new technology and work through some of the kinks that are inherent in change,” Stefan says.

Technology also gives cities the chance to innovate and to fulfill some hard-to-implement planning goals. Willa Ng, an associate director at Google’s Sidewalk Labs, presented an example at her panel on “coding  the curb.”

“If we need to do more stuff at the curb, and we need to have those spaces constantly turning over, we can’t have it managed by a static aluminum sign,” Ng explains, outlining how creating a flexible digital management system could allow the same section of curb to be used for parking, ridehail drop-offs, delivery unloading, or as a bike and scooter lane depending on the time of day. New transportation technology can crowd and complicate the use of public space, but it can also help make sure the space is better used to benefit the most people.

For example, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke to the University of California for a story and accompanying video about e-scooters titled, “What the battle over scooters gets wrong.”

Urban planners recently adopted a model known as “complete streets” that involves rethinking how shared space is divided between a street and a sidewalk, Loukaitou-Sideris says. This model abandons the assumption that streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians.

“The complete street perceives the street as a space where different transportation modes can coexist: not only cars, but also buses, and lanes for trams, bicycles and scooters,” according to Loukaitou-Sideris. “Nobody wants to compromise the safety of anyone by mixing these modes. So that’s where planning and design needs to come in.”

People-centered design — of services, systems and infrastructure — is at center stage in these policy discussions. Technology needs to be a tool to help improve transportation for people, not an end goal in itself.

“A lot of people are really annoyed with private capital coming into the mobility space without understanding people’s travel needs,” says Clarrissa Cabansagan of the Bay Area climate change nonprofit TransForm. But tech disruption will be worthwhile if it provides people with more options to get around besides driving their own car, she says.

Professor Brian Taylor of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning

Urban Planning Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA ITS, co-authored a groundbreaking 2018 study that found that Southern Californians are buying more cars than ever and turning away from public transit. That’s the exact opposite outcome of what policymakers had sought and shows the need to set new priorities for shared public spaces.

“We have to manage the automobile more intelligently. We can’t just allow people to drive anywhere they want, anytime they want,” Taylor says. “We need to create environments that are more conducive to travel by foot, by bike, by scooter or by public transit.”

New and old mobility services could work hand-in-hand to reduce private car travel. Ideally, technology should improve, not replace or eliminate, traditional transit, according to transportation experts.

“We should really focus on making the core strength of transit something we do incredibly well,” says Houston-based planner and author Christof Spieler, who spoke at the conference. With transit ridership falling across most of the country, new policies need to make riding the bus as easy as hailing a Lyft, he says, noting that public transit can move many more people much more effectively than any ridehail vehicle or scooter.

Bay Area transportation advocate Ratna Amin argues that focusing on riders as people, not cogs in a machine, is key.

“When we think about public transit as a utility, we focus on the bare minimum: We got the service out, it’s clean enough, the doors opened, the bus stop is there and it’s labeled,” Amin says. “We need to actually talk to people and find out what their experience is, and try different possibilities out to see if they improve the experience.”

Seattle is one of just a few American cities to see an increase in transit ridership in recent years. Terry White, the deputy general manager of Seattle’s transit operator, believes one factor has been key to success: an emphasis on making sure service is equitable.

“Transportation is a human right for everyone,” White says. “We’re trying to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to

be mobile.”

That’s ultimately what a better transportation system will mean — mobility for all, regardless of whether they take a bus or ride a scooter. Efficient use of public space lessens the need for gridlocked, polluting private vehicles.

The disruption of old transit methods is still in its early stages, with plenty of blind spots to be navigated. But as Juan Matute, deputy director of UCLA ITS, recently told LA Weekly, it’s important to remember that the disruption from new technology is likely to lessen over time.

“The safety hazards are comparable to those for automobile use,” Matute said of the new innovations, particularly e-scooters. “We’ve had over 100 years to figure out a lot of things.”

New Sources, Innovative Applications of Big Data Explored at Conference UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation researchers demonstrate how digital technology is transforming humans into sensors that generate behavioral data on an unprecedented scale

By Stan Paul

If your 2016 Thanksgiving dinner was shorter than usual, the turkey on your dining table may not have been to blame.

Who you had dinner with and their political affiliations following last year’s divisive election may have shortened the holiday get-together by about 25 minutes — or up to an hour depending on how many campaign/political messages saturated your market area. It’s all in the data.

