January 2017

Working Forward: Shannon Felton Spence, Brown University Master of Public Affairs Candidate

I always knew I wanted to grow up to be a part of the bigger picture. It is a privilege to be part of a community, and the power of the human connection is what makes a society strong. I never wanted to have just a job. Rather, I want to lead a career of consequence.

Through my post-college years, I weaved my way through various mission-driven positions in Boston. Then, in 2013, I joined the public affairs department at the British Consulate General, Boston. As a lifelong anglophile and challenge-taker, I was excited to represent the British government in the town that’s famous for kicking it out. Truly a dream job! My role was to promote British culture and policy throughout New England. I spent much of my time talking to and learning from local organizations – both in the private sector and NGOs – as well as government.

The fabric of diplomacy is built on connecting with others and finding opportunity through partnerships. There is an understanding that no one has the resources to go it alone. Initiatives are stronger when the responsibility is shared. Collaboration also leads to greater innovation and creative solutions.

In the UK, private sector involvement in the greater good dates back over 100 years. In 2017, it is understood that participation in society is linked with an organization’s standard operations. The US has also come a long way in recognizing the opportunity that exists for the private sector to play a key role in community advancement. Tackling the challenges of the 21st century requires coordination across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  

I left my job at the British Consulate to study for my Master’s degree in Public Affairs. I chose Brown University for its historic commitment to social justice through creative solutions. Through my courses, I’ve learned about smart policy design and data-driven decision making. When it came time to complete my consultancy, I could think of no better place than Microsoft. I wanted to explore the private sector lens on community engagement and responsibility.

With its mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, Microsoft has demonstrated a real commitment to being part of civic solutions. Boston and Cambridge are hyperlocal cities with high levels of participation. There are so many people and organizations working toward a greater good. The Microsoft Technology and Civic Engagement (TCE) team has expertly navigated this ecosystem to form meaningful partnerships and drive impact. I am fascinated by the way their work around innovation equity is enhanced by their commitment to collaboration within and across sectors. It is truly diplomacy in action.

RECAP: Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s 2017 State of the City Address


Last night, our Technology & Civic Engagement team in New England had the wonderful honor of being invited to  Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s 2017 State of the City Address at Symphony Hall in Boston. Together with city leaders, fellow constituents, and the Mayor himself, we celebrated Boston’s successes and growth in the past year, and looked forward to successes in 2017.

A look at the night, in tweets:

Read Mayor Walsh’s full State of the City Address here.

Profile: Shannon Felton Spence

Shannon Felton SpenceName: Shannon Felton Spence

Where are you from? I grew up in Denver, Colorado but have made Boston my home since college.

Current education: I am in the last semester of my Master of Public Affairs from Brown University. I did my undergraduate in Political Communication from Emerson College.

What is your experience in the civic sector? I spent three years as the Head of Politics & Communication at the British Consulate General of New England. In that role, I worked a lot with SMART Cities and sharing best practices between the UK and the six New England states.

Last thing you searched on Bing: slow cooker recipes  (…my favorite way to survive the New England winters!)

Why did you choose Microsoft? It was a very easy choice! I am interested in how large corporations partner in the community to make a difference. Microsoft – and specifically the Civic & Tech Engagement team — is doing that in so many amazing ways. I am excited to be a part of that and to work with such a well respected organization.

What projects are you working on with Microsoft’s Technology and Civic Engagement team? I am working on a storytelling project: identifying the cool things Microsoft has accomplished in the community and communicating that to a larger audience.

What excites you about civic tech? Everything! I love how the use of tech can benefit an entire community.

Data for Good – Joining a Team Effort


“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

I was never much for team sports (I have lousy eyesight and scars from high school field hockey). But even football-obsessed coaches know that the world is better off when smart people with very different areas of expertise come together to tackle important problems. So I’m beyond thrilled to be joining the Board of DataKind because:

  • The DataKind staff are visionary about a new model to bring together different kinds of expertise to harness data science in the service of humanity, and they are creative and driven in refining and executing that model (see above image).  
  • The other Board members are smart, thoughtful people invested in helping a new organization innovate, succeed, and grow.  
  • The non-profits collaborating with DataKind on projects are dedicated to their missions and open to novel approaches to assessing challenges and interventions.  
  • The ecosystem of DataKind funders and subject matter experts bring a larger context on the systems, policies, institutions, tools, and research that shape where and how data science can contribute and how to integrate and scale the impact of DataKind projects.  
  • The DataKind volunteer network is a globally-distributed network of amazing, motivated individuals.  

