March 2017

Analyze Boston — New Open Data Hub Helps Citizens Visualize Their Lives


Boston’s new and improved open data hub, dubbed Analyze Boston, will go live April 6. Need to find facts, figures, or maps related to the area of Boston you live in? Analyze Boston is your newest civic tech tool for that and more. The City of Boston decided that its existing open data portal needed a major revamp. The new version was launched in beta in late February to spark conversation and get feedback before the site’s official release.

What’s the difference?

First and foremost, usability. The teams behind it, the Analytics Team & DoIT Boston, with the help of CKAN & OpenGov Open Data, put a major emphasis on user experience and user engagement as it relates to data. As a result, the data is easily searchable and paired with much needed descriptive information to make the datasets more intuitive.

“That’s the goal with this new platform — making sure it’s both used and user-friendly,” said Howard Lim, the product manager for Analyze Boston.

With plain language and vivid imagery, the city’s new online presence aims to engage a broad audience from all corners of Boston to understand the various ways government enhances lives and provides services.

“We’re purposely calling this Analyze Boston because we think those plain words might make data a little more interesting to a broader audience regardless of someone’s technology background,” Lim said.

The goal is to build knowledge around public data, he said. This time around, the datasets on the new portal will all be under a public domain license. That way, both residents and internal stakeholders can use the data how they see fit and perhaps bring critical solutions and civic tech tools to urban challenges. Application developers will be able to access and integrate datasets through robust APIs. Other users will be able to search the datasets through flexible search tools. And on the new mobile-friendly platform, users are met where they’re already at.

“Eighty percent of the world has a smart phone. Maybe people can search open data sets on the T, and say, “oh, I found something that’s interesting,” and then get back home to work and plug away at it,” Lim said.

The new data hub currently has about 115 data sets available, from CityScore, food establishment inspections, rainfall data, public safety data and more. Lim said more data sets are to come, and they’ll be constantly updated.

“Realistically, there will always be more data and knowledge to build, and we have to continue to be amenable to what the people want to see, so our work will continue,” he said. 

A map from Vision Zero, an example of what our users can do with open data

Why is access to open data important?

It’s worthwhile to be proactive in the sharing of information, Lim explained, and if cities like Boston can lead the way in transparency, other cities might be keen to follow. Boston residents will be able to see how city government works and that their tax dollars are being used in a respectful and responsible manner to better the spaces we live, work and play in.

As the growing digital catalog of information for the city’s institutions that publish data, Analyze Boston helps citizens visualize their lives.

“This digital catalog is very valuable because it allows people to see that information does indeed exist, all in one place, without having to comb through various web sources to find what they’re looking for,” Lim said.

Since the beginning of Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration, he, along with the city’s innovation team, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, has emphasized the importance of open data. Last year, the city launched the Open Data to Open Knowledge initiative, and Mayor Walsh has encouraged city agencies to publish data online for public consumption. In May 2016, Boston appointed Andrew Therriault as its first Chief Data Officer.

“Our goal in creating the Analyze Boston platform is to better fulfill the promise of open data and open government, by seeing open data not just as a collection of datasets but as a platform for sharing knowledge,” Therriault said in a press release.

April 6 marks the start of a month-long Analyze Boston Open Data challenge. Interested candidates are encouraged to share analyses, visualizations, models and applications incorporating data from Analyze Boston. The challenge culminates with a showcase and prizes on May 6 at District Hall.

Microsoft’s MassChallenge Scholarship for Civic Innovation Helps Donii Give

Four years ago, Microsoft partnered with the MassChallenge to identify startups with innovative solutions fostering citizen engagement and transparency between government and constituents. The Microsoft Scholarship for Civic Innovation supports up to five civically-focused startups with a cash grant to help grow their business as they apply to the accelerator. To date, the scholarship has benefited nearly 20 startups with innovated civic solutions, such as leveraging big data for automating parking management (FetchPark), using IoT and mobile money solution to bring running water to every urban home (CityTaps), and an online town-hall platform (Agora).

