sarah

Meet

Fellow Profile: Emily Sim

Where are you from? Southern California and Seoul, South Korea

School/grad year/major: Tufts University, 2019, Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing: How to make hummus from scratch

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Coming from a technical background, I was fascinated by the Technology & Civic Engagement team’s work at a pivotal juncture of two industries. I wanted to explore how technology is being used for public good.

What’s your favorite civic project in the Greater Boston area? nesterly, which is a startup that matches elderly homeowners with younger subletters to provide affordable housing, companionship, and housekeeping.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New England? I have helped launch the Starthub Boston’s Civic Innovation page by compiling resources, events, startups, investors, and initiatives. Currently, I am creating a dashboard for District Hall’s usage data. Soon, I will be working on integrating the District Hall form input with a database system, revamping the Venture Cafe Foundation website, and doing user research for a project with the MBTA.

What excites you about civic tech? It’s a relatively new field, yet the amount of community engagement the projects have generated is incredible. There is so much potential to drive more folks into taking action to help their towns and neighbors.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? I hope that more affordable housing is made available in Boston, especially in the more gentrified areas, with partnership between the city, corporations, and caring citizens.

RECAP: New England Machine Learning Day 2017

Seventy researchers, students and professionals recently participated in the New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML. Students traveled predominantly from nearby universities — Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College — but also from as far as the University of Virginia, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.  

Team leaders defined five areas of bias and discrimination in machine learning to address during the Hackathon.

  • Accent Discrimination led by Jay Liu, Microsoft
  • Pre-Trial Fairness, led Sam Corbett-Davies, Stanford
  • Word Biases led by Max Leiserson and Elena Jakubiak, Microsoft Research
  • Visual Biases in Border Patrol Stops led by Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research
  • Equity in Higher Education and the Future of Work, led by Sergio Marrero, Caila

In six hours, the teams formed, defined a user, aligned on a solution, built storyboards, and in some cases, developed websites. There was buzz, laughter, and hard work, which may have benefitted from the nearby espresso bar. The winning team, Pre-Trial Fairness, took home Xbox FIFA bundles. The team built a “Challenge the Bias” website to “decipher the biases in current algorithms that help decide bail, sentences and parole of a defendant.” The judges appreciated the clear explanation of the types of data used and ways to increase fairness across gender and race in analyzing the data. Congratulations Sam Corbett-Davies (Stanford), Yaovi Ayeh (Dell EMC), Danielle Dean (Microsoft), Frances Ding (Harvard), Yunxin Fan (Harvard), Anshuman Pandey (CMU), Aditthya Ramakrishnan (Next Tech Lab), Harini Suresh (MIT), Marina S. (community) and Lorenzo Vitale (BU)!

The Word Bias team created a Hacking Bias in Word Choice website. The Accent Team pitched and is building an open repository for under-represented accents which limits the capabilities of voice recognition everywhere. The Visual Bias team highlighted ways to help border patrol agents decrease unconscious biases against those wearing non-normative, less frequently seen outfits. The Equity in Education team brainstormed ways to advance individuals with less traditional educational degrees and training and connecting to jobs they can do today, tomorrow with a bit of work, and in the future with more serious preparation and study.

One grad student after returning to campus wrote, “Thank you for … such an amazing hackathon on a really interesting topic in ML. It was totally worth coming all the way from Pittsburgh to Boston and attend this hackathon.” (It took him and his colleague 18 hours by bus!)

See our Hacking Bias in Machine Learning recap video (2m)  above with comments from our event mentors and judges. Our team mentors were Dr. Adam Kalai (Microsoft Research); Dr. Lester Mackey (Microsoft Research); and one of the judges, Elaine Harris (Hacking Discrimination MIT Alumni organizer and President, Breakthrough Marketing Technology).  In addition to Elaine Harris, our esteemed judging panel included: Dr. Sasha Constanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Dr. Stefanie Jegelka, X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor at MIT EECS; Jamie MacLennan, Microsoft, Partner Director, Azure Machine Learning; Dr. D. Sculley, Google, Engineering Manager, Machine Learning Team.

The sixth annual New England Machine Learning Day took place on the following day, May 12, 2017.  The event brought together more than 300 local machine learning researchers from over a dozen universities and research institutes. Eight talks were given by notable local academics on a variety of machine learning problems ranging from neural networks to computer vision to social networks.  Thirty-six students presented posters during a lively poster session at lunch.  

