June 2016

7/20 Conversation in Civic Innovation: Financial Transparency and Citizen Engagement

What do municipal governments need to do to go from providing financials tools that build trust to providing tools that helps citizens engage in a meaningful and practical way with issues that concern them but have financial implications that constrain the options?  What would a set of tools that covered the whole financial waterfront – budgets, actuals, future projections, benchmarking, participatory budgeting – look like?

We’re looking to answer these questions — and more — at our July #CivicTechBos event. Join us for our next Conversation in Civic Innovation, set around financial transparency and citizen engagement, on Wednesday, July 20.

Many municipalities are feeling the pressure to be more transparent about finances.  They are looking for tools to make dense financial information accessible to citizens.   Local governments see these tools as a way to build trust with citizens by showing that they use tax dollars efficiently and effectively.

Residents often engage with their local government around financial issues only when an issue comes up that feels like a crisis to them.  Suddenly, decisions they care about deeply are being made and the arguments for and against the choices involve understanding budgets and the budget process.  Often all the information they need is available but hard to find and hard to digest.

Panelists will include:

  • James Milan, producer of Your Arlington Dollar on ACMi (Arlington Community Media Inc.)
  • Mike Herbert, Ashland Town Manager
  • Adam Langley, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Fiscally Standardized Cities database
  • Christopher Dwelley, Co-Lead & Performance Manager, Citywide Analytics Team at City of Boston
  • Curt Savoie, Principal Data Scientist at Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Follow along with the conversation using #CivicTechBos. Register now at this link.

Microsoft GLEAM Takes On Boston Pride 2016

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) ERG proudly celebrates diversity and how far we’ve come in the fight for equality. However, our work doesn’t begin or end in June. GLEAM aligns to Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion initiatives all year long to transform our culture, empower our employees, and expand our talent pipeline.


Microsoft loves Boston — and there’s no better way for us to show that love than in the annual Boston Pride Parade. Held annually on the Saturday of Boston Pride Week, the parade/march is an opportunity for Bostonians of all walks of life to celebrate diversity and equality for all.

IMG_2396This year, on June 11, our Boston chapter of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) headed to Boylston Street with 20 team members to take the nearly 3-mile walk in support of the Boston LGBTQ+ community. With members of our Microsoft Research, Technology and Civic Engagement, and Microsoft Store teams, we walked through Boston Proper with our #HelloPride banner, Microsoft swag (beach balls, whistles, frisbees and more!), and pride to support a strong, diverse community. Plus, our very own Dana (or should we say Data?) Zircher joined us in full Star Trek attire, celebrating Pride with us as Lieutenant Commander Data, our favorite android!

Every year, GLEAM has a Pride presence in various locations around the globe celebrating workplace diversity. We at GLEAM are honored to be invited to the 46th Annual Boston Pride Parade. We have been thankful to join the march year after year and can’t wait for our next parade! But the commitment to diversity doesn’t end there. With GLEAM, we strive to create a supportive employee environment at Microsoft, encouraging other companies to follow suit.

Microsoft Boston Pride 2016

For more pictures of GLEAM at the 2016 Boston Pride Parade, head to our Facebook Page.

Learn more about Microsoft’s actions toward workplace diversity with Microsoft GLEAM here.

The Boston Data Portal: Putting Data in the Hands of Everyday Bostonians

bariIn recent years, digital technology has become ever-present, involved in nearly all aspects of everyday life. And where there is digital technology, there are data. As a society, we are awash in data—what some might call a data deluge. But, just as water converts from a vital resource to a confounding nuisance during a flood, “big data,” as they are sometimes called, are rich sources of information that are largely inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. This is true even here in greater Boston, where cities like Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge have each built portals through which they publish data, offering the public the opportunity to directly analyze the patterns of their own city. Unfortunately, very few citizens are “hackers” or data scientists, and are unable to capitalize on these publicly available data sets in their raw form.