The truth, is we hope that the Civic Innovation Scholarship is only the beginning of our partnership with these startups. In fact, we hope that our collaboration is deepened as the startup continues to grow. This has been the case with Donii – a 2016 scholarship recipient.

Donii is the social enterprise that makes sure your donated goods make it to people in your community that need it most. Founder & CEO Angie Janssen works with local charities like homeless shelters and youth welfare programs to match the organization’s immediate materials needs with potential donors. This eliminates the hopeful guess-work of donating goods.

Have a set of pots and pans to donate? Simply log-on to Donii’s online portal and select from a list of local organizations that need pots and pans. Donii then picks up the donation and delivers back a tax receipt with a personal note detailing how the goods will be used. Each organization on the Donii platform has been vetted to guarantee that the items will indeed go to individuals in their program.

Beyond the Civic Tech Scholarship, Microsoft was one of the very first corporate partners to sign up to host a Donii drop-off in their office.

This idea was introduced after Donii’s time in the MassChallenge helped Angie think more deeply about addressing the needs and challenges of potential donors. The corporate partner model allows employees to bring goods to their office. By having a box in the office with regularly scheduled pickup days, potential donors don’t have to find the extra time in their day to find a drop-box somewhere else in town. Corporate partners receive ongoing impact metrics about how their employees’ donations helped the community. Microsoft now uses Donii in its New England offices to empower year-round employee giving and to build meaningful connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the city.

Earlier this year, Donii introduced tablets and printer kiosks to eliminate the time between giving a donation and knowing its impact. Donors are now able to check-in their donation and print a label for easy delivery right on-the-spot. The new streamlined system also notifies the organization that the ask has been filled in real time.

Once again, Microsoft was there to support Donii in its growth goals. We provided the organization with five Surface Pro 4 tablets – four which will be attached to new drop-off boxes and one for Angie to use for demos.

Donii Founder & CEO Angie Janssen

Angie is quick to note that a year ago the $5,000 Donii received from the 2016 Civic Tech Scholarship went a long way in building out the “bootstrapping young start-up.” However, the ongoing collaboration with Microsoft has provided far beyond a monetary or hardware donation. She notes that businesses are more comfortable and inclined to become corporate partners when they know Microsoft has done the same. The intangible benefits of credibility and access are often the most difficult for startups to overcome. Microsoft is happy to help our Civic Tech Scholarship recipients however we can.

Another round of MassChallenge accelerator applications is now upon us! Applications are now closed and the first round of judging is underway. We can’t wait to see all the innovative civic solutions this year’s entrepreneurs have dreamt up!

Microsoft is excited to once again support civically-focused startups with the 2017 Scholarship for Civic Innovation. We hope the recipients will lean on Microsoft — as Donii has — in a collaborative partner as their startup continues to grow.

Recap — #DigiGirlzRI Inspires High School Girls to Pursue Tech Careers

On Friday, March 17, hundreds of high school girls from Rhode Island gathered at the New England Institute of Technology for a day of all things tech. From media production workshops to 3D Paint tutorials from the Microsoft Store to inspiring speeches by Governor Gina Raimondo, it’s safe to say the event sparked the beginning of several computer science careers.

“Girls and women are half of the world’s population,” Raimondo said to a room packed with DigiGirlz. “They are half of the world’s brains, problem-solvers, leaders. This world cannot solve problems unless they are at the table. That’s why I started programs like CS4RI, partnering with Microsoft and other leaders to offer computer science in every Rhode Island school.”

Backed by Microsoft New England, Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) is one of the strongest statewide computer science initiatives in the country. Their goal is to have CS taught in every Rhode Island public school by December 2017.

“Digital skills are an increasingly necessary component of success in the workforce—and that applies to women as much as it does to men,” Raimondo said. “Being surrounded by so many young women with such potential at DigiGirlz filled me with optimism, pride and excitement for Rhode Island’s future.”

The fervor from the young women was palpable that day, and behind doors with signs that read “DigiGirlz: No Boys Allowed,” eyes were wide with curiosity. Microsoft Store staff had the girls bringing their imagination to life with 3D Paint, a new program that will be publicly available soon. Meghan Martinez, LTC Alyce Pagliarini and Julie Rinehart led a cybersecurity session, giving the girls valuable advice on how to stay safe online. The five other sessions involved digital media, mechanical engineering, Adobe Photoshop, Unity Program, and Multimedia Web Design.

