Annmarie Levins

team player + revolutionary

Annmarie Levins
Meet Annmarie
As General Manager for Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team, Annmarie leverages teams in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle and the Bay Area, to solve the pressing issues and challenges of these cities. But in her native state of Massachusetts, Annmarie is a recognized face. You may have seen her around Microsoft where she helped found the Innovation & Policy Center - New England. You may also know her from being appointed to several councils by Governor Deval Patrick, including the Mass Tech Collaborative and the STEM Council, as well as serving on the executive committees of MassTLC and the New England Council. And if none of these ring a bell - we assure you you've seen her cheering on her beloved Pats and Sox at games or around town - as no one is a bigger fan.

Recap: Boston’s City to City Delegation Heads to Seattle

Photo: Mimi Wishner Segel, NECN

I had the pleasure of joining Boston’s City to City delegation on its recent trip to Seattle, a city I called home for more than 13 years. Headed by Mayor Marty Walsh, our delegation included a broad cross-section of Boston leaders, from government agencies to non-profits to educators to the business community. We learned a lot about what makes Seattle a unique place, but more importantly, we learned a lot about the creative approaches Seattle is taking to our common problems and opportunities.

In the 11 years since I’ve been back in Boston, Seattle has undergone remarkable changes. Like Boston, its tech economy is booming and, as a result, its population is, too. In fact, Seattle is growing at a faster rate than any large city in the US. Like Boston, Seattle faces the many challenges that come with rapid growth: pressure on transportation systems, lack of affordable housing, and rising inequality. Our delegation had the chance to see how this city is working to meet these challenges and the special initiatives it is taking to ensure a vibrant culture.

Highlights of the trip included:

  • Learning about Seattle’s commitment to build 50,000 units of housing over the next decade
  • Visiting the new South Lake Union neighborhood, built by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s development company Vulcan as the center of the city’s life sciences and tech economy
  • Public-private partnerships that are working to integrate Seattle’s downtown and neighborhood development
  • The city’s commitment to public art and its extraordinary Chihuly Garden and Glass installation
  • Learning about the business of the iconic Pike Place Market, the oldest continuously operating public market in the US, and the commitment of the Pike Place Market Foundation to serve its low-income neighbors

A look at our recent visit in tweets:

CFA Summit Coming Up – See You There!

code for america

The Code for America Summit takes place September 23-25 in San Francisco.  Microsoft is excited to be a capstone sponsor of the Summit and to take advantage of this amazing opportunity to engage with government, companies, civic technologists and organizations, and engaged citizens on the biggest challenges facing our communities.

We are contributing to the formal agenda with a breakout session on “The New C-Suite: Partnerships and Impact,” which will take place Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 9 a.m.  We’ve gathered an impressive panel of city leaders from Los Angeles, Austin, and Puerto Rico, who will offer first-hand views on what works and what doesn’t when trying to transform government – and offer views on why.  The discussion will also focus on how to affect and assess impact, sustainability, scale, and partnerships at the intersection of government services and innovation.  We also are giving a talk at the ignite session on Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. that will preview some exciting new research on online communities in civic tech coming out of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs.

Most importantly, we are looking forward to the informal conversations at the Summit.  Please join us at the Microsoft Lounge, which will be open during the Civic Tech Fair, lunchtimes, the plenary session breaks, and the receptions, including the closing reception we are sponsoring on Thursday evening.

Why Are We There?

The Summit is an annual demonstration of the year-round efforts that Code for America and other Summit attendees put into improving government, serving citizens and strengthening local economies.  These are top priorities for Microsoft, too, and we’re looking forward to getting inspired and sparking new connections that will help us do more to benefit the places where we live and work.

Within Microsoft, the Technology and Civic Engagement group brings together some of Microsoft’s best people and resources to build long-term partnerships in local communities and leverage technology to make a sustainable and scalable impact.  We currently have teams in Boston, Chicago, New York, and the Bay Area, and are working with the local community on areas such as economic development and innovation, 21st century education and opportunities, smarter and more sustainable cities, data and openness, and efficient government services.

In addition to seeing us at Summit, we hope you will join us for ongoing events in U.S. cities.  Two are coming up on Wednesday, October 1.  In Chicago, there is the next monthly meeting of the Chicago City Data Users Group, which focuses on practical techniques for anyone interested in using Chicago City Data to promote civic engagement, innovation, and economic opportunity.  In Boston that same night, the next conversation in a series on Civic Tech will focus on education and data, including data use, data location, and ways to improve student learning.