“It’s not that conservatives and [liberals] don’t like eating Thanksgiving dinner with each other;  they don’t like eating Thanksgiving dinner together after an incredibly polarizing period,” said Keith Chen, associate professor of economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Chen was among a group of scholars and data researchers who presented recent findings on Aug. 25, 2017, at a daylong conference about computational social science and digital technology hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

Information gleaned from social media and from cellphone tracking data can reveal and confirm political polarization and other topics, such as poverty or protest, said researchers who gathered at the “The Future of Humans as Sensors” conference held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The event brought together social scientists and data researchers to look for “ways to either extend what we can do with existing data sets or explore new sources of ‘big data,’” said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin and the leader of the program.

Steinert-Threlkeld presented his latest research, which was motivated by the Women’s March in the United States, as an example of measuring protest with new data sources that include geo-located Twitter accounts. While conducting research, Steinert-Threlkeld has observed that working with social media data has actually become more difficult of late.

“While Facebook lets you use data from profiles that are public, most people have private profiles,” Steinert-Threlkeld said. Seeing private data requires researchers to work directly with Facebook, which has become more cautious in the wake of a controversial 2014 paper, thus impacting what scholars can publish. In addition, Instagram previously provided much more data, but since 2016 it has followed the Facebook model and that data has been severely restricted despite Instagram’s norm of having public profiles, he said.

“This workshop will discuss how ‘humans as sensors’ can continue to yield productive research agendas,” Steinert-Threlkeld told conference attendees.

Talking about new and innovative ways to do this, Michael Macy, a sociologist and director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell, began his presentation by pointing out the innate difficulties of observing human behavior and social interaction, as well as both the potential and the limitations of social media data.

“There are privacy concerns; the interactions are fleeting. You have to be right there at the time when it happens.” He added, “They’re usually behind closed doors, and the number of interactions increases exponentially with the size of the population.”

But, Macy said, new technologies in various scientific fields have opened up research opportunities that were previously inaccessible.

“We can see things that we could never see before. In fact, not only can we see things, the web sees everything and it forgets nothing.”

He tempered the potential of digital data with the fact that for the past several decades the main instrument of social science observation has been the survey, which comes with its own limitations, including unreliability when people recount their own behavior or rely on memories of past events. But, he said, “In some ways I see these social media data as being really nicely complementary with the survey. They have offsetting strengths and weaknesses.”

Macy provided examples of ways that tracking of political polarization can be done, not by looking at extreme positions on a single issue but by inferring positions on one issue by knowing the position that individuals hold on another. This can range from their choices of books on politics and science to their preferences for cars, fast food and music.

“The method seems to recover something real about political alignments … political alignment can be inferred from those purchases, and then we can look to see what else they’re purchasing,” Macy said.

“What I think we’re really looking at is not the era of explanation, at least for now … it’s the era of measurement, and what we are now able to do is to test theories that we could not test before because we can see things that we could not see before.”

The day’s presentations also included the ways in which data can be used to provide rapid policy evaluation with targeted crowds and how demographic sampling weights from Twitter data could be used to improve public opinion estimates. Data could also help fight poverty worldwide.

The world seems awash in information and data, but “most of world doesn’t live in a data-rich environment,” said presenter Joshua Blumemstock, an assistant professor at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information and director of the school’s Data-Intensive Development Lab.

“You can use Twitter data to measure unemployment in Spain. The problem is that these methods don’t port very well in developing countries,” Blumenstock said. “There’s these big black holes in Africa for Twitter.”

Blumenstock discussed how data from billions of mobile phone calls in countries such as Rwanda could be used in conjunction with survey data to create a composite of where individuals fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. In turn, the information collected could be “aggregated up” to a much larger regional or national level.

“And when you aggregate up, you start to get things that might be conceivably useful to someone doing research or some policymaker,” such as being able to respond instantaneously to economic shocks, Blumenstock said. In addition, instead of costing millions of dollars and taking years, he said this methodology could potentially cost thousands of dollars and be conducted in weeks or months.

“For researchers like me who are interested in understanding the causes and consequences of poverty … just measuring the poverty is the first step. For people designing policy for these countries, their hands are tied if they don’t even know where poverty is,” Blumenstock explained. “It’s hard to think about how to fix it.”

 

 

 

UCLA Study Helps Californians Save Electricity — and Money — this Summer Participants in UCLA Luskin research effort receive smartphone notifications that help them make smart decisions about electricity usage and avoid peak pricing

Electricity demand fluctuates each day, and consumers who want to unplug during peak times to save money and help the environment now have a new tool at their disposal. Chai Energy, a partner of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, is making real-time energy information a reality for electricity consumers who want to reduce or shift their electricity usage during peak periods when electricity is the most expensive.

In a pilot study funded by a California Energy Commission grant of more than $2 million, UCLA is seeking to understand and identify the most effective demand response program designs for different types of households across the state, depending on social characteristics.