The organizing committee comprised:  David Cox (Harvard); Adam Tauman Kalai (Microsoft Research); Ankur Moitra (MIT); and Kate Saenko (Boston University).  The Poster Chairs were Mike Hughes, Harvard University and Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research.

One Northeastern graduate student who attended both said, “The hackathon was a great experience for me and I enjoyed every second of it. The New England ML day was also very inspiring. If for any similar event you need a volunteer, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to help and be a part of these great events.”

Stay tuned for next year; planning has begun for our seventh New England Machine Learning Day and second ML Hackathon!

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

We can’t believe it, but it seems summer is finally here in Boston!

Join us through the warm weather at our top picks for events this June:

June 1

Talk Data to Me: Startup Edition

Talk Data to Me is a monthly event series where General Assembly hosts thought-leaders from the Boston data community to discuss the possibilities that data brings to life.

In June we are inviting Boston-based startups that are using data science in new and interesting ways to share what they are working on. From predicting buying patterns and making user recommendations, to optimizing hospital scheduling and space utilization- data is touching every industry.

Hear how these young companies are thinking about data and what they predict the future of data and technology will look like.

June 3

Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference for a day of inspiring keynotes, presentations and networking with peers and community leaders around igniting civic creativity. Dive into topics including media literacy, youth-led advocacy, DIY activist technologies, and creative storytelling. We’ll also be announcing the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

Code in One Day: HTML & CSS Crash Course

HTML and CSS are the fundamental building blocks of the web. Whether you’re a beginner who wants to get started in web development, a designer looking to hand-code their concepts, or a marketer who wants a little more control over their CMS, you’ll need to know HTML and CSS to get the job done.

This one day workshop is the quickest way to get started building websites. You will dive head first into HTML and CSS, skill up with live coding exercises, and by the end of the day you’ll have a working web page to call your own.

Cambridge Arts River Festival

True to its beginning in 1974, the Cambridge Arts River Festival is an exuberant celebration of the arts in Cambridge! In those early days, a group of artists charged themselves with the development of an annual event that would showcase and celebrate the rich artistic traditions and activity that make Cambridge such a unique and exciting place.

June 6-8

5th Annual Citywide Arts Festival

Take a break and join us for the BPS Citywide Arts Festival! Our 5th anniversary event at features 1100+ students from 30 schools across the district, and is hosted by outstanding performing artists from the Class of 2017. Full schedule coming soon. Presented in collaboration with the Boston Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, ArtsBoston. Come celebrate the arts with us!

June 14

Mass Innovation Nights #99 – African-American & African Tech Founders

Mass Innovation Nights are monthly startup product launch and networking events.

June is an exciting month for Mass Innovation Nights! Our theme for the June event is African & African American Founders of Tech Businesses sponsored by Greater Grove Hall Main Streets. We will have 14 super cool products showcasing.

June 30

City Dance Party

On Friday, June 30, join thousands of Cambridge residents and visitors who will gather on Massachusetts Avenue in front of Cambridge City Hall (795 Massachusetts Ave.) for the City’s annual Dance Party. Mass. Ave., between Prospect and Bigelow streets, will be closed to traffic during the event. The City Dance Party is free and open to the public.

Danielle Dean Honored by UMass with Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Here at NERD we have even more reason to celebrate beyond our 10-year anniversary #NERD10. Part of what we get to celebrate day in and day out is our amazing team. One example is Danielle Dean, a senior data scientist lead in the Algorithms and Data Science Group within the Cloud and Enterprise Division, and the most recent recipient of the Distinguished Young Alumni Award by UMass Amherst.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association on alumni, faculty and friends. Recipients of this prestigious award have translated their UMass Amherst experience into distinguished achievement in the public, business or professional realms and bring honor to UMass Amherst and to their field of endeavor.

Danielle Dean received the award for her contributions in Data Science and her leadership of an international team of data scientists and engineers working on machine learning solutions. In honoring Dean, the UMass Alumni Association cites many of her accomplishments in the data science field, including her role as lead author of three major publications; co-author of the data science modeling book, Data Science with Microsoft SQL Server 2016; and a speaker at more than 20 conferences in the last three years, including keynotes at SQLbits and SQL Nexus, and a featured talk at Strata & Hadoop World Conference in Singapore in December of 2015.

During her time at UMass Amherst, Dean earned two bachelor’s degrees: the first in psychology with a minor in mathematics and statistics, and the second in organizational behavior through statistical analysis. Dean was a student researcher in Professor Linda Isbell’s Psychology lab. Dean’s data analysis work within the lab inspired her eventual study of Quantitative Psychology and Biostatistics.

