American Sociological Association

Ecometrics in the Age of Big Data: Measuring and Assessing "Broken Windows" Using Large-scale Administrative Records

The collection of large-scale administrative records in electronic form by many cities provides a new opportunity for the measurement and longitudinal tracking of neighborhood characteristics, but one that will require novel methodologies that convert such data into research-relevant measures. The authors illustrate these challenges by developing measures of "broken windows" from Boston’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system (aka 311 hotline). A 16-month archive of the CRM database contains more than 300,000 address-based requests for city services, many of which reference physical incivilities (e.g., graffiti removal). The authors carry out three ecometric analyses, each building on the previous one. Analysis 1 examines the content of the measure, identifying 28 items that constitute two independent constructs, private neglect and public denigration. Analysis 2 assesses the validity of the measure by using investigator-initiated neighborhood audits to examine the "civic response rate" across neighborhoods. Indicators of civic response were then extracted from the CRM database so that measurement adjustments could be automated. These adjustments were calibrated against measures of litter from the objective audits. Analysis 3 examines the reliability of the composite measure of physical disorder at different spatiotemporal windows, finding that census tracts can be measured at two-month intervals and census block groups at six-month intervals. The final measures are highly detailed, can be tracked longitudinally, and are virtually costless. This framework thus provides an example of how new forms of large-scale administrative data can yield ecometric measurement for urban science while illustrating the methodological challenges that must be addressed.


O'Brien, D. T., Sampson, R. J., Winship, C.





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