“We want to provide a comprehensive tool that will help customers save money while improving grid reliability, reducing pollution during peak hours, and maybe even preventing blackouts” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

How does the study work? 

The UCLA researchers have partnered with a clean technology company named Chai Energy. “Chai developed a free smartphone application that displays your home daily electricity consumption and provides you with tips on how to better manage your electricity bill,” DeShazo said. This could include knowing when it makes financial sense to replace an old appliance, or simply what time to use it based on electricity prices. Chai has also developed a gateway device that establishes communication between a participant’s smartphone and the smart-meter already installed in his house, allowing users to see real-time energy consumption by individual household appliances.

The UCLA Luskin Center is delivering and testing messages designed to inform Californians about their electricity consumption and provide tips for reducing it. About 10,000 Californians are expected to download the app and participate in the study.

“This large sample will enable researchers to identify the most effective format, timing and content of messages,” said Julien Gattaciecca, project manager and one of the researchers.

How can Californians participate?

The free Chai Energy application can be found by searching for Chai Energy in android or IOS app stores or by visiting chaienergy.com. Those who install the app are automatically enrolled in the study. A free Chai gateway device with a market value of $75 is being randomly distributed to 5,000 participants.

The study is currently available only for customers of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electricity (SDG&E).

 

Luskin Center and the Chai Energy App from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

The video is also available on YouTube.

Giving Microeconomics a Human Face Public Policy professor Manisha Shah’s research bridges a worldwide gap between health, economics and education

By Stan Paul

At age 16, Manisha Shah went to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador — her first chance to dig into “real development work.” The task after a year of fundraising and training? Building latrines in rural communities. Soon after arrival, however, she realized that everyone there “already knew how” to build latrines.

What they actually needed was financing and supplies. “That is what we helped facilitate — paying for and transporting supplies to this faraway town in the middle of the mountains.”

The experience in Ecuador was transformative for Shah, now an associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. It enhanced a developing global view nurtured as a child during family visits to see her grandparents in India, where she saw “poverty all around her.”

Her youthful travels helped put Shah on the path to her career in academia and research around the world — from Mexico to India, Tanzania to Indonesia — and eventually to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Never in a million years would I have predicted that I would be a tenured professor at UCLA,” Shah said. “I feel so lucky to be doing what I love at one of the best universities in the world.”

Getting There

Today, Shah focuses her teaching and research on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development. She is supported by organizations that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

An example of her work is a recent study, “Investing in Human Capital Production: Evidence from India,” that fills a substantial gap in development literature related to whether early-life investments encourage more educational investments later on, whether low-skill wages in rural India increase school dropouts, and whether rural schools produce gains in consumption later in life. The results have widespread implications for family and individual well-being, economic growth and national competitiveness for the country of over a billion people.

Her research affiliations and teaching might suggest otherwise, but Shah’s path was not exactly a straight one. “I don’t think I had a direct route. In fact, it was very indirect,” said Shah, who sought work abroad after earning undergraduate degrees in economics and development
at Berkeley.

“I quickly learned how difficult it is to find a job that will actually pay you to do international work,” she said.

She wound up in a one-year program at the London School of Economics where her master’s thesis in development economics examined HIV/AIDS issues in India and how NGOs were working to fill gaps in countries that were slow to react to potential epidemics.

“This was 1996-97. Getting HIV in a developing country was a death sentence, and so many countries were doing little to publicly acknowledge they even had an HIV problem,” Shah said.

Next was Mexico, and work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Shah is fluent in Spanish, and at the time thought she was “done with school and would never come back,” having achieved her goal of working in international development. “I loved the job.”

But there was a catch.

“I knew I wanted to keep doing this type of work, but I also started to realize that the people calling the shots, raising the money, directing things, all had Ph.D.s,” Shah said. So she spent a year doing the math — literally, taking the calculus, statistics and real analysis coursework she needed for a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. “There was almost no literature in economics on HIV/AIDS,” Shah said of her ongoing interest in the intersection of HIV and economics. “I learned that most interventions in development related to HIV/AIDS often targeted sex workers, as they tend to have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS than the general adult population in most developing countries.”

Shah’s eyes were opened when she learned how many women in developing countries are employed in the sex sector. She saw the implications for public health and noted a lack of serious empirical study, which “began an important area of research for me.”

She recently co-edited the “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” in which more than 40 researchers from around the world compiled and interpreted valuable economic data and research that may help lawmakers and government officials set policy guidelines concerning prostitution worldwide.

“A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens,” she said.