I am incredibly honored to win the award and feel very fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community from my undergraduate and graduate schools as well as at Microsoft, which gave me many opportunities to learn and grow along my journey” says Dean.

“I feel fortunate to have had several amazing women mentors in my life who made me believe I could accomplish anything I set myself out to do,” Dean tells us, “from high school mathematics teachers to my undergraduate research professor Linda Isbell to my mother who studied computer science and moved into the big data field. As I have moved throughout my life, I have realized that others are not as fortunate to have so many role models and mentors directly accessible to them, and I want to do my part to fill that role for young women to whom it would benefit.”

Dean has leveraged this experience toward helping other young women through mentorship. She is an active advisor with Girls Who Code, a board member of Microsoft’s Women@NERD (New England Research & Development) resource group, and a career advice contributor through Microsoft’s Professional Data Science Degree Program.   

“My advice to young women who are interested in a career in data science would be to become curious about the world around you – how things work, how things are tracked,” says Dean. “Learn to work with many different types of people who have different interests and passions and come from different backgrounds than you, as they will give you unique perspectives and help you find who you want to become as a person. Never strive to be exactly like someone else but rather find what drives you and seek opportunities to push yourself.”

This isn’t the first time Dean has been recognized for her accomplishments. Previously, she’s received the UMass Amherst 21st Century Leaders Award, Senior Leadership Award, the LeBovidge Research Fellowship, and Psi Chi Regional Research Award.

 Congratulations Danielle and thank you for your contributions in data science and to women and others in this field!

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

We’ve gotten through our April showers — now it’s time for May flowers… and events!

Here are our top picks for events in the Boston area this month:

May 3

Design in Boston: Creating a More Connected City

In celebration of ArtWeek, General Assembly and the City of Boston are pairing up to bring together designers and policy makers who are helping to define and redesign what makes for a better urban lifestyle in Boston.

May 4

Catalyst Conversations: Charmed Science

Join us for an evening exploring magic and celebrating the community of innovators, artists and scientists that have come together to make Catalyst Conversations a vibrant demonstration of the possibility of ideas. Enjoy drinks, small bites, music, magic and good conversation! Your ticket purchase and donation will help us bring direct, free public access to cutting-edge innovations in art and science in 2017 and beyond. Hosted by MIT List Visual Arts Center.

May 6

City of Boston Analytics Team: Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge Final Showcase

The Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge will culminate in our Showcase Event on May 6th at District Hall (75 Northern Ave, in the Seaport). This is a free event where attendees will learn more about Analyze Boston and then see what challenge participants came up with. There will also be instructional sessions where attendees can learn more about tools and techniques they can use to do even more with open data.

The event will finish with the announcement of awards for Open Data Challenge winners. There will be three sets of awards given out:

  • Challenge Track Awards: Winners and runners-up will be chosen for each of the challenge tracks above by a panel of expert judges.
  • Special Prizes: Judges will also pick winners for best student project, best project from someone new to data, best project built on open source software, and best project using maps or geospatial analysis.
  • Grand Prizes: An overall Grand Prize winner and runner-up will be chosen by audience vote.

May 10

Explore | Create | Code

Ever curious about your tech? Learn how to program a micro:bit and create a circuit-based game with Microsoft Garage staff. Tour the Garage and check out the 3-D printers, laser cutter, and future realities room.

The micro:bit is a tiny, easy-to-program device that can be used for cool creations ranging from robots to musical instruments to games. It’s been featured on the television show Robot Wars, and it has programmable LED lights, buttons, a compass, accelerometer, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Sisters will use the micro:bit as part of their games, and then Little Sisters will be able to take it home and keep creating!

May 11

New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML

Join us for hacking the biases, discrimination, and fairness in machine learning, algorithms, big data analytics! Our goal is to have each team develop websites to address these issues.

Prizes will be awarded at the end of the day. The winning team will receive a Surface Pro 4 for the team leader and Xbox One S FIFA ’17 bundle for each team member.

May 13

Technovation 2017 Showcase & Pitch

Celebrate all the locally-made apps submitted for the Technovation Challenge!

This year Posterboard judges will be reviewing a team’s materials beforehand, and then submitting final scores at the Showcase after meeting the team and hearing their pitch. The Posterboard scores will determine which teams get to pitch for the Presentation Award, as well as which teams will move on to the semifinal round.

May 16

MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Awards

Please join us for an evening to celebrate the 2017 MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators, hosted by PULSE@Masschallenge. This year we are teaming up with the PULSECHECK community to bring you the best in Boston Healthcare.

