Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge – Feb 21st

| Needham Hurst and Alison Flint


Around the world, cities and citizens are finding new solutions to old problems using emerging technologies. Through cheap sensors, new apps, mobile devices and “smart” streetscapes, technology is opening up new possibilities to transform how we live, work, and play. As students of business and public policy, the challenge we face is how to apply these technical solutions in a way that improves services for citizens but is also cost-effective for governments.

On Saturday, February 21st, technologists, business strategists, policy analysts and designers will converge at Harvard Business School to take on this problem. Teams of students and community members will invent and pitch ideas for challenges faced by two Massachusetts cities. The event, the Global Urban Datafest: Smart Cities Challenge, is one of 20 simultaneous competitions in cities around the world.

The Boston theme is Smart Cities for Small Cities—applying civic tech and Internet of Things concepts to real challenges faced by the City of Holyoke and City of Somerville. Cities have crafted challenges that address critical issues faced by local government:

  • Somerville: What tools can the City of Somerville deploy to empower community stakeholders to participate in data generation to solve difficult policy problems?
  • Holyoke: Using Internet of Things (IoT), civic tech, and other smart cities concepts, how can the City of Holyoke improve the pedestrian experience for residents and visitors?

snowquotesUnlike a traditional hackathon, where students rapidly code new apps and websites, this event aims to leverage the diversity in expertise across graduate schools in Boston. Participants will be asked to combine tools like design thinking and rapid prototyping to create concepts with strong value propositions for both cities and citizens. It’s not just about creating a new app, but rather finding new ways that cities and citizens can apply technology to improve people’s lives.

At the end of the day, teams will present their solutions to a panel of city representatives and other experts. The winners will receive ongoing support and mentorship to implement their ideas, as well as move on to become finalists in the global competition.

Locally, the Tech4 Change student group at Harvard Kennedy School and the Tech Club at Harvard Business School are organizing the event. This year, Alison Flint, a HKS student, and Needham Hurst, a HKS-HBS joint degree student, are spearheading the Smart Cities Challenge at Harvard.

Dates and Details: The hackathon will take place on February 21st at Harvard Business School – Batten Hall. For lead-up events including skills training, expert talks, and networking events, visit our website at

Register now:

Time: 8:30am-6:30pm
Date: Saturday February 21st, 2015
Harvard Business School
Batten Hall – 2nd Floor
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134

Partners and Sponsors:
Microsoft New England
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation – Harvard University
Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy – Harvard University
Booz Allen Hamilton

About the Authors:

Needham Hurst is a joint MPP/MBA candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. You can follow him on Twitter at @the_needhamist.

Alison Flint is a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student and co-chair of the HKS Tech4Change student group. You can follow her @alison_flint.

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