And yes, like the teenager who traveled to Ecuador decades ago, Shah is still interested in sanitation, a core issue at the intersection of human health and economics
in developing countries.

Research and Public Policy

Shah refers to herself as an applied microeconomist interested in development economics, health and education. “Most of my research fits into those bins,” Shah said.

She has written papers on the long-term impacts of positive rainfall shocks as well as drought in India on human capital outcomes of young children and adolescents, and risk-taking behaviors in the wake of natural disasters, as well as the effects of cash transfer programs on criminal behavior in Indonesia. Behind each are human stories of how policies affect large populations.

Shah’s research on HIV and the sex industry has wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of not only adults but also vulnerable young people caught up in prostitution around the world.

“These days most of my work is either related to children or adolescents,” Shah said. “I often joke that my switch to research about children perfectly coincides with my becoming a mother. I remember researching questions about child development when I was pregnant and being surprised about how little we know about many important issues related to child cognitive/health and development.”

Shah is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial in Tanzania attempting to understand how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for teenage girls. “I am really excited about this work,” said Shah, who was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to better understand education outcomes for children in rural India.

After teaching stints at the University of Melbourne, Princeton University and UC Irvine, she joined the Luskin faculty in 2013. Today, she teaches microeconomics, development economics and serves as a faculty adviser for the Applied Policy Project (APP), a challenging yearlong requirement for master of public policy students at Luskin.

“Ironically, I learned in grad school that I actually enjoy teaching, and I was sort of good at it,” she said of her classroom duties. Her research topics are heavy, which could lead to frustration about things that should be happening but don’t. “But spend some time with our students and it will put you in a good mood,” she said.

“Our students make me optimistic, and that optimism can be infectious. I love how our students care so deeply about issues that matter to them.”

 

Memories — and Lessons — from 1992 UCLA Luskin participates in weekend of remembrance 25 years after the Los Angeles riots, examining how the civil unrest changed the city, its institutions and some of the people it impacted most  

By Les Dunseith

Today, Los Angeles is celebrated as an inclusive city known for tolerance, diversity and a welcoming attitude to immigrants from around the globe. Just 25 years ago, however, it was a city seemingly afire with racial distrust, anger and violence.

Things have changed so much for the better since the L.A. riots. Haven’t they?

That question was the focus of a weekend filled with reflection, debate, education and artistic interpretation as the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs joined with several partners to sponsor a series of special events marking the April 29, 1992, anniversary of the start of civil unrest that followed the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of a black man, Rodney King. On that day and for five days to follow, looting, arson and violence led to dozens of deaths and $1 billion in damage in and around South Los Angeles.

The memories of those days vary starkly depending on an individual’s perspective and background, a fact that was highlighted by Dean Gary Segura during his opening remarks at one of the panel discussions co-sponsored by UCLA Luskin as part of Flash Point 2017, which was held on the UCLA campus and in Little Tokyo on April 28-30.

“L.A. uprisings. L.A. civil unrest. L.A. riots. L.A. rebellion. Indeed our very language captures the idea that the perspective that different communities have on the event, and what they understood about its causes and consequences, really depended on where you sat at the moment at which it occurred,” Segura said.

One of those unique perspectives is that of the Asian community, particularly people of Korean descent. Korean immigrants and Korean Americans who could only afford to set up shop in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles owned many businesses in low-income areas that were predominantly black at the time.

“When you look at one specific story out of 1992, the story of Korean Americans is that they are a dynamic community that was undergoing really dramatic demographic and political transformation,” said Taeku Lee, professor of law and political science at UC Berkeley. He was keynote speaker for a session that took place at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center on the opening day of the anniversary series, which was coordinated by the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

In 1992, cultural and language barriers, plus racial mistrust in some cases, had led to simmering resentment among some African Americans toward Koreans. In the riots, resentment turned to rage, and looters and arsonists disproportionately targeted Korean businesses. Today, Lee pointed out, the Korean words for April 29, Sa-I-Gu, hold great cultural and historical significance to all people of Korean descent.

The Korean perspective of the 1992 unrest was also important to Saturday’s events, held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

Segura noted that the enterprise represented an expansion of an ongoing speaker program known as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture series to also include other types of programming on topics of historical and political significance. In this case, the weekend included speeches, panel discussions, art and multimedia exhibits, and the screening of two different films related to the 25th anniversary of the riots.

“The three-day Flash Point program is exactly what I had in mind when I asked to expand the Luskin Lecture Series into a series of public forums, and we at the Luskin School are proud to be a sponsor of this thought-provoking examination of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising,” said Segura during his introduction of filmmaker Dai Sil Kim-Gibson.