Boston Public Schools’ Transportation Challenge Brings Data to Buses

This year, we are partnering with the BPS Experience Lab, the education segment of New Urban Mechanics. This work has focused on visualizing data on student time on buses – length of trip, frequency of use, and conveying this information to headmasters through a dashboard using Power BI.  Through that work (and some recent Globe articles), we learned that 10% of the BPS budget is spent on Transportation. And as identified by the BPS Long Term Financial Planning Initiative and the 10 Big Ideas to Unlock Resources for Student Success, addressing these transportation costs can free up funds to invest in student success. 

BPS is hosting a challenge to better leverage technology to improve routes and bell times with the ultimate goal of reducing transportation costs. In TCE, we sit at the intersection of government, industry and non-profits and this kind of challenge is a terrific use of the data science capacity of the private sector to enable the public sector to better serve constituents and students.    

We are proud to welcome John Hanlon and Will Eger as guest bloggers to tell us more about this challenge. 

— Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager at Microsoft New England

Last Saturday, over fifty technologists, academics, and transportation industry leaders braved an early Spring snowstorm (only in Boston…) to join us to kick off the first-ever Boston Public Schools (BPS) Transportation Challenge — a data science competition, open to the public, aimed at improving Boston Public Schools’ bus routes and equitably and efficiently balancing our school start times.  We are excited that this innovative public-private hackathon will help us reach — as BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang put it — “a technical solution to a technical problem, using data science to transform our district” in a way that provides the best outcomes for students and families.  We are hopeful that this solution will come from one of the groups in attendance, including students from Northeastern, MIT, BU and Harvard, or from industry powerhouses like FedEx and Uber, but it could just as likely come from someone reading this blog! So… (shameless plug) if you have a knack for solving these kinds of problems then please roll up your sleeves with us and hack away!

The event helped remind us of a number of things. First, as our panelist Andy Rotherham — co-founder of Bellwether consulting — pointed out, “solving school district transportation problems is incredibly hard.” But as John’s remarks highlighted, it’s incredibly important not just for BPS but for Boston as a whole. Reducing the 45,000 miles our buses drive every day wouldn’t just allow us to reinvest in schools, it would also dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. Rebalancing our school start times could potentially free up funds for investment in the classroom while establishing school schedules that work better for families.

The event also illuminated the evolution of our bus routing system, something that is still a work in progress. Mike Hughes, the Assistant Director of BPS Transportation, reminded us of this when he said during the event’s panel discussion: “When Boston Public Schools began creating bus routes in the 1970s, we unrolled large and detailed maps of the city and used push-pins to mark bus stops and connected them with multi-colored string to form unique routes.” Needless to say, our routing and fleet management has evolved dramatically since then. Today, our 650 buses drive  45,000 miles a day and serve 25,000 riders at 231 public, charter, and Parochial schools.

Technology has played an increasing role in planning these routes. Push-pins and strings have been replaced by routing software and digital maps. However, our software still can’t solve this puzzle without placing a significant burden on our excellent drivers, who often have to operate on  inefficient routes, or on our talented transportation staff, who need to troubleshoot and fine-tune the computer-generated routes each summer.

And why is that such an issue? As research into the Traveling Salesman Problem has found, as the number of stops increases the permutations of possible routes grows on factorially (n! – that is, possible permutations increase faster than exponential growth). Therefore calculating the optimal solution by brute force becomes impractical after about 20 stops. And we have 5,000 unique stops, at which our buses stop about 20,000 times per day (the same stops often serve multiple buses).

Things get even more complicated when you factor in the many “rules of the road” that we have to consider when routing. These rules establishing ride-time maximums, bus-stop placement rules, and so on, quickly make this problem nearly impossible to solve.

But there’s hope! With the tremendous advances in digital mapping, the rebirth of the Traveling Salesman problem in academic circles, and the sheer growth in computing power, we believe that now is the time to try to solve this historically unsolvable problem. We think that there just might be someone out there who can develop an algorithm that creates a more optimal solution to both routes and school start times.

As we think about our wish list, we know that this algorithm must be adaptable. We want to better understand the true costs of our various policy choices regarding walk to stop distances, ride times, and student assignment. Given the interconnectedness of our system, we’ve learned that seemingly small changes can snowball into large cost changes. What we want in the end is a tool that not only reliably automates efficient bus routes but also acts as a calculator of sorts, quickly and agilely determining the system-wide impact or cost of various policy scenarios.

