June 2016

TICTeC 2016 — The Impacts of Civic Technology

Matt Stempeck mySociety TICTeC

This year, we were thrilled to have our own Director of Technology & Civic Engagement, Matt Stempeck, present at the 2016 TICTeC Conference, hosted by mySociety in Barcelona. At the conference, over 140 researchers and practitioners in the tech and government sectors explored the true impact of civic technology. We’re now pleased to announce that TICTeC has put together a video compilation of the conference, including insights from Matt Stempeck himself as well as plenty of the brightest minds in civic technology today.

Watch highlights from TICTeC 2016 live below:

Matt’s spotlight, via mySociety:

Fellow Profile: Hannah Cutler

HannahName: Hannah Cutler

Where are you from? Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

School/grad year/major: University of Pennsylvania, School of Engineering and Applied Science / 2017 / Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing:
“What is the area of Greece?”
I was testing a new feature courtesy of Microsoft Research, intended to improve users’ numerical literacy. Before, Bing’s answer to this query was “50,948 sq miles.” Now, it also reads “about equal to the size of New York State.”

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program?
I am passionate about finding ways to use technology to solve problems that will have social impact.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work at The Governance Lab, an organization that attempts to improve the ability of institutions and people – including but not limited to governments – to work more openly, effectively and legitimately to make better decisions and solve public problems. From the experience, I got a glimpse of how technology is changing the ways that governments, technologists, and policymakers are thinking about effective governance in the 21st century. I also observed some of the challenges governments today face as they try to inject innovation into their practices.

I first learned about the Microsoft Civic Tech team last July when I heard Matt Stempeck, co-director of the New York team, speak on a panel about the team’s work. It really piqued my interest! The fellowship seemed like a hands-on role that would challenge me to expand my skill set, work with super talented, passionate people, and see how Microsoft is building a presence in the civic technology space.

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces?
Aeroponic/hydroponic rooftop gardens/farms. I have always been interested in food — from production and distribution to preparation and consumption. Inspired by Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, I built a raised-bed community garden at my high school, I have volunteered on a non-certified organic farm and I conducted an independent study of “The Business, Politics and Science of Sustainable Agriculture.”

Not only are rooftop gardens/farms an incredibly smart use of outdoor space, especially in a dense metro area such as New York City, but they also highlight the importance of community health, environmental sustainability, and add a new dimension to locally-sourced food.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol?
Megan Smith, current Chief Technology Officer of the United States. I admire her transition from private to public sector and all she has accomplished during the current administration. And: Alice Waters for her activism and leadership of the local food movement. Among other things, Alice’s work has inspired a global network of registered farms, gardens and individuals working to create a more sustainable and equitable food system.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York?
I am continuing with the development of Microsoft Civic Graph, helping to build out new features and automate some of the data collection. I am also working on the Microsoft Translator project.

I’m excited to work on Civic Graph because I am eager to gain more experience with the technologies that the project is built with — namely, Flask, JavaScript/D3.js, and mySQL.

What’s your favorite project Microsoft New York has done?
Civic Graph.

What excites you about civic tech?
I’m excited about civic tech because it is a broad and burgeoning field. At Penn, in addition to developing projects myself, I am a project manager for Chris Murphy’s “Software Design & Engineering” course, serving as the liaison between clients and student teams building Android/iOS apps as a final project. Over the past year, I have managed four projects and clients included faculty at Penn’s Rehabilitation Robotics R&D Lab and The Perelman School of Medicine. From these experiences, I’ve developed an appreciation for how powerful technology can be, but also an awareness that software is never a standalone solution to a problem.

I think that technical skills are most valuable in the presence of cross-sector collaboration. The civic tech community is a diverse blend of backgrounds and skillsets — software developers, community organizers, product managers, civic hackers, government agencies, elected officials, technology companies large and small — and this warrants added opportunities to create long-term impact. I am excited to play a part in Microsoft’s work in the civic tech space!

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities?
Promoting healthy eating among children and reducing the prevalence of food deserts (i.e. neighborhoods with limited or lack of access to healthy, affordable food) in the United States and internationally.

Fellow Profile: Natasha Scantlebury

Natasha Scantlebury MSNY FellowWhere are you from? I am a born and raised Brooklyn girl and proud of it!