Her documentary film, “Wet Sand: Voices from L.A.,” offers a look back at the causes of the riots from the perspectives of various ethnic groups. It also speculates about whether some of those causes linger just below the surface today.

“Things have changed since the 1992 L.A. riot, and the aftermath; I think it stimulated people to think. So racism, overtly, went away a little bit. But the danger was that racism went inside of the people,” Kim-Gibson said during the panel discussion that followed the film. “Overt racism is sometimes easier to deal with than the racism that is inside. So we have to really follow up and talk about what really happened after the L.A. riot and what we still have to do.”

UCLA Luskin’s Abel Valenzuela, professor of urban planning and Chicano studies and director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, moderated the panel discussion.

“From destruction, from ashes, we can see rebirth and growth,” Valenzuela said of the progress that has been made since 1992. “There’s lots to be proud of, though we still have lots of work still to do.”

Only through greater understanding can progress result, said panelist Funmilola Fagbamila, the winter 2017 activist-in-residence at UCLA Luskin. She noted that distrust between blacks and Koreans at the time was often rooted in similar struggles just to survive, to provide for their families.

“We need to talk about unity that addresses the difficulty of power relations among different communities of color,” said Fagbamila, an original member of Black Lives Matter.

“It means looking at the role of anti-blackness in the way in which Korean Americans and Korean immigrants were in conversation with each other during this time. We have to be critical in how we are engaging each other,” she said. “But also loving. Our attitudes need to change in order to change the issues.”

Another panel on Saturday focused on the evolution of communication since 1992 to today’s world in which people with a story to tell can go directly to their audience via YouTube or social media rather than relying on mainstream news outlets.

Panelist Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography and director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, said the media narrative quickly became about interracial and interethnic conflict during the 1992 unrest. The same might not hold true today.

“We are at a slightly different moment. This is perhaps the success of Black Lives Matter,” she speculated, “that it has drawn attention to the ways in which we cannot see these moments of violence as those of individual participants, but we’ve got to see them as structural violence. We’ve got to see this as our liberation being bound up with the liberation of others.”

Today, she said, “even mainstream media has to pay much more careful attention to state violence, in particular police violence, in a way that I do not recall in the 1992 coverage.”

UCLA Luskin also served as sponsor of a screening of the feature film “Gook” on Saturday, during which a packed auditorium of attendees witnessed a fictionalized story of two Korean American brothers, owners of a struggling shoe store who have an unlikely friendship with a streetwise 11-year-old African American girl. Then the Rodney King verdict is read and riots break out.

Filmmaker and lead actor Justin Chon was on hand to introduce his film and answer questions about it. He was joined on stage by cast members and others who participated in the film’s production.

On Sunday, an artist talk in Little Tokyo featured works by Grace Lee, Grace Misoe Lee and Patrick Martinez. Among the works was “Ktown92,” an interactive documentary in process that disrupts and explores the 1992 Los Angeles riots through stories from the greater Koreatown community.

Flash Point 2017 and the weekend’s other events were produced in partnership with the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, UCLA Center for EthnoCommunications, UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, UCLA Department of History, UCLA Institute of American Cultures, UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Visual Communications.

A Crash Course in Politics For MPP alumni, 2016 was a time to run, to rally and, sometimes, to rant

By Stan Paul

At least one ran for office. Another handled a presidential candidate’s digital correspondence. A third harnessed emerging media to further her political activism. It was an election year, after all — a time when Department of Public Policy graduates are even more likely than usual to get engaged in the democratic process.

Recent UCLA Luskin alumnus Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 sought public office by running for and winning a seat on his county school board back home in Fresno.

Esparza, who teaches economics at a community college, sees the role as a perfect fit. “The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district,” said Esparza, who grew up in California’s Central Valley. “I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.”

His political journey began at age 16, he recalls, when a teacher sparked his interest in economics and put him on a path that eventually led to Luskin and on to politics.

“I had a broad desire to understand how the world worked, where the money flowed, why things happened the way they did,” Esparza said. “And economics sounded like it might teach me just that.”

After obtaining what he calls “a sweet fellowship in Sacramento” as an undergrad, Esparza experienced a “crash course” in California politics and public policy.

“And that was it – I was sold,” he said. “My passion was impacting public policy in my home state and home community.”

That led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “My collective experience at Luskin was invaluable,” he said. “It was a place where I could capitalize on my experience and interest in impacting public policy at the state and local level.”

Now he’s ready to show the value of that Luskin degree. “I want to have the ability to point and say, ‘We produce change agents in a wide range of capacities, including elected.’”

