Matt Stempeck

director of civic tech

Matt Stempeck
Meet Matt
Matt is excited to leverage Microsoft’s unique strengths to create social change and grow the civic technology ecosystem. As Microsoft’s Director of Civic Technology in New York City, Matt leads strategic outreach and develops creative engagement opportunities. Previously, Matt researched and designed technologies for civic impact at non-profits, startups, consultancies, and other technology companies. He has a Master's of Science from the MIT Media Lab, where he quantified global media attention to stories like Trayvon Martin, studied the emerging field of tech-driven peer-to-peer humanitarian aid, and built award-winning creative tools to fight misinformation online.

Matt holds an MS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BA with honors from the University of Maryland College Park, where he wrote a thesis on the disruption blogs brought to mainstream journalism. He grew up outside of Boston (go Sox) and has also lived in London, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

July’s Civic Tech Events

We’re headed right into the heart of summer. Here are some top picks for events this July:

July 6

Labor and Employment Law Issues Related to Social Networking

Employers who use social media will find that they may be violating rules under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), regulations from the Federal Trade commission, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Health Insurance and Portability Act, and state security requirements, and many other laws.

Disciplining employees for their comments on social media can be a minefield. Not disciplining employees for their comments on social media can be a minefield. What is an employer to do?

Courts and administrative agencies are finally handing down decisions that address these legal concerts. The decisions are specific to social media, including variations by industry. This webinar will cover all of the legal issues and the decisions being made, and how to make sure your policies, actions, are in compliance.

July 10-11

NY Community Technology Skillshare

Join us for this participant-driven, interactive gathering to share knowledge and best practices in the use of technology and creative media in support of social justice efforts.

New York Community Technology Skillshare strives to be a collaborative space for nonprofit staff, social justice organizers, techies, activists, and students to gain new skills, discover new allies, and collectively envision the future of free and open technology to support positive social change. We hope to see you there in July!

NYTimes Cities for Tomorrow

How do the greatest cities succeed? On July 10–11, The New York Times will convene the world’s foremost industry experts, policymakers, developers, creative visionaries, entrepreneurs and others at Cities for Tomorrow, the must-attend event for leaders who are shaping the urban environments of the future.

July 11

Data Visualization for Improved Communication

People understand visual information quicker and more easily than numeric information, yet many professionals who work with large volumes of data routinely present information and analysis using numbers in a tabular format like an Excel spreadsheet. In a recent survey, more than 56%1 of respondents said they want to not only see data presented visually, but they want more types of visualizations to choose from and over 70%1said they want more interactivity with the data. Research shows we more readily understand visuals, and businesses are demanding more and better visualization of data. Visualizations help people spot trends, anomalies, exceptions and outliers. However, we are not naturally good at presenting data visually. This course will provide a grounding in basic data visualization concepts. 

23 Guidelines to Avoid an AI Apocalypse According to Experts (workshop)

JOIN US for this special, interactive workshop and discussion, featuring guest presenter, Dr. Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, as we explore the intent, meaning, and implications of these AI guidelines, and whether having a set of existing guidelines can really safeguard humanity from AI-catastrophe.

July 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty – PITCH THE CITY

Join us for NYC’s most famous and longest running monthly tech event! You’ll see a fantastic lineup of New York tech companies presenting live demos of their products, followed by an afterparty where you can network with the community and meet our demoers and sponsors.

For July’s event, NY Tech Meetup will team up with Blank Space and the City of New York to host the final event of the ‘Driverless Future Challenge.’ Teams from around the world submitted proposals to answer a complicated question: How can NYC prepare for autonomous cars? The four finalists in the challenge will pitch NYC Government officials and technologists at the event and the winner will be crowned live in front of the Meetup audience!

Voodoo Manufacturing Happy Hour

Come out for a tour of Voodoo Manufacturing, free food, drinks, and a raffle for two lucky winners to leave with $300 of free Voodoo Manufacturing 3D Printing credits each! RSVP with all of your relevent info to enter the raffle!

July 12

New York City Women in Digital Kick Off

Join the most powerful Women in Digital for our first ever New York City meeting.

Refresh yourself with a break from the madness at work and meet your amazing sisters in arms of Women in Digital. We’re about to start a New York Chapter, and you’ll be there on the ground floor of it all. Find out more and submit nominations for your open New York Board of Advisory positions by clicking here:

July 13

Black Women Talk Tech Summer Social

We’re inviting everyone to our first Summer Social Thursday, July 13th, 6:30-9:30pm!