After lunch, the girls learned about how they could #MakeWhatsNext and brand themselves online with Boston-based social media agency Metter Media. The social media session ended with a slew of giveaways, including the grand prize: a Microsoft Surface. The #DigiGirlzRI hashtag went wild all day long as the girls entered the contests by taking selfies and sharing their #MakeWhatsNext stories.

“The mission of DigiGirlz to provide middle and high school girls an opportunity to explore careers in technology is very important. As a society, we need to break the mold that STEM jobs are ‘jobs for boys’,” said Dr. Douglas H. Sherman, Senior Vice President and Provost at the New England Institute of Technology. “With the U.S. population being more than 50% female, we need more girls to study technology and to prepare themselves for the many high tech jobs that are or will become available as the baby boomers begin to retire.”

Our next DigiGirlz Day will be in Burlington, MA at our new Sales & Technology Center on Friday, April 28. View more photos from the event below!

NewCo Boston: A Day to See and Be Seen

There are some 300 colleges and universities within 90 miles of Boston, Massachusetts. Our region has the most educated population in the nation, and the state is regularly ranked as number one in innovation capacity.

Massachusetts is poised to lead the next major innovation wave–one characterized by smart, connected machines and devices. Yet, despite a critical mass of education and innovative organizations we are still, paradoxically, coming up short in one critical component: talent. We need to find new ways to get people together to experience what is happening here and to fill them with the kind of pride and enthusiasm that convinces them to keep their talents here upon graduation.

NewCo Boston, April 4-6, can help accomplish this goal. Founded by six-time media and tech entrepreneur John Battelle, NewCo sets out to identify, celebrate, and connect the engines of positive change in our society while fostering trust, storytelling, and true connection between the people driving a new kind of global capitalism. Through intimate sessions, NewCo festivals create lasting engagement and deep, critical connections.

NewCo Boston will feature 80+ innovative companies from across the region opening their doors and inviting the public in for a behind-the-scenes look at companies and conversations with the founders, CEOs and other drivers of innovation in their native habitats. With more than 750,000 possible combinations, each journey can be unique. Each day of this two-day festival concludes with hundreds of fellow NewCo attendees getting together at some of the best networking “meetups” in the region.

What makes NewCo so perfect for Massachusetts?

Tech in Massachusetts has an opportunity to welcome executives, investors, engineers, entrepreneurs, students, media, and generally curious people to come see what’s happening behinds the doors of tech. Whether looking for that new idea or new position, broadening your network and your view of what’s happening across the industry is a smart move.

NewCo is an opportunity to attract and retain more talent, and , as we showcase our amazing local companies on the global NewCo media platform, more people across the 16+ other NewCo cities – from Istanbul to Barcelona to San Francisco – will learn about the great inventors and inventions here, thereby elevating our innovation brand and drawing additional attention and talent to the region.

Finally, NewCo gives us a glimpse into the future. What is being developed today will be the products and services of tomorrow. If you’re looking to network, to find a better job, or to just get a few new ideas, it’s a day worth checking out. Learn more, and join 1,000+ others for the inaugural NewCo Boston festival, by visiting bos.newco.co.

Tom Hopcroft is President & CEO of the Mass Technology Leadership Council, organizer of NewCo Boston. He can be reached at tom@Masstlc.org. 

Tom Hopcroft is President & CEO of the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), the region’s leading technology association and the premier network for tech executives, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers. A Massachusetts attorney and former adjunct professor at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration, Mr. Hopcroft founded and led the New England Business and Technology Association which merged with the Mass Software Council in 2005 and later the Mass Network Communications Council in 2009 to form what is today the largest technology organization in the New England with member companies ranging from early stage start-up to global enterprise across the entire tech ecosystem. Hopcroft serves as Chairman of the Fiscal Affairs and Administrative Policy Committee on the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. He is also on the boards of the MassTLC Education Foundation, MassRobotics, and the Technology Councils of North America. Mr. Hopcroft lives in Winchester, MA, with his wife and two boys.

