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Technology Use, Exposure to Natural Hazards, and Being Digitally Invisible: Implications for Policy Analytics

January 24, 2018 by Justin Longo, Evan Kuras, Holly Smith, David M. Hondula, Erik Johnston

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Policy analytics combines new data sources, such as from mobile smartphones, Internet of Everything devices, and electronic payment cards, with new data analytics techniques for informing and directing public policy. However, those who do not own these devices may be rendered digitally invisible if data from their daily actions are not captured. We explore the digitally invisible through an exploratory study of homeless individuals in Phoenix, Arizona, in the context of extreme heat exposure. Ten homeless research participants carried a temperature-sensing device during an extreme heat week, with their individually experienced temperatures (IETs) compared to outdoor ambient temperatures. A nonhomeless, digitally connected sample of 10 university students was also observed, with their IETs analyzed in the same way. Surveys of participants complement the temperature measures. We found that homeless individuals and university students interact differently with the physical environment, experiencing substantial differences in individual temperatures relative to outdoor conditions, potentially leading to differentiated health risks and outcomes. They also interact differently with technology, with the homeless having fewer opportunities to benefit from digital services and lower likelihood to generate digital data that might influence policy analytics. Failing to account for these differences may result in biased policy analytics and misdirected policy interventions.