Vernessa Shih MPP ’14 spent the 2016 campaign working at Hillary for America in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she served as digital correspondence manager for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Another recent MPP graduate, Vernessa Shih MPP ’14, got a chance to relive one of her favorite student memories — a presidential debate — from an insider’s perspective. Shih spent the 2016 campaign working at Hillary for America in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she served as digital correspondence manager. On any given day, she would respond to people with policy questions, pull content to circulate to the campaign’s digital team or pitch a great story to the speechwriting team for possible inclusion in Hillary Clinton’s remarks.

“It’s still a bit surreal when I think about being on this campaign now,” Shih said as Election Day drew near. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most tired I’ve ever been.”

Shih credits her time at the Luskin School with opportunities to seek and grow in leadership.

“Through working with the Public Policy Department and the Dean’s Office, I felt a great deal of agency to convene opportunities for my class,”

Shih said. “Those were some of my first experiences in project management. I learned a lot from the successes and failures of trying to convene people and resources.”

Shih also said she has been challenged to grow in her understanding of other people’s experiences and the big and small details that affect others’ lives.

“This has been a really challenging year for this country. The one thing that seems to cut through all the static is remembering that everything I am doing is in the hopes of continuing forward progress,” Shih said. She hopes the next generation will “have a more diverse, more open and, hopefully, more equitable future than even I had.”

Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a podcast titled “GoodMuslimBadMuslim,” describes herself as activist, storyteller and politico.

Looking forward is also important to Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who describes herself in three words: activist, storyteller, politico.

But, these labels only scratch the surface of her many creative and empowering efforts. She co-hosts a podcast called “GoodMuslimBadMuslim,” an ongoing discussion on “walking this fine line between what it means to be good and bad” as a Muslim American woman. And she works with the organization 18MillionRising to empower Asian Americans — nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population – to vote.

“We are currently going full force on turning out the vote,” said the Los Angeles-based Ahmed.

Ahmed said she’s helped mobilize thousands of Asian American and Pacific Islanders — representing at least 17 different languages — to go to the polls in the past 15 years.

“I always knew I wanted to leave the world a better place than when I came into it,” said Ahmed, who was honored in September with a Rising Star award by the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Los Angeles (OCA-GLA). The mixed-media artist, essayist and poet explained that vision is what motivated her to work in Washington, D.C. as an environmental organizer starting in 2001. In 2016 Ahmed was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.

Ahmed said she decided to pursue public policy specifically to work on racial justice, which at the time was an underexplored field. Inside and outside of formal classes, she spent time trying to merge what she was learning elsewhere to what she was learning in public policy classes.

“To this day, I take those learnings on racial justice and incorporate it into what I do now.”

Preventing Technology-Facilitated Exploitation

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a panel discussion on May 6 titled, Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age: Preventing Technology-Facilitated Exploitation. Information technology experts, social workers, security administrators, and researchers attended this sixth and final event of the 2013-2014 Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age series. The event featured speakers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC), Microsoft, and Slate.

Ernie Allen, President and CEO of ICMEC, discussed how technology has changed the face of exploitation. He noted that the Internet has made illegal images of children relatively easy to share on a global scale, multiplying what were once isolated incidents. In addition, sexual abuse of children can occur digitally and remotely, using web cameras and accomplices.

Cody Monk, Special Agent at the FBI, agreed, described the Internet as a game changer that has taken away the barrier between victim and offender. Today, the victim and offender are now sometimes connected without the victim even knowing it, he added. The offender-to-offender trading industry of images and video online has also grown tremendously in the last 5-7 years. To address this rapidly evolving problem, Monk stated that the FBI is working with public and private partners to address current trends and to exchange information on how to innovate in preparation for future trends.

One of the important challenges in addressing these issues involves the role of anonymity. For political dissidents and journalists, tools that enable Internet anonymity can play a vital positive role in fostering change and in gathering and disseminating news. However, in the hands of sex offenders, traffickers and other criminals, these same tools can be used for criminal purposes.

Infiltration is a one technique used to identify criminal use of the Internet, but Allen stated that leading law enforcement experts around the world believe it can be time consuming, expensive, and sometimes ineffective. Alternatively, many law enforcement investigators wait for offenders to make a mistake, though, by definition, this means the more careful offenders often escape prosecution.

Adrian Chandley, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, explained that Microsoft’s PhotoDNA software is able to capture information unique to an image in a fingerprint which can then be used to find other copies of the same image even if they have been resized or saved in a different format. PhotoDNA is used by industry, law enforcement and organizations such as ICMEC to identify copies of known illegal images of children, and can assist law enforcement investigators and leading child protection organizations in identifying child pornography victims. Fingerprints of child pornography images are distributed to Microsoft and other Photo DNA users who can then find and remove matching images from their systems. Chandley explained that one major problem for industry was that only fingerprints (or hashes) for images with identifiable victims are made available, and that the much larger set of hashes for all known child abuse images are not. These hashes should be used to prevent users from encountering these images.