Make Data Matter — 2017 Hubway Data Challenge

Happy Spring!

How are you celebrating the new season? Spring cleaning? Planning your garden? Getting ready to bike in the warm weather?

How about creating new projects with data?

We’re jumping into spring with Hubway to help launch their 2017 Hubway Data Challenge. First held in 2012, the Hubway Data Challenge is a call for local data enthusiasts to bring Hubway’s trip data to life. Entrants can use trip data from across the Hubway system in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline to create unique, analytical, and creative visualizations or other projects that reveal new user patterns about commuting via Hubway.

Where do Hubway users ride? When do they ride? How far do they go? Which stations are most popular? On what days of the week are most rides taken? How do user patterns differ between members and casual riders? How does weather affect usage? These and many other questions can be answered by the ride data.

Entries will be considered for six different categories. Each category will have one winner selected.

Over $7,500 worth of prizes will be awarded. The winning entry in each category will receive this package worth over $1,200, including prizes from Microsoft, General Assembly, b.good restaurant, Cleverhood, Passim, and $250 cash!

How to Enter

Enter your name, email address, phone number, project title, description (up to 600 characters), screenshot, and a self-hosted URL of your visualization or other data-based creation into our online entry form.

And the fun doesn’t stop there — we’ve partnered with Hubway beyond the data challenge for some exciting surprises. Stay posted to our blog and our Twitter to find out more!

Entries must be completed by April 10, 2017, 11:59 PM EST. View the official rules of the 2017 Hubway Data Challenge. Entrants must be at least 18 years old.

Introducing the Public Engagement Roadmap: Creative Resources for Meaningful Civic Participation

Originally published on Medium by the Engagement Lab @ Emerson College.

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of the Public Engagement Roadmap, a new suite of creative resources aimed at supporting all stages of planning public engagement for non-profits and governments on local, state, and national levels.

Designed and created by the Engagement Lab in partnership with Living Cities and with support from the Citi Foundation, the Roadmap provides an actionable, step-by-step breakdown for creative and effective public engagement. Emphasizing the model of co-production, where citizens collaborate at all stages of decision-making on public issues, the Roadmap balances digital and in-person strategies to help practitioners navigate the ever-shifting landscape of engagement in the 21st Century.

The Roadmap is based on practical findings summarized in Accelerating Public Engagement, a report written by Eric Gordon, Executive Director of the Engagement Lab and Associate Professor at Emerson College, about real-life examples from public engagement during the second cohort of Living Cities’ City Accelerator program. Over the course of 18-months, Gordon and the Engagement Lab team provided technical assistance and guidance to city officials in the program from Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Seattle as they implemented projects to engage lower income residents on issues ranging from post-incarceration re-entry services to public health campaigns.

“The roadmap is a story of what it takes for organizations to actually partner with communities, well beyond checking the box,” said Eric Gordon. “Its focus is on creative methods, where relationships are put before efficiencies. Understanding how to use media and technology to enhance the human part of public engagement is more important now than ever before. That’s the focus of the report, and indeed, that’s the focus of all the Engagement Lab’s work.”

In all, the Roadmap comprises four resources grounded in design-thinking to help organizations map meaningful public engagement:

  • The Toolkit, a dynamic, online assessment that helps gauge where you are with your plan, what your plan’s strengths are, and where you might benefit from some additional guidance, and then gets you started with a series of strategic exercises and practical activities to improve your engagement plan.
  • The Guide, a comprehensive report called, Accelerating Public Engagement, which provides background on public engagement and offers practical, detailed approaches to use when planning on- and offline processes.
  • The Case Studies, a closer look at the stories from participant cities in the City Accelerator program and how they embraced the model of co-production to discover new ways to engage more deeply with the communities they serve.
  • The Game, a tabletop game called, “Chart the Course” that guides players through an entire public engagement planning process and gives teams an opportunity to explore different engagement tactics, role-play possible outcomes with stakeholders, and reflect on the implications of their actions.

