Thank you for the incredible welcome to the community. The follow-up from all of you after my first blog has been remarkable. I’ve had the chance to meet with many of you face-to-face, as well as connect with others of you virtually. I’ve appreciated the discussions with you, the connections you’ve shared with me and your thoughts on my new job. The mission of the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center New England (MIPC-NE)—to connect stakeholders, catalyze conversations and contribute to Boston—has resonated with many of you, and I look forward to more of your input on our work.
So what have I learned over these last four months?
First: the tech community—or perhaps more broadly, the innovation community—here cares about this town, this region, and their neighbors. The community is mindful that with the benefits that come with a tech boom, as we’ve seen in this region, there’s also the responsibility to take care of those not directly benefiting. In many forums and events focused on innovation, we’ve discussed the topics of income inequality and the impact of gentrification, followed by how the tech community can contribute.
People also understand that technology, while a paradigm shifter in many aspects, is really just a tool to solve *human* challenges and provide *human* opportunities. We can’t focus on technology for technology’s sake; rather, we need to start with the problems we’re trying to solve with that technology. We need to ensure we get out of the echo chamber that the tech community can sometimes be, and connect with those people who understand community challenges and opportunities.
Finally, there’s some concern in the community with how we create sustainable and repeatable solutions that are accessible to a diverse cross-section of the population. In the tech space, we often talk at the highest and most abstract levels about societal and community challenges, but at the same time we provide one-off technical solutions that our community partners struggle to use or maintain over time.
With all of the above in mind, there is an opportunity for the tech community to come together and coalesce behind scoping and creating solutions that solve city challenges. This concept of “civic technology” is not a new one, and there are a number of organizations working hard in this space. Most notable are our colleagues at the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, who live and breathe civic technology. The Code for Boston group focuses on community-based civic innovation as well, and in fact will be holding a CodeAcross: Boston 2014 event tomorrow at NERD, focused on civic hacking. I’ve heard a lot of energy in my conversations with people in startups, big companies, co-working spaces and government on this topic. There’s clearly passion to develop civic solutions throughout the ecosystem, to help solve a city’s problems.
We here at the MIPC-NE look forward to joining the effort in civic tech and are taking a few immediate steps to help move the conversation forward:
- You may have seen that MassChallenge announced a new Microsoft-sponsored sidecar prize in technology and civic engagement for the 2014 Accelerator. As the first corporate sponsor of Mass Challenge, we look forward to deepening our partnership with this prize and seeing the creative solutions that will emerge as part of the process. Applications are open! If you have a civic tech solution, apply for the 2014 MassChallenge accelerator here.
- We will host a panel March 27th on this topic at NERD. While we’re still working on the specifics, there’s great interest in the community and we’re excited to start this conversation with everyone.
- And because communities convene in a number of ways that aren’t always face-to-face, we’re looking into how we can convene the community virtually.
- We’re also initiating conversations with diverse stakeholders across the city to determine how Microsoft can best contribute to the civic technology space.
And with that final point, here’s where I’d like to open the conversation up to you: what are your thoughts on civic technology? What are the problems the tech community should focus on? How do we create a sustainable approach to civic technology? How can Microsoft be involved?
I look forward to continuing this conversation with all of you.
You can follow Cathy on Twitter at @cathywissink to keep up with her latest #civictech work.
Tags: Boston, cambridge, Civic Engagement, Civic Tech, Civic Technology, Code for Boston, CodeAcross, Community, innovation, masschallenge, Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center New England, MIPC-NE, New Urban Mechanics, tech, technology