The Boston Area Research Initiative (for which I am the Research Director) is seeking to solve this problem through the Boston Data Portal, a public platform where visitors can browse, download, analyze, and map data describing the people, places, and neighborhoods of Boston. The Boston Data Portal is composed to two parts: the Data Library, which, like a open data portal, is oriented towards data scientists and others who want access to raw data that they will then analyze, visualize, and explore on their own; and BostonMap, an easy-to-use mapping platform where visitors can explore the neighborhoods of Boston from their computer, including visualizations of data from various sources as well as access to other tools, like Google Street View.

BostonMap BARI

The Boston Data Portal features a variety of data. It includes a series of census indicators that BARI has curated. Beyond that, many of the contents have been built through BARI’s efforts to identify novel digital data sources, like administrative records and social media posts, and to unlock the content within them for the purposes of research, policy, and practice. Thanks to a series of partnerships with data-generating entities, particularly the City of Boston, as well as support for graduate student theses and dissertations, BARI has been able to build out the contents of the Boston Data Portal.

Some of the highlights include documentation of all bicycle collisions recorded by Boston Police Department between 2009 and 2012; or maps tracking shifts in ethnicity, labor patterns, and public education between 1880 and 1930. Possibly most notable has been BARI’s effort to construct ecometrics—interpretable measures that describe the physical and social characteristics of a neighborhood—from novel administrative records. For example, BARI publishes annual measures of physical disorder (i.e., graffiti, “broken windows”) and “custodianship” (i.e., care for public spaces) based on 311 records, and of investment and growth based on building permits.

The difference between the Boston Data Portal and a traditional open data portal might be captured in the following metaphor, which I am borrowing from my friend Chris Scranton at Jobcase, Inc. An open data portal is like going into your pantry: you have a substantial set of ingredients at your disposal, but it is up to you to put those things together to make dinner. The Boston Data Portal is more like visiting a restaurant. The raw materials have already been analyzed and prepared in a manner that makes them immediately useful. Policymakers can use them to guide decision-making. Advocacy groups can see clearly the needs of their community. Parents can understand the environment of a neighborhood before they move there, or learn more about the neighborhood in which their children attend school. Teachers of all levels might use it to illustrate the variations of the vity for their students, or to inspire them to learn more about their community.

Releasing data publicly is one thing, but promoting its use is an entirely other. To this end, BARI has undertaken a series of community-based trainings where we are teaching representatives from community organizations how to use the Data Portal to better understand and advocate for their constituencies. The trainings also include a conversation about how the data are useful, and what other content might be valuable, so that we can continue to build the Boston Data Portal to fit the needs of local communities. We have started with community organizations because they are the entities that work directly with communities. Our goal is to partner with some of these organizations to hold future trainings that are even closer to grassroots of the city, so that we can fulfill our goal of putting data in the hands of everyday Bostonians.

For more information, head to our online resources at BARI’s website and the Dataverse.

If you represent a community organization that would like to participate in an upcoming training, please contact Chelsea Farrell, the project manager for the community-based trainings, at farrell.che@husky.neu.edu.

Fellow Profile: Aaron Myran

aaronmyran_1455034528_97Name: Aaron Myran

Where are you from? I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

School/grade/major: I did my undergrad at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada where I studied biology.  I’m going into my second year of grad school at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Last thing you searched on Bing: Warriors – Cavs NBA finals predictions.

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? I’m passionate about making an impact at organizations through building software and improving access to data.  Before grad school, I worked as the Deputy CTO at a political action organization and got a good taste of developing technology tools for my organization.  I wanted to explore how a global tech leader provides software as a service to make their users more innovative.  Microsoft is really leading in this space at the city and national level.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New England? I’m working with a couple of civic organizations in the Boston area to develop performance data tools and data visualizations/dashboards using some of Microsoft’s technology stack like Power Bi.  I’m putting together some video tutorials on the process to make the development process open and replicable.

What excites you about civic tech? I’m not always sure that the next hip ‘app’ is really making anyone’s lives any better.  I like that there’s a pretty concrete theory of change behind civic technology:  The government provides a bunch of important services (education, transit, voting).  Civic tech makes these services more innovate or efficient using technology and validates their efficacy.