Amanda Hess, Staff Writer at Slate, shared a personal story of digital exploitation that exemplified another type of behavior raising complex legal questions. She explained that an anonymous person created a Twitter account dedicated to slandering and making violent threats to her.  Hess had to decide whether to treat this situation as a criminal act, or to simply disregard it as offensive. She decided to call the local police, but they did not ultimately pursue the case.  Part of the issue was blurry jurisdictional lines: the offender was unlikely to live in the same state as Hess, and police would have needed to subpoena Twitter to find out his identity. Hess suggested that perhaps another reason for the lack of action was uncertainty about what constituents illegal online exploitation of women. Nearly everyone recognizes that the exploitation of children is wrong, she said, but sexist content and exploitation of women is part of some social norms, which presents an issue that goes beyond the online space.

Cody Monk explained that experiences like Hess’s, which happen far too often, underscores how critical it is that law enforcement at all levels share information on trends, policy, and technology in order to adequately confront technology-enabled threats in strategic and tactical ways.

Preventing exploitation is critically important, and Ernie Allen expressed his view that the biggest challenge to getting more attention and resources to address this issue preemptively is to educate and inform. Trafficking is often not reported by police and is a problem that the world does not see. An additional challenge, he said, is to convince people to engage in discussions about combating these crimes. Often, corporations and policy makers do not want to think about these unpleasant and horrifying issues. But without addressing the lack of suitable legal repercussions, and without more public education of technology-facilitated exploitation, the problem will only continue to grow.

To learn more about strategies to encourage the growth of the digital economy while preventing the sexual exploitation of children and other criminal activity, see the new REPORT by the Digital Economy Task Force (DETF), which was sponsored by ICMEC and Thomson Reuters and comprised of leading experts from government, the private sector, academia, and think tanks. These experts included Taskforce Co-chair Ernie Allen, John Villasenor of UCLA, and panelist Cody Monk of the FBI. The DETF worked to identify a regulatory framework that fosters the growth of the digital economy, including digital currencies and alternate payment systems, while addressing anonymizing technology and the growth of “deep web” marketplaces that allow illegal commerce.

See Photos from the lecture

Creating a Digitally Fluent Workfoce

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a panel discussion on April 1 titled, Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age: Creating a Digitally Fluent Workforce. Educators, technology policy experts, researchers, students and professors attended this fifth event of the Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age series, which featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Panelists discussed the importance of improving the role of digital literacy and computer science in the K-12 curriculum. They discussed the collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to create innovative programming to address the digital literacy gaps. Additionally, panelists discussed digital fluency in the workforce, and the strong demand for computer science and technology skills in the job market today. The panelists defined digital literacy along a spectrum. Basic knowledge and safe usage of technology is at one end of the spectrum, while the other end is defined by innovation, in which innovators utilize computer programming skills and algorithmic thinking to create in the digital space.

Sarah Holland, Senior Public Policy Analyst at Google, described digital literacy as a universal skill that now applies to virtually everyone. She noted that it requires leveraging existing technology to create and advance new technology. Holland said that digital literacy also means using the internet safely and responsibly, “…security is only as good as the end user, and it is important for people to have basic skills to protect them from malware…they need to know how to use technology in an ethical and responsible way.”

Dr. Jane Margolis, Senior Researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, discussed the significant lack of diversity in the field of computer science. She noted that the underrepresentation of women and people of color in the computer science field stems in part from racial and income inequality. “Relatively few African American and Latino/a high school students receive the kind of institutional encouragement, educational opportunities, and preparation needed for them to choose computer science as a field of study and profession,” she said in her 2011 book Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, and underscored during her comments on the panel. Margolis’ research showed that many schools were “aglow” with technology and computers, but lacked teachers with the training to instruct computer science. This “technology-rich and curriculum-poor” environment can be created when money gets “thrown” at schools without appropriate companion efforts to integrate it meaningfully into the curriculum.

In response, Dr. Todd Ullah, Ed. D., Administrator of Instruction at LAUSD, discussed how digital fluency is a key piece in LAUSD’s strategy to make content accessible to all learners. “The LAUSD district has 80,000 employees, 545,000 students, and is the largest unified school district in the country…what happens in LA has an impact nationally,” said Ullah. The LAUSD began the Common Core State Standards to re-define education in the classroom. The standards encourage students to base arguments on evidence, and to look at claims and defend them across disciplines. As part of the District’s efforts to integrate technology into instruction and incorporate 21st century skills, it has launched the Common Core Technology Project. The Project is a new 1:1 tablet initiative that aims to provide devices to every child in the district.