School/grad year/major: Trinity College/ May 2012/ B.A. in American Studies

Last thing you searched on Bing: The registration page for the SXSWedu New York PanelPicker Meet Up and Panel Discussion with Urban Arts Partnership and Civic Hall.

 Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? The opportunity to become a Civic Tech Fellow specifically working on the Tech Jobs Academy program came at a perfect time in my life when I decided to transition out of the nonprofit sector and set my sights on a new industry—technology and civic technology, to be exact.  My background is in community development and I’ve spent the last few years working to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers including the elderly age in place, helping college-bound students have access to the resources needed to get to and through college and provide supportive services to children of incarcerated individuals, to name a few.  This program afforded me the opportunity to try something different while still doing something that I enjoy, and that’s helping people help themselves.

What’s your favorite technology that’s building New York’s civic spaces? Art and technology has a way of working cohesively together to create feelings of unity and shared experiences in pre-existing spaces.  For instance, the many art installations that have been exhibited throughout the Brooklyn Promenade, and other parts of the city, help to encourage not only more traffic to these sites but unique and creative ways to use them to benefit others.

Who is your civic tech mentor/idol? Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New York? When I came on board in March, I was hired specifically to assist with Tech Jobs Academy (TJA).  TJA is an intensive 16-week technical training pilot program that was created in partnership by Microsoft, City Tech at the City University of New York (CUNY) and the Mayor’s NYC Tech Talent Pipeline.  The goal of the program is to prepare underemployed and unemployed New Yorkers for in-demand tech jobs in cloud and server administration.  TJA is my main focus at the moment but I’m sure as the fellowship continues, there may be other opportunities to support other projects as needed.

What’s your favorite project Microsoft New York has done? The great thing about Microsoft and the New York team specifically is it is full of some of the best and brightest in this industry and they are always trying to think outside of the box and come up with useful tools that will serve the masses.  One of these projects that are continuing to make great strides is Civic Graph!  Who wouldn’t want to map the organizations, agencies and individuals in the civic tech community in an effort to understand the work they do while examining the many different ways they are all connected.

What excites you about civic tech? Coming from the nonprofit sector and more specifically the community development arm of it, I have always been passionate and committed to helping support and improve the lives of low-to-moderate income individuals all while trying to ensure that the support they receive allows them the agency to become self-sufficient. The opportunity to work in civic technology affords me the ability to blend two worlds: community development and social good, a world that I am quite familiar with, with a world that I am eager to explore in more detail, the technology sector. My hope is to be able to take the knowledge I’ll learn from my Civic Tech Fellow peers, members of the Microsoft team and the industry, in general, to be able to make long-lasting impactful change for in-need neighborhoods across New York City.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? My hope is that people (with varying levels of technical savviness) have ways to connect and engage multiple types of resources in their neighborhoods and communities surrounding theirs (like knowing where free, extracurricular programs are for children, where local food pantries are located, and where senior citizens can apply for benefits like SCRIE and SNAP, to name a few).

NYC TreesCount! Data Jam: A Day of Civic Voluntreeism


Event photos via Flickr user Noneck — Copyright Creative Commons Attribution

This text is adapted from a Medium post by Briana Vecchione. Find the original article here.

Earlier this month, we sponsored the NYC Parks TreesCount! Data Jam for the 2016 National Day of Civic Hacking. Hosted out of Civic Hall and organized by BetaNYC, the event prompted the city’s civic technology, data, and design communities to to make sense of New York’s latest and most spatially accurate urban forest dataset. The census mapped 530,000 trees, including the entirety of Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island (That’s 80% of all NYC streets!). Some goals and challenges revolved around quantifying how NYC’s forest has changed over time, understanding how the census can be correlated with local economic and environmental indicators, increasing civic stewardship/education, and improving its current and future health.

The day kicked off with intros by Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, alongside various officials from NYC parks, Microsoft, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, NYC Urban Field Station, and Datapolitan. After an introduction and Q&A about data formatting and attributes, it was time to hack! The event offered two tracks: a six hour workshop on CartoDB usage or the more traditional team-organized hackathon challenge route. NYC Parks represented in full force, complete with a morning brainstorm to categorize attendees’ thoughts, guide direction, and build teams based on similar interests. Staffers included volunteer mappers, community stakeholders, tree stewards, data scientists, and platform experts who helped to provide context and technical support every step of the way.

