Areas of Expertise & Civic Involvements
O’Brien’s work focuses on the ways that modern digital data (i.e., “Big Data”) can be used to study a range of urban phenomena, in particular the social and behavioral dynamics of neighborhoods. In addition to his own research, he actively promotes and fosters similar work in his role as Co-Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative, bringing together researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to collaborate around the use of modern digital data and technology to better understand and serve cities. He is also an active member of the MetroLab Network, a White House-sponsored national consortium of city-university partnerships.
Takes an applied evolutionary approach to understanding the motivations underlying constituent participation in the process of coproduction, where government and residents join in the collaborative maintenance of the urban commons, positing that reporting an issue in the public space via a 311 line is reflective of territoriality – that is, to feel ownership for spaces and objects.
Describes a social escalation model where future disorder and crime emerge not from public cues but from private disorder within the community, demonstrating how “big data” from administrative records, when properly measured and interpreted, represent a growing resource for studying neighborhood change.
Illustrates the challenges of converting large-scale electronic collections of administrative data into research-relevant measures for tracking neighborhood characteristics through an examination of data compiled from Boston’s 311 program.
Presents a methodology that translates a database of approved building permits into an ecometric of investment by community members, establishing basic content, criteria for reliability, and construct validity.
Examines the relationship of adolescent prosociality and neighborhoods with greater physical disorder.
Uses 311 systems as a case study to explore what motivates civic participation among constituents, comparing the public-as-citizen model and the public-as-partner model to show that motivations for coproduction are more diverse than previous assessments have assumed.