#Recap — The 2016 Boston Civic Media Consortium

How can we design media and technology to make a difference?

Last Friday, the Boston Civic Media Consortium held their 2nd annual conference—this year, focused on Technology, Design and Social Impact—to examine that question. Held at NERD and sponsored by Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team, the conference brought together 200 Boston-based attendees from academia, community organizations, government and other stakeholders.

The energy was high as attendees participated in a diverse agenda, including four different tracks examining the role of civic media: civic art, inclusion and engagement, media literacy, and systems and advocacy. Much of the day was hands-on, with workshops in areas as diverse as accessibility tools, the Boston Data Portal and civics in the classroom. Lightning talks across the civic media space provided opportunities for the audience to hear in a bite-size fashion from diverse stakeholders working in media, city and state government, universities and advocacy roles. And because it wouldn’t be a conference without a panel or two, the day included those as well, on designing for inclusivity and service learning centers.

The end of the day celebrated the release of the newly-published bookCivic Media: Technology, Design, Practice”, with presentations from a number of the authors and essayists, including Eric Gordon, Paul Mihailidis, Ethan Zuckerman, Sarah Williams and Catherine D’Ignazio.

Microsoft New England is honored to play a role in convening, sharing and celebrating the depth and the interconnectedness of the Boston civic space, and look forward to next year’s event!

Sign up for the quarterly newsletter to learn about network-wide highlights and announcements!

Sign up for the listserv (currently around 1 email per week from community members) to post your events, proposals, internships and similar announcements.

Visit the Boston Civic Media Hackpad for live notes from the consortium here.

Microsoft New England Hosts Humanitarian Toolbox Codeathon


On June 18th 2016, Microsoft New England will be hosting a codeathon for Humanitarian Toolbox. The Humanitarian Toolbox is a charity supporting disaster relief organizations with open source software and services. They are a group of developers, designers, testers, and industry professionals who want to contribute their unique skills in disaster relief aid. Whether it is through creating apps that map the spread of disease or maintaining software that helps to optimize the delivery of relief supplies, Humanitarian Toolbox has a goal of creating software and programs for relief organizations to have ready in times of need.

At the codeathon in June the Boston developer community will come together to work on the Crisis Checkin application. Crisis Checkin is the “first responder’s phone book” and was developed to make it easier for coordinators and leaders at disaster sites to manage and deploy people to more effectively provide relief to those affected. Crisis Checkin is being developed with several scenarios in mind, but one of our primary use cases was defined and tested as part of Operation Dragon Fire, which focuses on enabling data sharing during disasters and medical emergencies.

In May, the CDC and San Mateo County Health System conducted “Silver Dragon X”, a full scale exercise to increase public health and safety readiness to respond to a health-related emergency.  The exercise tested fire departments and community volunteer response teams to conduct door-to-door inspections and deliver key information in the community within a designated period of time.  As part of the exercise, Crisis Checkin was tested at two field locations.

With 76 contributors and 839 commits, this is a real project that is being actively developed and helps solve real world problems. Learn more about the history of the project from the Humanitarian Toolbox President Bill Wagner in an interview on the project.

If you are interest in helping out and can’t attend the codeathon on June 18th, you can always head over to the GitHub Repository, find a starter issue and start contributing. Not a developer? You can also donate contribute by donating at http://www.htbox.org/donate.

Sign up for the codeathon at the event page and learn more about the project at http://www.htbox.org/.

Free Summer Camps at Your Local Microsoft Store

As schools throughout the New England area begin their summer breaks, so begins the worry of summer boredom and infamous brain drain affecting kids this summer. But just because it is summer doesn’t mean the learning has to take a break (or kids have to give up their summer fun) — Microsoft Stores are here to help with free summer programming offered all season long.