“This Roadmap is intended for cities around the country who recognize that the solutions for today’s toughest problems aren’t found in some hidden corner of city hall,” wrote Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, “but rather are co-developed through partnerships with residents, community colleges and universities, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and the business community.”

Explore the Public Engagement Roadmap here, and learn more about the work of the City Accelerator program here. If you would like to schedule a consultation about the Roadmap, please email info@elab.emerson.edu.

#Recap: Boston Area Research Initiative’s 2017 Spring Conference

How is the City of Boston using data to improve its residents’ experience?

Last week, the Boston Area Research Initiative, or BARI, hosted its annual Spring Conference, centered around the theme “Data-Driven Research, Policy, & Practice: Lessons from Boston, for Boston.” Over two days, the conference explored existing work with Boston civic data, a look ahead at the future of data, and possibilities for idea-sharing.

The conference culminated in a data visualization screen-share, where graduate students showcased examples of uses for Boston crime data. These visualizations incorporated crime categorization, neighborhood crime statistics, demographics, and beyond to exemplify the range of approaches one can take to public, open data. We were honored to contribute Microsoft Surface devices to help these students show off their exceptional work.

Miss out on last week’s conference? Catch up with BARI’s pre-recorded session videos here.

Top tweets from the conference (using #BostonData):

The Future [Of Computer Science] Is Female — A DigiGirlz Story

When 17-year-old Ameena Sajjad walked into Microsoft New England for DigiGirlz Day 2016, she was all set to be a dentist. She had already received a 75% paid tuition scholarship at a major college in Boston to do so, in fact.

When she walked out, she wanted to major in computer science. Now, she’s in a 2-year computer science program at Bunker Hill Community College, and is currently interning at Microsoft New England. She wants to pursue a career in software development.

So what happened at DigiGirlz that took her from wanting to be a dentist to working at Microsoft in one year?

“I came to know about wonderful innovations that were developed at the Microsoft Garage, the speakers at the event gave information about advances in technology, 3D printing, and more,” Ameena told MSNE. “They also highlighted the lack of interest among women in the field of computer science and how women can contribute to the field. I was fascinated by the entire office setup at Microsoft, the work culture, and the teamwork among the groups who organized the event.”

The stats about women in computer science are very real. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women currently hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And, globally, only 16 percent of female students graduate from STEM subjects, according to the World Economic Forum. We at Microsoft believe that this has to change.

DigiGirlz is one of our free #YouthSpark programs for middle and high school girls that allows them to immerse themselves in the world of technology for one day, in hopes that we can inspire the next generations of female Computer Scientists. They hear first-hand from women with careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops during the day-long event.

This year, Ameena is leading her own workshop at DigiGirlz in Burlington, where she’ll show them the BBC micro:bit, a tool she helped develop at her internship. She’ll show the DigiGirlz how to use the micro:bit to code all sorts of cool creations, from robots to musical instruments.

“I want to make them more curious and give them more technology — show them what it’s like,” Ameena said.

She’ll never forget that drive home from DigiGirlz, and how nervous she felt to tell her parents she wanted to turn down a huge scholarship to be a computer science major.

“Eventually after coming home [from DigiGirlz], I gathered all the courage I had and told my parents that I wanted to change majors to computer science. My parents were quiet at first, but then started to discuss possible options,” she explained. “This is my second semester and I am going strong with each day that passes. I am loving my C++ and Java classes. I don’t know if it is my luck or just a coincidence that I was selected for an internship position at Microsoft New England.”

“I will always be thankful to DigiGirlz, who arranged the Microsoft visit and gave me the option to explore a computer science major.”

We’re excited to welcome more middle and high school girls to DigiGirlz at Microsoft New England this year. Our first day is in Rhode Island at the campus of the New England Institute of Technology on Friday, March 17, and our second session is in Burlington, MA at our new Sales & Technology Center on Friday, April 28.

There will also be free DigiGirlz events at all of our retail store locations throughout New England. Find a free event near you.

Head here to learn more about Microsoft YouthSpark’s DigiGirlz programs.