How Can We Help?

Across Microsoft, we partner with civic organizations, governments, and other companies to move cities forward, and below are some Microsoft resources that may be of interest.

  • Microsoft Open Technologies, a resource for open source code and open technical standards and technical bridges between Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies
  • CityNext, Microsoft’s work with partners to define and deliver innovative solutions that support safer, smarter, healthier and modern cities and improve productivity/efficiency in state and local governments
  • BizSpark, how to access free software, support, and visibility that help startups succeed
  • Azure, Microsoft’s cloud services, and the new Azure Government Preview, a cloud platform designed to meet U.S. government demands
  • Power BI, analytics and visualization tools for Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Disaster Response, technology solutions, tools, and practices to support humanitarian relief and disaster management efforts
  • Microsoft Ventures, a global effort around providing mentorship, technology guidance, seed funding, joint selling opportunities and other benefits to startups
  • YouthSpark, a global initiative to connect youth with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship; this includes the TEALS program in the U.S. which places computer scientists in high school classrooms across the country

We look forward to connecting at the Code for America Summit and other gatherings of those helping use technology to improve civic communities and keep the conversation going online with Tech and Civic Engagement on Twitter: @MSNewEngland, @MicrosoftNY, @MSFTChicago, @MicrosoftSV.

Annmarie Levins is the General Manager for Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement efforts and is based in Cambridge at Microsoft New England R&D Center (NERD).  She works with the teams in Boston, New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area to bring the best of Microsoft’s technology and people to help these communities address their most pressing challenges.

Save the Internet / The Internet Saves: Personal Democracy Forum XI

10313820_10152381360486730_2282549194796133662_n

The 11th annual Personal Democracy Forum took place last week in New York City.  It’s truly a special event, designed to bring together a diverse group of people to discuss cutting-edge issues in technology, politics, and civic life. This year’s theme, “Save the Internet / The Internet Saves,” couldn’t have been more appropriate or timely.  For those of us on Microsoft’s Technology and Civic Engagement team, PDF was a chance to meet leaders in civic tech/civic innovation from around the world and to share ideas about building stronger communications channels between citizens and governments, continuing to open up government processes and data, and encouraging innovative solutions to the challenges of a modern city.

Not surprisingly, the implications of Edward’s Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s ubiquitous spying program was a dominant theme.  PDF coincided with the one year anniversary of his disclosures, and Snowden addressed the audience via live link from Russia.  He spoke passionately about the need for America to return to its fundamental values, to correct the legal and political misjudgments that had enabled the NSA’s programs.

Microsoft’s General Counsel Brad Smith (@BradSmi) sounded the same theme, noting that in times of great national concern about security, the pendulum has often swung too far, with presidents from John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt each making decisions in the interests of national security that ultimately conflicted with America’s core principles.  Noting that Microsoft had taken the extraordinary step of suing the federal government over a search warrant seeking customer data located in Ireland, he called for a number of reforms to bring our government’s practices back into line with our fundamental principles, e.g., ending the bulk collection of data, increasing the transparency about the government’s practices, reforming the secret FISA court.  Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of Personal Democracy Media, called Brad’s speech “one of the most spirited defenses of democracy that I’ve ever heard at PDF.”

One other observation from PDF: the widespread recognition of Greater Boston’s leadership in the civic tech community.  In conversations, panel discussions, and even from the main stage, there were notable references to the great civic tech work being done here.  On a panel entitled “Making Civic Tech That Serves Community Needs,” Nigel Jacob of Boston’s New Urban Mechanics made a compelling case that the work of civic technologists and innovators needs to be deeply connected to the community.

Ultimately, the overriding message of PDF was one of hope and optimism.  There is a strong, international community committed to the value of the open Internet and believing in the power of technology to be a force for good.  While there is work to be done to Save the Internet from practices that threaten freedom and openness, the Internet Saves, by providing the place for innovation and collaboration for the greater public good.

For other articles on this topic please visit: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal.

Three Things to Cheer in the News This Week

Photo Left by John Tlumacki (metro) via BetaBoston "Mayor Walsh opens up Boston’s online data"

Photo Left by John Tlumacki (metro) via BetaBoston “Mayor Walsh opens up Boston’s online data

The Red Sox haven’t provided much to cheer about yet, but in other areas within the city and surrounding communities, the news is brighter.