It’s no surprise that STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math – is growing increasingly popular in interest and is necessary to be integrated throughout a child’s education to be most effective. With YouthSpark Summer Camps offered at Microsoft Stores located in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, kids this summer will have the opportunity to learn how to code while having fun by building their own video games, and how to develop, package and pitch their own business ideas through new camps taught by Microsoft’s in-store technology experts:

  • Kodu Makerspace – Kids age 8 to 11 can create rich and exciting games with Kodu Game Lab in this beginner-level camp. Kids learn coding fundamentals and how to build games in a fun, hands-on environment that fosters creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. 
  • Learn to Code Flatverse – Recommended for kids 12 and older, students can build a Flatverse game using TouchDevelop in this intermediate-level camp. Kids learn coding fundamentals, then get hands-on instruction on how to read and write basic code themselves.
  • Start Your Own Business – Offers entrepreneurial kids the knowledge, tools and support to make their business idea a reality. Kids will learn key concepts from testing their product or idea to protecting it, and receive training on how to create their own business pitch. All graduates will leave with a basic business plan and polished pitch, and the opportunity to present their idea to local entrepreneurs. This camp is for students 13 and older.

Registration for these classes just opened and they fill up fast. Get more details on each camp and register at microsoftstore.com/summercamps or microsoftstore.com/locations.

Join Us at the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum


It’s time for civic tech, democracy, and collaboration. Next week, we’re embarking to NYC for the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum at NYU Skirball. Hosted by Personal Democracy Media, the annual conference brings together bright minds in the field of technology, politics, community, journalism, and academics for workshops, panels, talks, and more. Over two days, these talks explore the growing intersection between tech and societal building, showing how tech helps bring the future forward.

This year, we’re excited to have plenty of Microsoft team members on board to contribute to the conversation. Here are some guest speakers directly from Microsoft:

    • Annmarie Levins, General Manager of Technology & Civic Engagement, Microsoft:
      • Community Partnership Models for Civic Tech (moderator)
    • Kate Crawford, Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research:
      • Know Your Terrorist Credit Score
    • Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology, Microsoft New York:
      • Introducing the Civic Tech Field Guide
      • Civic features: When Platforms Do Public Good (moderator)
    • Betsy Aoki, Senior Program Manager, Bing Elections:
      • Civic features: When Platforms Do Public Good

We’ll be tweeting along on @MicrosoftNY, @MicrosoftSV, @MSNewEngland, and @MSFTChicago using #PDF16, but we encourage you to join us! Register now for last-chance tickets here.

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events This June

MSNE-June-EventsIt’s finally June! We’re getting ready for summer with these events you don’t want to miss this month:

June 2

Youth CITIES First Annual Retrospective

Join Youth CITIES to both help us celebrate our last 7 years and help forge our way forward. Meet and mingle with the new wave of young entrepreneurial thought-leaders.  Get a glimpse of what will be in store for the future, the one they will be building in ways we aren’t even aware of yet.

Youth CITIES is a nonprofit organization preparing the next generation to become entrepreneurial leaders in their area of passion, permeating all areas whether startups, corporations, philanthropy, or government.  We are changing the way young people look and think about problems, limitations, and obstacles…associating them as just design constraints within endless opportunities for change.

Meet our alumni students and learn how an entrepreneurial mindset has opened new possibilities and transformed their way of thinking, and find out what big plans they have for the future.

With Special Guests:

  • Toni Oloko, Youth CITIES alum
  • Rayza Carrasco, Youth CITIES alum
  • Jeff Fagnan, Founder and General Partner, Accomplice
  • Tito Jackson, Boston City Councillor

Hosted by: Youth CITIES Board of Directors

  • Vicky Wu Davis, Founder
  • Dan Ross, Chair
  • Aimee Sprung
  • Alex Finkelstein
  • Andy Miller
  • Chris Wolfel
  • David Birnbach
  • Dougan Sherwood
  • Kathy Huber
  • Leland Cheung
  • Steve Willis
  • Tito Jackson
  • Tom O’Donnell
  • Toni Oloko
  • Vivjan Myrto

June 3
DigiGirlz and DigiCamp Day Hartford

Microsoft is proud to offer technology programs that target youth. This one-day event, held at multiple Microsoft locations worldwide, is designed to provide high schoolers with a better understanding of what a career in technology is all about.
During the event, students interact with Microsoft employees and managers to gain exposure to careers in business and technology and to get an inside look at what it’s like to work at Microsoft. This exciting event provides girls with career planning assistance, information about technology and business roles, thought-provoking exercises, and interesting Microsoft product demonstrations. By participating in the Microsoft DigiGirlz and Digicamp Day, youth can find out about the variety of opportunities available in the high-tech industry and can explore future career paths.