DataKind’s website provides examples of what happens when DataKind catalyzes these elements into projects – from forecasting water demand during a drought to reducing injuries and deaths from traffic incidents or house fires to tailoring care for people with mental illnesses.  Learn about ways to get involved here.

This new year, I am grateful for the opportunity to become more deeply integrated into this ecosystem (team) and provide my perspective and skills however I can to help these organizations and individuals work together to make the world a better place.

Read more about Elizabeth’s board membership via DataKind.

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, January 2017


Welcome to 2017! Our New Year’s Resolution? Attend all the great civic tech events the Boston area has to offer.

Here are our top picks for January 2017:

January 4

Social Venture Partners: Creating One Million Jobs by 2020

Can a group of local leaders come together to trigger transformational change? Join Social Venture Partners Boston and our special guests on January 4th in discussing the power of venture philanthropy to drive critical social change, both locally and globally. Doug Miller, an SVP Boston Partner and Founding Chairman of both the European Venture Philanthropy Association and the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, will talk about trends in the space before introducing the former chairman of Microsoft India and founding chairman of Social Venture Partners India, Ravi Venkatesan, to share SVP India’s audacious new goal, the Million Jobs Mission, of training and empowering one million people for sustainable livelihoods by 2020.

January 9


Children will engage in programs that explore science, technology, engineering, arts and math through activities, experiments and play. Ages 5+

January 10, 17, 24, 31

Code for Boston Weekly Hack Night

These Hack Nights are our time to meet in person to work on and discuss civic tech projects. Come by to say hi and hack with us!

January 10

Boston Python User Group January Project Night

An evening of collegial cooperation!

Bring a laptop. Bring ideas. Bring questions. Bring enthusiasm. Bring friends. The Boston Python Project Night is a time to find others with compatible interests, and work away. Code, hack, teach, learn, meet, laugh, talk: it all happens at Project Night.

All skill levels are welcome. There will be at least two tables of beginning learners, and helpers for them. Other table-topics in the past have been Django, Data, Web Scraping, Hardware, Puzzle, Science, Art. Anything goes!

Boston New Technology January 2017 Startup Showcase #BNT73

Free event! Come learn about 7 innovative and exciting technology products and network with the Boston/Cambridge startup community!

January 11

Mass Innovation Nights 94

Start the year off right and join us for this cool technology focused event with Draper’s startup-focused Sembler Office hosting and sponsoring. We will have it all — robotics, a pressure sensor tool for prosthetic and protective gear, a device to disable smartphones while driving and so much more! We will have ten products in all to showcase along with two products from Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate.

How to become a Data Scientist

This event will feature data scientists in the Boston area who have recently started their careers and will share stories of their journey from post-doc to full-time careers with great companies. These stories will focus on the projects that each speaker completed during their time as fellows for Insight Data Science.

Insight Data Science is an intensive seven (7) week post-doctoral training fellowship bridging the gap between academia & data science.

January 14

Winter in Boston: Fun Activities during Colder Winter Months

New England weather in Boston can make it easy to stay at home to hibernate, but fear not. This class will cover ways to find fun activities and how to explore Boston during the cold winter months.

January 19

Boston WITI Meetup (Women in Technology) — Coaching Circles: Be Your Best

Join WITI Boston as we host a group of outstanding coaches as they share their views on what can make the coaching experience a game-changer for you. You’ll choose two different coaches to learn from and attend their coaching circles. During the 40-minute sessions, coaches will provide insight into their fields of expertise and answer your questions. See the coaches’ bios on the registration website to get started on choosing your two coaching circles!

January 26

Association for Women in Science + Society of Women Engineers: The Proper Etiquette of Job Hunting

During the recruiting process, job candidates often find themselves confused about what’s appropriate when it comes to professional etiquette: how to increase your professional network, what makes an application successful, or how important your online brand is. Whether you are a student or a professional, join ASWIC + SWE for a lively panel discussion moderated by Lauren Celano, CEO of Propel Career.

January 28

Boston FIG Talks

We proud to announce FIG Talks, which will take place on January 16th, 2016, at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center. This event is aimed at designers and developers, and for people who are interested in getting started creating games of their own. The talks will feature three main tracks, Game Design, Game Development and Game Business.