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ASU, smart-region partners collaborate with Mastercard to provide crucial spending data

By

Nicole Almond Anderson

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is playing a leading role through its Center for Law, Science and Innovation in Greater Phoenix’s push to become a top tech-driven “smart region.”

Renowned for being nimble and keeping pace with rapid science and technology developments, the center is helping to address extraordinary legal and regulatory questions that accompany innovation. Those challenges are exemplified as regional leaders embrace the promise of smart technology.

“Smart cities have so many legal elements that need to be thoughtfully addressed, and the governance of the technology, data and their development is fundamental to their success,” said Diana Bowman, the associate dean for international engagement at ASU Law and a Center for Law, Science and Innovation faculty fellow. “Here at ASU Law, we have rolled out a substantive program of work around smart cities that includes, for example, thinking about everything from data governance, procurement and certification. And ASU Law students are at the very center of all of this work.”

Bowman, who also serves as co-director for the Center for Smart Cities and Regions, is helping to lead ASU’s efforts in various smart-city initiatives, including analyzing data designed to help governments better navigate economic challenges resulting from COVID-19. As federal, state and local leaders deal with rapidly evolving budget challenges, the need for timely economic data is acute. Co-founded by ASU, a recently launched smart-region initiative called The Connective is bringing onboard Mastercard to provide timely economic data that helps inform budget decisions and policymaking.

The Connective is a collaboration of ASU, the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Institute for Digital Progress and the Partnership for Economic Innovation. Although the work is inherently multifaceted and complex, The Connective’s overarching goal is simple: to work together in implementing technology to improve the quality of life for people living and working in the Greater Phoenix region.

The Connective is part of Mastercard’s City Possible initiative that is also designed to foster collaboration in advancing urban development. In April, Mastercard entered into an agreement with The Connective, which sits under the Partnership for Economic Innovation's umbrella, to provide free access to weekly spending data through its Mastercard Retail Location Insights portal.

Bowman is ASU’s lead on The Connective and one of five members of the public-private partnership’s Leadership Council. She said the partnership is providing local governments with resources they otherwise wouldn’t have, including Mastercard’s nearly real-time sales data.

“Cities, towns and counties throughout the Phoenix region are going into their budget cycles knowing they’re facing a decrease in funds available, but many are flying blind in trying to make projections,” Bowman said. “Our ability to access Mastercard data on retail spending within the region, and the state, across multiple categories on a weekly cadence provides an additional tool to help our cities and towns with their budgeting process.”

Bowman said the information covers brick-and-mortar spending by sectors such as dining, groceries, apparel, fuel and accommodations; can identify whether consumers are domestic or international; and pinpoints information by precise location, down to the city block. Historical data is also provided for context and year-over-year comparisons.

She adds it’s a useful resource meant to complement other items in the economic forecasting toolbox.

“When put together with other data sets, which is what we're doing, it will allow us to have a better sense of what budgets will need to look like and help our cities and towns in terms of their planning,” Bowman said. “Where are they going to need to make cuts? If they're looking at a 10% decrease in next year’s budget, what are the programs or areas that they can cut so they can have a better plan going into that next cycle?”

To help analyze, use and disseminate the information, faculty and interns from ASU Law, ASU’s L. William Seidman Research Institute in the W. P. Carey School of Business, and ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management have formed a team to work with the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Arizona Commerce Authority and other industry and public-sector partners this summer. The collaborative effort is called the COVID-19 Economic Modeling Project.

Thunderbird Dean Sanjeev Khagram says the project will make use of valuable data that, when combined with other publicly available resources, will help governments and businesses chart a path through a remarkably challenging time.

“A big part of the data revolution is the real-time, dynamic, disaggregated data that we have available now, and when we take this data set that Mastercard has made available or others and start to triangulate it with geospatial data, ongoing data, it's going to help the public sector make better decisions,” Khagram said. “And we are going through a pretty dramatic transformation in our economy. This data can inform on consumer preferences and behavior, so this is valuable to the private sector as well.”

He said the project affords ASU and other academic institutions a continuing opportunity to be strong partners in community development. He is hopeful the modeling project can grow into a long-term partnership following this summer’s efforts.

“For us, the data has multiple purposes,” Khagram said. “We hope it will empower decision-making based on what’s best for citizens. How do we make sure that the priorities of citizens are being translated into good public policy as well as private-sector decisions that are a win-win for the entire community?”

Chris Camacho, Greater Phoenix Economic Council's president and CEO, is a leading voice for the region’s private sector. He says the partnership is an example of the region’s cooperative potential and provides great insights into Arizona’s state sales tax — the transaction privilege tax (TPT) — which is technically assessed to the seller and is revenue that plays a critical role in government budgets.

“The COVID-19 Economic Modeling Project is indicative of greater Phoenix’s ability to collaborate across public and private sectors to establish innovative, quantifiable and impactful solutions to complex economic challenges presented as a result of the pandemic,” he said. “Mastercard providing access to its MRLI platform will enable communities to more accurately forecast COVID-19’s impact on the TPT base and associated budgets. This actionable data supports the development of strategies that can accelerate greater Phoenix’s recovery."

Khagram agrees, noting the modeling project and The Connective are wonderful examples of the type of multistakeholder partnerships spanning public and private sectors that ASU aims to help facilitate.

“We see this as a model showcase and a demonstration of what’s possible,” he said. “And it provides a great opportunity for our students, both undergraduate and graduate, for an internship that utilizes their skills, provides a professionally fulfilling experience and also allows them to make a positive difference during this particularly difficult time that we’re all living through.”

Which aligns perfectly with the mission of Thunderbird and ASU at large.

“We are always working to advance the public good,” Khagram added. “This allows us to make a positive difference and ensure that we advance sustainable and equitable prosperity for everyone.”