Mayor Walsh’s executive order opening the City of Boston’s data deserves a big cheer.  It represents a major milestone in the city’s evolution as a tech innovator and is a clear declaration that Boston intends to be a leader in transparency.  Advocates of open government cheered this development for the greater transparency it brings to citizens about their city and its management.  But open data also brings something else: myriad new opportunities for entrepreneurs, academics, community organizations, individual citizens, and other groups, who can use data to drive innovation, insight, research, collaboration, and problem-solving.  As the analysis released this week by GovLab at NYU revealed, open government data creates opportunities in virtually every part of society, from transportation to finance, from education to real estate. The GovLab survey includes 43 Massachusetts companies that use government data to generate new business and develop new products and services.

The City’s commitment to open its data also reflects the evolution of technology.  The availability of cloud computing to store and process big data sets, coupled with major advances in the analysis and visualization of different data types, make it possible for the city and others to share and use the data effectively.

This brings us to the second cheer of the week, for Global Internet of Things Day, which was celebrated on Wednesday, April 9th.

The Internet of Things — which refers to the ability of devices of all sorts to connect to the Internet and transmit information back and forth – is something that could not have happened, at least not at scale, without recent developments in technology.  Developments in sensor and battery technology enabled devices to get smaller and smaller, while advances in connectivity enabled the connections among devices and the cloud to get stronger.  And tools like machine learning now enable more accurate insight and prediction.  As a result, our ability to measure the environment around us – and take automatic, customized action in response – is greater than ever before.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, the Internet of Things has the potential to create an economic impact of $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025.  The applications range from the personal (health monitoring devices and smart homes that track and manage energy usage) to the agricultural (systems that monitor moisture and water plants and crops exactly when and as much as needed) to the industrial (manufacturing equipment that tracks its own wear and tear so it can be repaired before it breaks). The Internet of Things requires an ecosystem of companies and capabilities, including sector-specific knowledge (e.g., for applications in self-monitoring of health and wellness), expertise in security and reliability, and platforms for data integration and analysis.  The diversity of expertise and culture of innovation in the Boston area positions this community to be at the forefront of creating and growing these new businesses.

And thus to my third cheer, for the news of the tremendous growth of start-ups in Boston. It is great news for all of us in the Commonwealth to see growing investments in the start-up sector and the expansion of opportunities in new communities within Greater Boston.

Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center – New England & The Venture Café Foundation Present: A Conversation on Civic Technology

civictechheader

In recent years, “civic tech” has gone from a little-noticed, niche movement to a growing and increasingly influential part of the broad civic community. More than 43 cities across the US – including Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville – have made their public data accessible to citizens, entrepreneurs, academics, and anyone else interested in what they can learn from, or do with, public data.  By doing so, cities have made it possible for local innovators to help them deliver more efficient and economical services and to provide better opportunities for interactions between government and citizens.

Greater Boston’s innovation community has had great successes in working with government officials to empower and inform citizens. Apps like Citizens Connect, Will they tow me?, Localocracy and NearbyFYI are just a few examples.  But there is an opportunity to expand the role of civic tech in our communities, to take on some of the hardest and most important problems that cities are facing.

To jump start a conversation on what more we can do with civic tech, the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center and The Venture Café Foundation are sponsoring a Conversation on Civic Tech on Thursday, March 27th from 5:30 to 8pm, at NERD.  Be a part of the conversation by registering for this free event here.

Among the questions we plan to address include:

  • What is Civic Technology?
  • What problems should we be trying to solve?
  • What is the role of citizen engagement?
  • How do we make it easier for the technology community to connect with public officials and citizens about problems that technology can help solve?

We’ve lined up a group of exciting panelists to spark the conversation, and invite you to engage in the discussion. Panelists include:

We expect this to be a highly interactive session and the first in a series of discussions about civic tech. Partnering with the Venture Café Foundation, we plan to host conversations over the coming months to dig deeper into specific problems that civic tech could address, including transportation, public health, public art, and education.

In addition, @MSNewEngland is hosting a Tweet Chat, “Continuing the Conversation on Civic Technology,” date TBA soon. The official Twitter hashtag is #civictechbos, where you can follow the chat and engage with local civic tech leaders. More info will be coming soon.