Lastly, this is a technical challenge – but one with a very real human component. For 25,000 students, their school day begins when they step on the bus. Therefore this challenge isn’t just about improving efficiency. It is also about ensuring that our students reach schools safely and on time. It is about ensuring that schools start and end at times that work for more families. It is about reinvesting in our schools.

We hope to see your entry in the our routing challenge – make sure you don’t miss the 4/30 deadline and visit our website to learn more!

John Hanlon has served as the Chief of Operations for Boston Public Schools since July of 2015. Prior to becoming COO, John worked for the City of Boston as the Commissioner of Property and Construction Management where he oversaw the management, maintenance, and operations of City Hall and other municipal facilities across Boston. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer for Scholar Athletes, a nonprofit that supports public high school athletes and was the longtime Executive Director at the Dorchester Educational Enrichment Program, a nonprofit that offers mentoring services for middle-school youths. John is a proud Boston Latin School graduate and Dorchester resident, where he lives with his wife and four children. He holds an MBA from Duke University and a BA in journalism from Boston University.

Will Eger is a Strategic Project Manager in Finance for Boston Public Schools, where he works on developing and implementing the district’s Long Term Financial Plan. Prior to this he was in Parthenon’s education practice and was a high school math teacher in Philadelphia. He has written on education for The Atlantic, Ed Week, the Huffington Post, and Higher Education in Review as well as a full length book on the Tea Party. He has an A.B. from Harvard College and a M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania.

Microsoft New England Team NERDs Out at Generation Citizen Trivia for Changemakers

Being in Cambridge for ten years, we know just as well as any local that we’re housed in an area with some of the top minds in the world. With world-class hospitals, universities, politicians, industry leaders, and more surrounding us, it can sometimes be daunting to acknowledge how much intelligence is in every corner of the city.

Generation Citizen, a national organization (and Microsoft partner) that works to inspire civic participation and empower students through civic education, has recognized this bout of intellect and is working to use it for good. For the past four years, our local Generation Citizen (GC) chapter in Massachusetts has utilized this “intelligence problem” at an annual Trivia for Changemakers night. GC’s Trivia for Changemakers brings together teams from Boston industries, pitting them against each other in a night of trivia, where the winners claim the coveted ChangeMaker’s cup.

All proceeds from Trivia For ChangeMakers support Generation Citizen (GC), a 501(c)(3) education nonprofit serving over 3,000 students annually in Boston, Malden, Cambridge, Arlington, Melrose, Lowell, Brockton. GC provides action civics programming in which youth lead community change projects and develop the skills, knowledge, and motivation to become lifelong active citizens. The result is passionate, responsible civic participation that will revive our democracy and the Greater Boston community.

This year, as in years past, Microsoft employees at Microsoft New England R&D Center jumped at the opportunity to participate in GC’s Trivia for Changemakers. Alongside companies like OpenView, Trip Advisor, Bain Capital and ActBlue, Microsoft team members Aimee Sprung, Shannon Felton Spence, Christopher Scranton, Kavitha Scranton, Maggie Schmidt, Ken Danilla and Eric Sprung took on the challenge. Together, they tackled “common sense” questions like “Who is the current president of the Boston City Council?” (Michelle Wu), identified photos of lesser-known presidents, and dove head-first into challenging questions like What former NBA champion and all-star served in the Senate for 18 years and later ran for President? (Bill Bradley). And to our delightful surprise… our team won!

Thank you to Generation Citizen, OpenView, Trip Advisor, Bain Capital and ActBlue, and our amazing team for granting us this year’s bragging rights. See you next year!

PULSE@MassChallenge: A Finger on the Pulse of Healthcare Innovation

With healthcare remaining a top priority and concern for Americans, it’s up to us in the innovation industry to inspire change and bring solutions to some of the biggest challenges in the healthcare industry. MassChallenge’s latest venture, PULSE@MassChallenge is here to tackle those challenges. The innovation accelerator describes PULSE as a startup-friendly approach to digital health innovations–and we’re thrilled to be a part of it. 

For years, Microsoft has been a sponsor of MassChallenge, igniting innovations across the civic sector by supporting civic ventures within the accelerator. We’re excited to take that one step further, as we join the PULSE team in sponsorship and help accelerate digital solutions in healthcare. 