#NERD10: Celebrating Women’s History Month and the Next 10 Years of Microsoft R&D

2017 marks ten years that Microsoft has hosted one of its Global Development Centers in Cambridge. The Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, fondly referred to as NERD, is celebrating its anniversary with stories and events year-round. Please join us in the celebration on the ground and online using #NERD10.

Happy Women’s History Month! What I appreciate most about Microsoft’s New England Research & Development Center (NERD) is our spirit of inclusion and commitment to diversity. I have been working in software for well over 20 years now, and I have never been more optimistic about our ability to change the face of this industry than I am today, in part  because of the energy and work I see happening here at NERD.

Creating a truly inclusive culture is not easy. Diversity by its very nature brings varied perspectives and debate. At NERD, we believe that those are the moments when we learn the most and where the creative spark of innovation lies. A few examples: This month we are partnering with our Kendall Square neighbor Akamai to discuss “Being Bold for Change” in celebration of International Women’s Day. On March 23, our Blacks & Africans at Microsoft (BAM) community is hosting a Minority Students Day of mentoring and discussion.

I started my Microsoft career at headquarters in Redmond, WA and spent many years there. In 2012, I relocated to New England to lead the Microsoft Intune PM team. I love working in Kendall Square and appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit here. We are surrounded by the best in academia, research, innovation, and technology. I can pop next door to enjoy a leadership class on applied neuroscience at MIT Sloan School of Management or head downstairs to our NERD conference center to join a Codess event with women coders. Not to mention, so many more places to eat and grab a cocktail have opened in the last few years. (My favorite is Rosemary’s Baby at Za/EVOO. Yum!)

This month also marks my one year anniversary as the General Manager of NERD—a title that always makes me laugh a little. I have bold aspirations for Microsoft in our area. In December, we started demolition to completely renovate and revitalize our offices at 1 Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Our goal is to create an environment that inspires our engineers—and makes Microsoft the best place to work and build their careers. We will have a Microsoft Garage space in our conference center, which will include collaborative, creative spaces as well as Maker and Advanced Maker labs where people can build, tinker, and prototype to bring their ideas to life. Our space at 1 Memorial will be open, bright, and highlight the amazing technology Microsoft has to offer.

Feb 2nd Women in Data Science “Hacking Bias” Ideation session @ NERD

At Microsoft NERD, we are home to an incredible group of researchers, engineers, and professionals. Microsoft NERD engineers and data scientists work on Azure Machine Learning, Office 365 security, Office collaboration, Skype, Xamarin, my own Microsoft Intune, and much more.  Under the leadership of Jennifer Chayes, we host Microsoft Research Lab-New England which is known for its interdisciplinary approach to research by our researchers, as well as a large group of postdocs, interns, and distinguished visiting faculty members.

Take a look at the predictions from the women of Microsoft Research on what to expect in 2017—hmm, I think some predictions already came true. I encourage you to explore our job openings, and to the students out there, we offer a number of internship opportunities right here in Cambridge.  I hope you’ll review the opportunities that exist here and consider joining us as we build our secret sauce, a spirit of inclusion and a commitment to diversity that makes me proud to be a leader here.  

Impact of New Media on Civic Initiatives — #CivicTechBos, April 3, 2017

Social media and new approaches to journalism have had broad impact on how civic initiatives are organized and executed. Community and political movements have new tools to attract interested parties and launch campaigns. The last federal election cycle is just one of several examples where various parties worked with and around the traditional journalism channels to get their message out using these new media options. These approaches certainly impact how governments connect with their constituencies, nonprofits engage with their communities, neighborhood movements organize, and civic/political leaders communicate.

We’re hosting a conversation to discuss how new media impacts civic initiatives as part of our Conversations on Civic Innovation series, or #CivicTechBos. Join us for a conversation reviewing the fast-changing world of journalism and social media and how it impacts civic initiatives.

Speakers include:

Schedule:

5:30-6:00 PM – Registration and networking
6:00-7:oo PM – Panel Discussion
7:00-7:30 PM – Q&A
7:30 – 8:30 PM – Post-event networking

Join us Monday, April 3, from 5:30pm-8:30pm at District Hall. RSVP here. To join us online, follow @MSNewEngland, @VentureCafe and the hashtag #CivicTechBos.