Join investors, technologists, founders & industry vets of color to build new networks and celebrate our first BWTT Tech Trailblazer! Janet Bashen, President of Bashen Corp. will be honored for her achievement as the first black woman to receive a U.S. patent for software technology.

July 14

Save the date for Machine Eatable at Civic Hall!

July 17

IoT NY #45: AgTech’s bright future: Growing food (and data) with IoT

AgTech spans indoor and urban agriculture, precision agriculture, closed-loop systems, and a growing body of IoT-enabled solutions. This month, we’ll hear from a panel of AgTech leaders who will discuss investor trends, prototyping, grower adoption, challenges and opportunities for the industry.

July 19

NYC Open Data Summer Updates

For this month’s Civic Hall Member Showcase, we are excited to present the NYC Open Data Team!

Manufacturing for Startups: Fulfillment & Logistics

We teamed up with some of New York City’s best talent for the Futureworks Incubator Workshop Series.

Futureworks Incubator champions and supports the growth of hardware startups across New York City. Made possible by NYCEDC and spearheaded by SecondMuse and Imagination in Space, the Incubator’s workshop series focuses on the top priorities in a company’s journey. On July 19, we focus on Fulfillment and Logistics.

July 25

Buses, Beers And Bytes: A Happy Hour For Tech And Public Transit In New York

Join us on Tuesday, July 25th for a fun night of drinks, schmoozing and nerding out about New York City’s bus network. Hear from leading voices in the effort to upgrade New York City’s bus network and get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the solutions that can help make buses faster and more reliable.

June’s Civic Tech Events

Summer is finally fast approaching. Join us at these top events in the NYC area this June:

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.

Each year, Boston Civic Media convenes its growing network of faculty, students, activists, journalists, policymakers and nonprofits all invested in “civic media,” or media that creates social change through art, design, and technology. Our theme for this year’s conference is Civic Imagination and we have an incredible lineup of presenters to share new strategies, insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston.

Some of our team will be up in Boston for the Civic Media Consortium’s Civic Imagination conference on Saturday, June 3rd. It’s free, and you should join in!

June 6

June 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

This month’s NY Tech Meetup will feature a roster of civic tech demos, organized with Civic Hall.

Writing Government Information for People with Cognitive Disabilities

No one likes unclear information about rules and laws – but for people with cognitive disabilities, badly written and formatted information is itself a barrier to accessibility. So, how do you write so that people with cognitive disabilities can read, understand, and use your content? In this presentation, we will look at how simply written and properly formatted content can help improve accessibility for everyone, including people with cognitive disabilities. We will also look at how challenges faced by people with cognitive disabilities in accessing information are caused by bad writing or formatting. Finally, there will be examples of good and bad information about regulations.

June 8-9

Personal Democracy Forum

This conference will bring together top technologists, campaigners, hackers, government officials, journalists, opinion-makers,  and academics for two days of game-changing talks, workshops, and networking opportunities – celebrating the power and potential of tech to make real change happen.

Our entire team will be at Personal Democracy Forum at NYU on June 8th and 9thRegister now!

Come join us at our sessions, including:

  • June 8th, time TBA: Measure globally, act locally: What can data do for neighborhoods?
    The open data movement has matured from national mandates to serving true needs at the neighborhood level. Come discover groundbreaking local projects to help neighborhood groups and community boards leverage data to improve decision-making and create tangible outcomes for residents.
  • June 9th, 2pmA 2016 Bright Spot: Breakthroughs in Voter Information
    Featuring yours truly, plus civic tech superfriends Donny Bridges, Carmen Hicks, and Elana Berkowitz.
  • June 9th, time TBA: Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft

June 11

Open Data for All Workshop in the Bronx

The City of New York shares more than 1600 datasets with New Yorkers – these datasets hold information about where we all live, work, play and pray. Come learn how to use the NYC Open Data Portal (where this data is available) in a free Open Data for All Workshop at St. Mary’s Recreation Center in the Bronx on Sunday June 11th from 9-3:30pm.

June 12

Tech Trends And Geo: Today And Tomorrow

The theme of this meetup is to look forward, to experience and discuss innovations and trends happening across the technology landscape today, things we’re reading about in tech magazine articles, watching go viral in the business and consumer space, and think about how we can use them to improve the capabilities of our geospatial tools, enhance our geospatial data, do better spatial analysis, manage our data better, make better maps and better decisions in our work.

June 13

LMHQ Women’s Breakfast: Who Run the World? Girls.