June 4, 5

National Day of Civic Hacking

Join the Code for America Brigades and Secondmuse this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking on June 4th, 2016 in collaboration with a number of federal government agencies.

National Day of Civic Hacking is a nationwide day of action where developers, government employees, designers, journalists, data scientists, non-profit employees, UX designers, and residents who care about their communities come together to host civic tech events leveraging their skills to help their community.

June 10

Boston Civic Media presents: Technology, Design and Social Impact

Boston Civic Media invites you to the 2nd annual conference on Design, Technology, and Social Impact featuring our Keynote Speaker Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley. Ayanna was first elected to the Boston City Council on November 3, 2009, becoming the first woman of color ever elected to the Council. She has a relentless determination to advance a political agenda focused on women and girls, building healthy communities, and breaking cycles of poverty, violence, and trauma. We are pleased to have her set the stage for conference participants, including- civic media designers, researchers, technologists, and community members.

Last year, Boston Civic Media was launched after a convening on Metrics and Methods where we discussed the barriers, opportunities, and foundational goals of civic media research. This year we’re back with a full day of learning, celebrating, and community-building! We are thrilled to invite you to:

  • Meet community leaders, techies, city officials, journalists, designers, academics, students, and more who are passionate about using media and technology for the common good
  • Listen to lightning talks on topics ranging from civic technology case studies to best practices for community collaboration
  • Participate in workshops on topics such as facilitation, design-research, and media strategies for social change

The schedule of the day includes 4 tracks consisting of Civic Art, Media Literacy, Systems and Advocacy, and Engagement and Inclusion.

June 11

BPS Robotics Olympics

The BPS Robotics Olympics is an annual robotics competition hosted by Boston Public Schools for BPS schools and students. Each year approximately 200 students from all grade levels (K-12), their parents, and teachers attend this event which features robotics challenges for all ages.

June 14 & 16

The Collaborative & The Classy Awards

Have you ever wondered, with all the amazing conferences that exist for nonprofits, why there isn’t one that puts the do-ers, the innovators, the YOU’s of the world, at the forefront? Well, we have too!

The Collaborative is designed with a single purpose—to bring the social innovators hustling for world change together to share their stories in an exciting atmosphere of learning, discovery, and collaboration. Come, join us at the Collaborative, the premier showcase for leaders of innovation and the do-ers that make their visions possible.

June 15


Celebrate creativity and community at the MFA’s fourth annual Juneteenth event—the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. See works by local visual, fashion, and performance artists; join a tour or talk to learn about works acquired through the MFA’s Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection; and catch a screening from this year’s Roxbury International Film Festival—the largest New England film festival dedicated to celebrating films by, for, and about people of color.

June 16

Boston TechJam

Massachusetts has the world’s greatest concentration of entrepreneurs, emerging and leading tech companies, top-tier academic institutions and students, world-class venture capitalists, incubators, and an eco-system of supporting service providers. There is no better place on earth to launch and scale innovative ideas that tackle the toughest challenges. We’re about real and meaningful innovations that change the world.

June 21

Roxbury Innovation Center Café Night

The monthly Café Nights @ RIC are energetic and dynamic events where innovators and entrepreneurs can find one another and collaborate to bring their dreams to reality.

These regular gatherings provide a space for conversations and scheduled programs to inspire a wide range of attendees from different backgrounds and industries to connect, share ideas, and grow their ventures. The Café is open to all members of the innovation community—stop by to try it out.

The June Café will highlight Food Entrepreneurs.