Lori Harnick, General Manager of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Microsoft, discussed Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, which enables engineers to volunteer to teach computer science in high schools alongside in-class teachers. Started in just several schools in Seattle, the program now has almost 300 volunteers teaching across the U.S. Harnick said that schools have seen very high interest and excitement for computer science programming.

However, there are still major barriers to instituting more computer science courses in public school curricula. Harnick explained that today only 19 states and Washington, D.C. count computer science courses for math and science credits. This means that even if students are taking AP computer science courses, those courses are not fully counted towards graduation. The panelists agreed that education policy has to recognize the importance of computer science in the K-12 curriculum.

 

New Framework Debuts for Preventing Technology-Facilitated Exploitation of Children

The Digital Economy Task Force– sponsored by Thomson Reuters and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) –released its report on the emerging digital economy and recommendations for policy makers, financial institutions, law enforcement and others to encourage its growth while preventing the sexual exploitation of children and other criminal activity. Task force leaders, including Vice Chair John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, released the report at the National Press Club on March 4 and then presented the findings to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on March 5.

The Digital Economy Task Force (DETF), which includes leading experts from government, the private sector, academia, and think tanks, was formed to help address a vitally important question: How can we foster the many benefits that today’s information technologies can offer, while simultaneously preventing those same technologies from being misused to exploit children?

Co-chaired by Ernie Allen, President/CEO of ICMEC, and Steve Rubley, Managing Director of the Government Segment of Thomson Reuters, the DETF worked to identify a regulatory framework that fosters the growth of the digital economy, including digital currencies and alternate payment systems, while addressing anonymizing technology and the growth of “deep web” marketplaces that allow illegal commerce, including money laundering, narcotics, weapons, stolen goods, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, and more.

“The digital economy and anonymizing technology hold great promise and societal value, from offering financial tools to the world’s unbanked, to protecting dissidents and journalists from unjust government reprisal,” said Rubley. “But these benefits are clouded by those who use the digital economy to commit illegal acts. While these are complicated issues, we believe that a regulatory framework can grow the digital economy – and confront those who seek to exploit it for illicit purposes.”

Recommendations from the report include: bolstering research into the intersection of the digital economy and illegal activities; increasing investment in law enforcement training and investigative techniques; enhancing cooperation between governmental agencies; the promotion of a national and global dialogue on policy; and more.

“The central challenge is Internet anonymity. There is an emerging ‘dark web’ that enables users to pay for their illegal transactions using digital currencies,” said Allen. “There is a difference between privacy and anonymity. We simply cannot create an environment in which traffickers and child exploiters can operate online with no risk of being identified unless they make a mistake.”

The DETF aims to educate the public and work collaboratively across stakeholder groups, including government agencies, law enforcement, corporations, academia, public and non-profit agencies, as well as key industry players. Task force members were selected from organizations including, but not limited to:

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Bitcoin Foundation
  • The Brookings Institution
  • Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA
  • Mercatus Center at George Mason University
  • The Tor Project, Inc.
  • United States Secret Service

The DETF launched in August 2013 and developed working groups to address the sweeping impact of these technologies from fostering financial inclusion to combating illicit activities. The focus areas for these groups included safeguarding human rights, regulation, inter-agency coordination and law enforcement.

DETF members John Villasenor, Ernie Allen, and other international experts will speak on the topic of “Preventing Technology-Facilited Exploitation” at the next event in the UCLA Luskin Center hosted Digital Tech series. Click here for more information and to register.

 

When Should The Authors Of Anonymous Online Reviews Be Revealed? Yelp Challenges A Court ‘Unmasking’ Order

Written by John Villasenor, featured on Forbes

On February 6, Yelp filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court challenging an order to provide information about the authors of allegedly defamatory reviews. The case, Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., is one of many in recent years that are forcing the courts to balance the First Amendment rights of anonymous online reviewers against the right of businesses to pursue defamation claims.

Yelp v. Hadeed concerns a set of negative reviews on Yelp that Hadeed believes were not authored by real customers. Hadeed filed a complaint in July 2012, and then subpoenaed Yelp to produce documents containing the “full name, gender, birth date, IP address, or email address” of the authors of the reviews in question. In seeking to compel Yelp to produce the documents, Hadeed invoked a Virginia “unmasking” statute that addresses anonymous communications that “may be tortious or illegal.”

You can read the rest of the article here.