Join us at LMHQ for our final women’s breakfast of the season, in partnership with Civic Hall’s #CivicWomen network, on Tuesday, June 13th for a discussion about tools to help more women run for elected positions. We’ll talk about what’s worked, and where there’s room for improvement.

Hear from Marya Stark, CoFounder of Emerge America, the premier training program for Democratic women who want to run for public office with programs in eighteen states, and Alexis Grenell, CoFounder of Pythia Public, a New York-based communications, government and political strategy firm providing strategic planning services to non-profit, political, and corporate clients, in conversation with our own Jessica Lappin, President of the Alliance for Downtown New York and former member of the New York City Council.

Community Transitions: Making A Difference In Military Reintegration

Only approximately half of the 21 million Veterans and their families nationwide are accessing care from the Veterans Administration. Despite over 1 million community and non-profit resources available, even fewer are taking advantage of these opportunities, leading to higher rates of Veteran suicide, homelessness, and seclusion. Changes here can lead to changes in every under-served population. Come hear what makes for a successful reintegration from the military to civilian sectors, courtesy of a panel of local Veterans and military spouses who navigated transition. Find out what is working in the local community, ask your questions, and help like-minded individuals find solutions on how we can do things better for each other.

June 14

Green Infrastructure Grant Program – Summer Workshop

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection offers a grant program for private property owners in combined sewer areas of New York City. The minimum requirement is to manage 1.25″ of stormwater runoff from the contributing impervious area. If selected, DEP will provide funds for the design and construction of the green infrastructure system. Eligible projects include blue roofs, rain gardens, green roofs, porous pavement and rainwater harvesting on private property in combined sewer areas.

June 15-16

Collective Intelligence Conference

CI is the fifth annual interdisciplinary conference dedicated to advancing our understanding of collective intelligence and the workings of groups. The conference will take place at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering on June 15-16, 2017.

Collective Intelligence 2017 will emphasize research in service of the public good and projects that address societal problems. Together we will explore the impact of Internet technology and big data on the ways in which people come together to communicate and combine knowledge and skills. Coming from myriad disciplines and fields, conference participants share how connecting groups of people, information, and machines can lead to more intelligent behavior and more effective problem solving.

The event brings together researchers from academia, business, non-profit, and government to share insights, ideas, and experiences and to collaborate on the design of better approaches for fostering the use of collective intelligence. This year’s conference will place special emphasis on public interest applications of collective intelligence, namely the role of groups and collective intelligence in governing and in solving societal challenges.

*tickets start at $299*

June 19

Dev Week Conference

Details TBA

June 21

ioby Summer Party

Come celebrate with a community of fellow changemakers – and officially kick off summer in style – at ioby’s Summer Party! We are delighted to recognize the work of our amazing honorees:

Micah Sifry, Executive Director of Civic Hall and Co-Founder of Personal Democracy Media,

Partnerships for Parks, a public and private partnership that supports and champions a growing network of leaders caring and advocating for neighborhood parks and green spaces,

And Indianapolis-based ioby project leader, master gardener, and Program Manager at Urban Patch, Joyce Moore.

June 22

Purpose x Design

Work is work, right? We don’t need to like it – just need to collect that paycheck.

Obviously not! Our careers are meant to be the manifestations of our dreams come true. We commit ourselves, work hard, and dream big – so why do we often struggle to find purpose in our work? Why does the grass always seem to be greener on the other side, even when we’ve made great efforts to get where we are?

In this Designers + Geeks, we’re bring together a distinguished group of speakers to look at the topic of “purpose.” We’ll discuss ways to find meaning in your work, and lessons learned along the way. Our speakers have lived, learned, and worked hard to build great careers – they’ll share how they did it.

May’s Civic Tech Events

We’re almost halfway through with 2017 — let’s celebrate May with a jam-packed schedule of events:

Every Thursday in May

How to document apartment repair issues using is a free website you can use to document the repair issues in your apartment. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s Northern Manhattan Office will host a training to help you create an account and start taking action to resolve your repair issues. Thursday, May 4, May 11, May 18, and May 25, 6 – 8 pm, 431 West 125th St.

May 8

NPC17 DataJam with NYC’s Department of City Planning and BetaNYC

Do you want to improve NYC’s capital planning process?

Can to use your data science and GIS skills to improve NYC capital planning process?


Then, join us on Monday, 8 May, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 pm to improve NYC’s Department of City Planning (DCP) Facilities Explorer, a pioneering urban planning open source and open data platform!

May 9

May 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty – Creative Tech Theme

Join us for NYC’s most famous and longest running monthly tech event! You’ll see a fantastic lineup of New York tech companies presenting live demos of their products, followed by an afterparty where you can network with the community and meet our demoers and sponsors.