Microsoft is excited to work with PULSE@MassChallenge to support seven exciting health ventures, providing BizSpark support, mentorship, and research connections:

www.vrphysio.com

www.syncthink.com

www.spring.care

www.redoxengine.com

www.queuedr.com

www.neuroelectrics.com

www.gainlife.com

Innovators in PULSE@MassChallenge receive the following support to help their digital solutions grow:

  • Digital Healthcare Lab: Connecting entrepreneurs with world-class strategic partners in healthcare
  • Community Access: Join the world’s preeminent digital health community
  • Office Space: Free offices in the heart of Boston’s healthcare ecosystem
  • Health Challenges: Resources driven to specific, top opportunities in digital health
  • Champions & Advisors: Mutual matchmaking with corporate & institutional Champions, mentors & advocates ready to help startups achieve success.
  • Awards: $250,000 in awards, no equity taken. 

Healthcare is a major industry in Massachusetts, and a human priority. It can be challenging for startups to engage the hospitals and large healthcare institutions here, but PULSE is paving the way to make this connection possible.

We’re thrilled to join a growing list of top-tier stakeholders invested in PULSE, including the Mass Competitive Partnership, Mass General Hospital, Shire, and more. 

PULSE innovators convene monthly for PULSECHECK, a speaker series and workshop opportunity. Join the PULSE team on April 19 for PULSECHECK: How HACKATHONS Create Companies alongside MIT Hacking Medicine at Hatch Fenway.

Harvard Social Enterprise Conference: Leveraging Technology for Impact

A perennial question for social entrepreneurs is the question of scale. And perhaps the two greatest levers for scaling social enterprises are technology and government. So, it should come as little surprise that the topic of civic technology featured heavily at last month’s Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard! Here, I’d like to share some of the insights presented.

The Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, now in its 19th year, is an initiative of students at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government, meant to bring together practitioners, students, and academics to discuss the most pressing issues of organizations and society. This year, topics spanned a wide range, and included a variety of panels regarding civic technology. Microsoft’s Aimee Sprung moderated a panel on “Pitching the Public Sector,” while others led panels on mobile technology in the developing world, education technology, and many other topics.

Nearly 1,000 practitioners, students, and academics were part of the 2017 Social Enterprise Conference.

Their conversations were wide-ranging, insightful, and eye-opening for those in the audience who have ever thought of leveraging technology to impact problems they care about. Here are just a few of the lessons they shared:

  • Technology is just a tool. It’s easy to get excited about all of the possible features and capabilities that technology can bring to bear on social issues; it can also be easy to lose track of the fact that technology is only one tool to address these challenges. In schools, even the most advanced learning platform won’t be useful without outstanding educators. Technologists should think of themselves as one part of a larger puzzle in addressing social issues like education, which includes other pieces like process improvements, human capital support, changes in resource use, and more.
  • Governments can be great clients. Governments often get a bad reputation as clients to technology companies and other service providers. But our panelists reminded us that the opposite can also be true: governments can be uniquely outstanding clients. Not only do governments offer unparalleled scale and opportunity to work on important social issues, but there are also marketing and sales advantages. While sales cycles to governments can be long, the turnover rate of existing government clients is very low. And although governments are often unwilling to try brand new solutions, leaders in government talk to one another frequently, making it easy to sell high-quality products that already have a few users.
  • Always keep iterating. Nothing is a substitute for talking to users, understanding their needs, and iterating your technology to meet those needs. This can be especially hard for new startups, who lack both resources and a large client base on which to test new ideas. Panelists offered some creative ways to gain access to those first clients, such as leveraging a university’s brand name (as a student). But mostly, they reiterated how important it is to choose to tackle a problem that you care about enough to get out of the office and into the field.

For more information about the conference, visit our website: www.socialenterpriseconference.org.

Daniel Goldberg is an MBA Candidate at Harvard Business School and an MPP Candidate at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he focuses on performance improvement, innovation, and service delivery in the public sector. He is the Director of Marketing & Attendee Relations for the Social Enterprise Conference.

Recap: #CivicTechBos — Impact of New Media on Civic Initiatives

While social media began as a way for friends to connect online, its uses have transcended far beyond that original intent. Social media has become a tool for activists, reporters, and unheard populations to connect together and spark new change. And with it, new media has developed on the digital and social spheres to rapidly transform the way civic initiatives take place.

Last night, we hosted our quarterly #CivicTechBos Conversations in Civic Innovation with Venture Cafe, with a focus on how the rapid growth of new media has transformed civic initiatives.

Speakers included:

Miss the conversation? We’ve gathered some highlights from last night’s event on Twitter Moments to keep you up to speed. Join us at our next event this summer!