I look forward to seeing you on the 27th.

Bridging Tradition, Technology and City Boundaries: A Call to Boston and Cambridge’s New Leaders

Marty Walsh - Mayor, Boston Massachusetts

Marty Walsh – Mayor, Boston, Massachusetts

The City of Boston awakes this January morning with change in its chilly winds as Martin J. Walsh prepares to be sworn in as Boston’s new Mayor.

He will be Boston’s first new Mayor of the 21st Century in a city known for firsts.

  • In 1634, Boston Common became the first public park in America;
  • In 1635, Boston Latin School became the first public secondary school in America;
  • In 1716, the first American lighthouse was built in Boston Harbor;
  • In 1835, the first public school for African-American children, the Abiel Smith School, opened;
  • In 1837, Samuel Morse invented the first electric telegraph based on Morse Code;
  • In 1848, the Boston Public Library opened as the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world;
  • In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the first telephone in Boston;
  • In 1877, Helen Magill White graduated from Boston University as the first woman in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D.;
  • In 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run; and
  • In 1927, MIT professor Vannevar Bush constructed a differential analyzer, one of the first advanced computing devices used for research. An offshoot of the work at MIT by Bush and others was the beginning of digital circuit design theory.

As Marty Walsh prepares to lead Boston forward, he is well aware how tradition and technology have shaped the city’s past, and the opportunities they present for molding its future.

Nearly 140 years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in Boston, technology is woven into the fabric of Boston’s diverse economy, from its educational and financial institutions to the healthcare sector, and even its beloved sports teams. We constantly hear “there’s an app for that” in every part of life in Boston.

Marty Walsh has the opportunity to tap into this region’s rich tradition of technology excellence to make Boston that shining city on the seaport. By embracing technology in new ways, his Administration can make the city more effective, more efficient, and more transparent.

Bostonians want to interact with their local government about little things like potholes, and big issues like improving its schools and public transportation. Technology offers the path to developing strong, two-way communications channels between citizens and governments. There is also a tremendous opportunity to continue to open up government processes and data to encourage innovative solutions to the challenges of a modern city.

By embracing this moment of change, Marty Walsh and all of us in the region’s tech community have the opportunity to envision new possibilities for Boston and its surrounding communities by tapping into the region’s greatest resource – its people.

Richard Rossi - City Manager, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Richard Rossi – City Manager, Cambridge, Massachusetts

One opportunity is to build a stronger bridge between the thriving tech communities in Boston’s Innovation District and in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. As I sit in my office at One Memorial Drive in Cambridge, the Charles River sometimes seems like the Atlantic Ocean. And if Boston and Cambridge can feel like separate continents, other surrounding communities seem to be on the outer boundaries of those continents. It is fortuitous that as Boston gets its first new Mayor in 20 years, Cambridge also has its first new City Manager in 30 years, Richard Rossi. Mayor Walsh and City Manager Rossi have the opportunity to think broadly and boldly across city boundaries.

Similarly, at times, there seems to be a great divide between the tech community and traditional business, the new economy vs. the old economy. But it isn’t about pitting old vs. new. Instead, Marty Walsh, Richard Rossi, and the region’s other top political leaders have the opportunity to bridge the old and the new, to bring together tradition and technology in new and powerful ways that will once again have the world marveling at our region’s firsts.

So today we congratulate and look forward to working with Marty Walsh and Richard Rossi as they create new visions for their cities. Those of us at Microsoft’s New England Innovation & Policy Center are committed to connecting the region’s technology, business, academic, and government communities, catalyzing important technology and public policy discussions, and contributing to the vitality of the region’s tech community and broader economic development opportunities.

In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we look forward to working with Marty Walsh, Richard Rossi, and other government leaders in bridging divides and partnering to reimagine our cities, and helping to demonstrate the role technology can play in realizing those visions.

Charles River

Annmarie Levins is Associate General Counsel in Microsoft’s newly created Technology & Civic Engagement group. She and her team are responsible for leading the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England, and for developing other Innovation & Policy Centers in the U.S. Annmarie, a Massachusetts native, has been based at NERD for the past five years, and is well known within the tech community here. She serves on the executive committees of the Mass. Tech Leadership Council and the New England Council, and chairs the New England Council’s Technology Committee. She also is Microsoft’s liaison to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.