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Morning facilitation led by NYC Parks staff, volunteers, & Microsoft’s Matt Stempeck

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After playing around a bit with the data, our team decided to tackle the second proposed challenge:

‘How can we visualize Street Tree Census Data to improve our understanding of the urban forest and help educate New Yorkers?’

We saw an opportunity to map NYC’s urban harvest and decided to further investigate. By visualizing the coordinates of tree species which produced elements known to be edible, we were able to generate a quick map which educates the community about their natural available resources. Our final product? “Flavor Notes of New York”:

DISCLAIMER: We do not ensure safety or advise the consumption of trees listed here and are not responsible for effects you may incur by doing so

Our demo also included a front-end interface which allowed you to search by species and current location. This was actually a pivot from our original kitschy idea, which was mapping all of the the Big Apple’s apple trees. Unbelievably enough, we found that the 2015 census had no recorded apple trees in the dataset (???), so we were forced to settle for the mapping of trees harvesting plums, cherries, chestnuts, and the like.

Not pictured: Ethan Garrison of Varick Media Management
We didn’t win 🙁 but the smiles say it all: I’ve never had more fun or laughed so hard at a hackathon. The day-long duration was the perfect length of time for participants to build a civic tool without getting too grouchy or sleep-deprived, and the event ended up producing 23 incredibly innovative projects. Some standout submissions included mapping the impact of trees on localized weather, benchmarking 311 request costs, and app matching for trees in need through social media integration. To see the total list of project winners, see the link below:


Going forward, NYC Parks has stated that they continue to engage with civic hackers and stakeholders to pursue further development and long-term project incubation. In total, there were 196 total participants, 5 community groups, 7 children in onsite daycare, and 5 project winners. Feel free to explore the data yourself to contribute to the ongoing efforts of building a more equitable urban forest. We’d also like to extend a huge thank you to NYC Parks for their distinct enthusiasm to and vibrant involvement with the local civic hacking community. It’s incredibly rare to have a government department willing to spend the weekend utilizing the skills of its inhabitants, and as tree-loving New Yorkers, we appreciate it.

A Plan of Action For Women’s Political Leadership

Dare to Lead

Democracy works because our elected leaders represent the people. But the numbers are clear that we don’t have enough women running for elected office, especially at the local and congressional levels. Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team is proud to support VoteRunLead’s Dare to Lead training to empower more women from across the political spectrum to vote, run, and lead.

— Matt Stempeck

Congress has been stuck at 20% women for the past 20 years and just 6.2% of the total members of Congress are women of color. When you get to the local levels, less than 10% of elected positions are filled by women.

It’s time to activate every woman who has ever thought about leading change in her community.

On June 18, VoteRunLead presents their historic Dare to Lead event. Throughout the day, they aim to train over 1,000 women in designing a plan of action for political change in their community.

Inspiring leaders, aspiring women in politics, and individuals looking to make a change — join us! You are invited to attend — get in the room and Dare to Lead.

Our goal is to support and connect women with the people and resources they need to succeed in making change happen in their community.

Change doesn’t have to be big to be important. It starts by getting in the room. Join us at #DaretoLead June 18!

#Recap — 2016 Personal Democracy Forum


New York knows the tech we need.

There was no better evidence than last week’s Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), a two-day consortium of great minds in tech, politics, and people. Over the course of two days, we explored the impact that technology can have on our daily lives, and why making technology accessible can change everything.

With talks, slideshows, workshops, and — yes — a little bit of interpretive dance, we had a blast working alongside some of the brightest minds in civic tech to explore how we can improve our communities, one technology at a time.

Here are some of our favorite moments from PDF 2016, told in tweets:

Personal Democracy Forum Brings The Tech We Need


Last year, we posed a very simple question: Is Personal Democracy Forum For Me? And this year, that question is being answered directly. Today, we celebrated the first day of the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) with inspiring talks and panels that showed how technology can improve government — and, in turn, our individual lives.

