Daniel O'Brien

Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, and Criminology and Criminal Justice, Northeastern University
Co-Director, Boston Area Research Initiative, Harvard University
Chapter Member: Boston SSN

Connect with Daniel

About Daniel

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.


How Broken Windows Do —and Do Not— Matter

How Citizen Attachment to Neighborhoods Helps to Improve Municipal Services and Public Spaces

  • Daniel O'Brien
  • Jessica Baldwin-Philippi
  • Melissa Sands
  • Eric Gordon

In the News

Daniel O'Brien quoted by Kathleen McKiernan, "Liz Warren Set to Endorse Mayor Walsh in Big Blow to Tito Jackson" Boston Herald, October 15, 2017.
Daniel O'Brien quoted on Boston’c CityScore program by Meghan E. Irons, "City Hall is Always above Average – If You Ask City Hall" Boston Globe, August 17, 2016.
Daniel O'Brien's research on the efficacy of Boston-area police practices discussed by Catherine Cloutier, "Study Questions ‘Broken Windows’ Theory of Policing," Boston Globe, September 11, 2015.
Daniel O'Brien's research on neighborhood disorder discussed by Richard Florida, "Private Conflict, Not Broken Windows," The Atlantic’s City Lab, August 24, 2015.
Guest to discuss broken windows policing on WBUR, Daniel O'Brien, August 18, 2015.
Daniel O'Brien's research on behaviors of individuals within neighborhoods discussed by Glenn Geher, "Custodians of the Neighborhood," Psychology Today, April 1, 2015.
Daniel O'Brien's research on data-mapping bike collisions discussed by Mikaela Lefrak, "Cyclists Beware: This New Map Shows ‘Bike Crash Hotspots’ across Boston," Boston.com, June 19, 2014.
Daniel O'Brien's research on using big data to test policing policies discussed by David Scharfenberg, "Big Data Comes to Boston’s Neighborhoods," WBUR, July 3, 2013.


"Ecometrics in the Age of Big Data: Measuring and Assessing “Broken Windows” Using Administrative Records" (with Robert J. Sampson and Christopher Winship). Sociological Methodology 45, no. 1 (2015): 101-147.

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.

"311 Hotlines, Territoriality, and the Collaborative Maintenance of the Urban Commons: Examining the Intersection of a Coproduction Policy and Evolved Human Behavior" Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences 10 (2016): 123-141.

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.

"The Other Side of the Broken Window: A Methodology That Translates Building Permits into an Ecometric of Investment by Community Members" (with Barrett Montgomery). American Journal of Community Psychology 55, no. 1 (2015): 25-36.

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.

"Public and Private Spheres of Neighborhood Disorder: Assessing Pathways to Violence Using Large-Scale Digital Records" (with Robert J. Sampson). Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 52, no. 4 (2015): 486-510.

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.

"Broken Windows and Low Adolescent Prosociality: Not Cause and Consequence, but Co-Symptoms of Low Collective Efficacy" (with Richard A. Kaufman). American Journal of Community Psychology 51, no. 3 (2013): 359-369.

Examines the relationship of adolescent prosociality and neighborhoods with greater physical disorder.

"Uncharted Territoriality in Coproduction: The Motivations for 311 Reporting" (with Dietmar Offenhuber, Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, Melissa Sands, and and Eric Gordon). Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory (online first, August 2016).

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.