Making tech work for people: Six tools and technology driving urban inclusion

December 3, 2020 | By Sophie Hares

In cities around the world, the health, social and economic impact of the pandemic are not impacting everyone equally. The harsh reality is that historically excluded groups, essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, and schoolchildren without access to WiFi, for example, are among the hardest hit.

Now as they look to hit the reset button, cities are using cutting-edge digital tools and complex data-driven insights that will expand city services and make smarter investments that ensure that all communities thrive.


Using data to prioritize investment

Inclusive Growth Score

This score, from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, pulls data from the U.S. census and open source data, such as figures on healthcare coverage or early education enrollment, and melds that with Mastercard’s aggregated and anonymized transaction information. The result: a snapshot of how communities are faring. By showing where inequalities are most prominent, the score helps show where investments are most needed.

In downtown Erie, Pennsylvania, the Inclusive Growth Score helped show investors the potential of injecting money into the once-downtrodden neighborhood. Despite high levels of poverty, data showed per capita spending was on the rise as consumers from around the city came to the downtown area.

Once known as a food desert with few fresh food options, downtown Erie will now see a full-service grocery store, butcher and distillery open next year as part of a $22 million project designed to grow jobs and help women and minority-owned businesses.

Using data to prioritize investment

Mastercard City Insights

Mastercard’s digital marketplace provides access to different tools and partner solutions in a unique store-like experience to help inform urban development. One tool contains anonymized spending data paired with geospatial locations within a city. These data-driven insights tools were designed for cities with input from cities as well as industry leaders and Mastercard data scientists, and are currently being used by more than 50 state and local governments.

In London, policymakers used the Mastercard City Insights tool GeoInsights to target recovery funds toward High Streets (the U.K. equivalent of Main Streets) struggling economically during the pandemic. For instance, city leaders could see reduced air travel had harmed the neighborhood near Heathrow and had clear insights into how the financial district had been impacted with more people working from home. This snapshot into economic health of a specific neighborhood enabled targeted investment and recovery efforts.

Using data to prioritize investment

Mobility Pathways

Designed by the Brookings Institution’s Workforce of the Future initiative to create resilient economies, this tool helps promote upward movement in the workplace while illustrating industries and training paths in which cities and businesses should consider investing.

Drawing on data from hundreds of thousands of job transitions, the Mobility Pathways tool  shows opportunities, wages and demand for more than 400 occupations in cities across the United States. If an occupation has a higher ranking in the mobility index, it means people working in those roles often move to better-paying jobs than others at the same wage level. For businesses, it’s a useful tool to find workers who can be trained and upskilled to fill new positions, workers whose skillsets perhaps did not seem relevant or transferable initially.

In Boise, Idaho, for example, the city’s plan to switch to 100% renewable energy could generate a number of jobs for wind turbine technicians. Mobile Pathways data indicates that reskilling people, such as construction workers or truck drivers, to fill the new jobs would boost employment prospects as well as Boise’s economic development.

Harnessing sentiment to inform priorities


Run by a team of self-confessed “urban geeks,” ZenCity wants its artificial intelligence-driven platform to help improve cities and ultimately make them better places to live.

ZenCity gathers vast quantities of data from millions of resident “touchpoints” – such as city websites, social and local media. It translates that information using AI and machine learning into data-driven insights that enable cities to prioritize and track initiatives while better connecting with residents.

Earlier this year, the city of Austin, Texas worked with ZenCity to analyze residents’ concerns about how its homeless population would be affected by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

After tracking social media comments using ZenCity’s AI tools, city authorities decided to change their messaging to emphasize how they would support homeless people and better protect all of Austin during the pandemic.

Enabling access to opportunities and services

Spatial Equity Data Tool

Focused on highlighting geographic and demographic disparities in city-level data, the tool from the Urban Institute makes it easier for cities to visualize who has access services such as WiFi hotspots, greenspaces or bike sharing schemes.

Users can upload any local dataset with point locations, which the Spatial Equity Data Tool will combine with U.S. Census data to compute geographic and demographic disparity scores. These scores help policymakers decide where the greatest needs are and where best to invest to drive inclusivity. For communities, the Spatial Equity Tool analysis can help them advocate for more resources to help those most in need.

In New York City, for example, the tool shows that public WiFi hotspots are concentrated in  affluent Manhattan neighborhoods with more white residents while school-aged children and Black and Latinx residents in other parts of the city tend to be underserved.

Enabling access to opportunities and services

Mastercard City Key

Mastercard City Key combines payment functionality and access to city services into a single card, which is proving invaluable to cities as they try to expand city programs to support their hard to reach residents.

As a result, residents can have one digital solution to pay bills, access city services and pay for public transit. It's an innovative way of turning financial services into infrastructure for cities, offering  convenience and security to residents and  operational efficiencies and lower administrative costs  for city leaders. It can help people over the longer term to build up a credit history and provide a way for unbanked or underbanked people to enter the formal economy.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, authorities are currently handing out thousands of pre-loaded debit cards to people struggling to buy food during the pandemic. In the future, the climate-vulnerable city wants to use Mastercard City Key cards to help people stock up on food and supplies ahead of approaching hurricanes.

Sophie Hares, Contributor