While we may be growing as a technological society, our government still has a long way to go to catch up. How can we use the technology that we have to improve our government? Our community? Our selves? As Robin Carnahan brought up, those who work in the tech sector (through government or otherwise) are woken up in the middle of the night worried about technology. If our websites are the “front door” to our offices, we need them to be accessible and open at all times to make sure we’re doing the work that needs to be done. And that’s exactly what PDF is exploring.

New Youth Workshops helps New Yorkers become Entrepreneurs and Tech Innovators

New York City is known as a center for achievers and innovators, so it would only make sense that this spirit can be found in even the youngest of residents. Just because the school year is coming to an end doesn’t mean the learning has to take a break (or that kids have to give up their summer fun!).

With the demand for technology and STEM education growing, Microsoft Stores are offering free workshops for students to get ahead and avoid the infamous summer brain drain. The objective of the workshops are not to teach kids to become programmers or software engineers, but rather to build a foundation through a fun, hands-on experience with the latest technology and guidance from industry experts. The workshops provide a place for students to build “the next great idea”, see it come to life and even learn the entrepreneurship skills to take their passions to the next level. Early development of creative thinking and problem-solving skills will help with success in the new school year and no one is better positioned to help than Microsoft.

This summer, the Microsoft Flagship Store in New York will offer three free, new camps including:

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

Registration for these classes just opened and they fill up fast. Traveling this summer? Not a problem! Microsoft has stores across the country that will offer the same classes. Get more details on each camp and register at microsoftstore.com/summercamps or microsoftstore.com/locations.

Join Us at the 2016 Personal Democracy Forum


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

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

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

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

Events in June: Personal democracy, parks data, and plenty more


We start the month off with two of New York City’s flagship civic tech events, and go steadily on from there.

TreesCount! Data Jam

Saturday, 4 June 2016 from 8:00 am till 6:00 pm
Civic Hall, 156 5th Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY

On Saturday, June 4th, we’ll celebrate the National Day of Civic Hacking at Civic Hall. NYC Parks will unveil NYC’s latest urban forest dataset, the most spatially accurate map of New York City’s street trees. Join our team, NYC Parks, BetaNYC, and the city’s tree care community to design tech that supports our city’s urban forest!

We are looking for data scientists, statisticians, developers, designers, visualizers, cartographers, and quants. Bring your skills, questions, and creativity to this data jam!

To spark and sustain public engagement, NYC Parks launched the TreesCount! campaign. To date, more than 2,300 New Yorkers have voluntreered helping complete the first comprehensive map of our city’s street trees.

Now, it’s your turn to help us transform the data, gathered thus far, into actionable insights. Whether you are new to hacking or experienced, bring your data expertise and join us for NYC’s first TreesCount! Data Jam.

This event is child friendly with care provided by Sitters Studio. There is no cost for attendants.

Cost – $10, includes food, scholarships available. Childcare free for participants.

Personal Democracy Forum

And then, on June 9th and 10th, the global civic tech community will converge at Personal Democracy Forum. Now in its 13th year (!!), we’ll again convene at NYU’s Skirball Center for passionate plenaries, engaging panels, and hallway conversations galore. I’ll personally be leading two sessions on our field guide to civic tech and how big tech companies can design civic features in mainstream applications. Annmarie Levins will lead a discussion with Code for America, DataKind, and Agora on Community Partnership Models for Civic Tech.

Get your tickets now!

More great June civic tech events:

June 1Civic Tech Mixer at Civic Hall

June 2Human Decisions and Machine Predictions

June 2: GovLab Ideas Lunch: Crowdsourcing A Meeting of Minds: Designing the Future of Work

June 4-5Humanitarian TechFest 2016 East Coast

June 7: June 2016 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

June 7: Smart Cities June Town Hall

June 8IoT Media Mash

June 13Video Games for Social Impact, Learning, and Health

June 14: LMHQ Women’s Breakfast: Women Leaders in Lower Manhattan

June 15: Algorithms @ Grace Hopper Academy

June 15General Assembly Debate Club

June 16Workshop: What Are Innovation Districts and How Can They Benefit Companies?

John Paul Farmer will be speaking at this workshop.

June 18Dare To Lead New York

June 20: Tech Talks: The Ethics of Collecting Data @ Medidata

June 23: LMHQ Birthday Times

June 23-24Games For Change Festival

June 25-26: Open Audio Weekend