This month we are partnering with Creative Tech Week to showcase a select few of their featured experts showing us the latest technologies being put to creative use.

In addition, we’ll have demos from the Top 3 finishers at hackNY’s Spring 2017 hackathon!

May 10

Smart Cities Innovation: Action-Focused Perspectives From Key Leaders

NUMA New York and Civic Hall are at the center of innovation in the civic space and we would like to invite the community to join us for “Smart Cities NYC Recap Event” taking place the week after the summit on Wedesday, May 10th at 6:30pm at Civic Hall (118 W. 22nd St., 12th Floor, Buzz 12A when you arrive).

May 14

Neighborhood Challenge Applications Due

The NYC Department of Small Business Services, along with partners New York City Economic Development Corporation and New York City Business Assistance Corporation, are proud to offer the Neighborhood Challenge Innovation Grant competition.

This year’s Neighborhood Challenge 5.0 competition pairs nonprofit community organizations and tech companies to create and implement tools that address specific commercial district issues. The competition seeks to make awards of up to $100,000 to fund innovative ideas that use data-driven capacity building solutions to improve operations, target services, or address local public policy challenges.

May 18

Databite No. 99: Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner

Data & Society Research Institute is pleased to welcome Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner as they share excerpts and discuss their new release, The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online (Polity Press, April 2017).

Successes and Challenges for ICANN and Beyond

Join Chris Mondini of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, to hear how multistakeholder participation helped globalize the Internet and learn what is on the horizon – for Internet addresses, technical coordination, and throny geopolitical issues.

May 23

NYC BigApps 2017 Finalist Expo & Winner Award Ceremony

Join us as we celebrate another exciting year of the NYC BigApps competition! At this culminating event, we will be showcasing the finalists from each of the three BigApps challenges at the Finalist Expo. The Judges will then announce the Grand Prize Winners during the Winner Awards Ceremony, followed by a cocktail reception.

May 24

Civic Hall Presents: NYC Open Data Spring Updates

For this month’s Civic Hall Member Showcase, we are excited to present the NYC Open Data Team!
The NYC Open Data Team recently finished a collaboration with Reboot, doing research on the users of open data and developing different personas to support the team’s upcoming user acquisition efforts. Come see a preview of this research and hear other updates and announcements from the City’s Chief Analytics Officer Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki.

May 25

We Don’t Learn Alone

The apps we build are more important to society and culture than ever, but the way we learn how to make them is often completely anti-social. What could a more connected and human mode look like?
The use of permissioned blockchains in the public sector has the potential to create a new balance point between two extremes: pure algorithmic governance (e.g., Bitcoin) and pure human governance (e.g., your local city council). This talk will explore if and how blockchain can help bring automation, transparency, and audit-ability to the world’s governing systems and institutions. Does the strategic introduction of blockchain-enabled validation mechanisms and smart contracts offer a means for rescuing public confidence in governing institutions while cutting costs and better ensuring fair outcomes per policy? Behlendorf will discuss these and other questions related to blockchain’s coming impact on how we govern.

May 30

Harlem to Haarlem Pitchfest

We’re Having our Harlem 2 Haarlem Pitchfest again this year! we are looking for 3 Harlem based tech companies to present their business to the audience. If you are part of a business that would like to show our Netherlands friends the innovation in Harlem, New York please send an email to

May 31

Startup Cities — Brad Hargreaves

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.

June 8-9

Personal Democracy Forum

This conference will bring together top technologists, campaigners, hackers, government officials, journalists, opinion-makers,  and academics for two days of game-changing talks, workshops, and networking opportunities – celebrating the power and potential of tech to make real change happen.

April’s Civic Tech Events

Happy April!

This month, we’re welcoming spring with these top events in NYC.

April 3rd is the deadline for the (super quick) application for Knight Foundation funding of early stage prototypes to improve the flow of accurate information online. Learn more here.

Plus, DataKind has a special call for proposals! DataKind is working with the Omidyar Network to help bolster the efforts of organizations working to protect rights. DataKind facilitates projects between data science and social sector experts with the end goal of making the social sector organization more effective and efficient. Learn more about the opportunity and apply by April 30th. If you’re selected, you’ll be matched you with a team of data scientists to work with you on a long-term project starting in June.

April 4

April 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

Join us for NYC’s most famous and longest running monthly tech event! You’ll see a fantastic lineup of New York tech companies presenting live demos of their products, followed by an afterparty where you can network with the community and meet our demoers and sponsors.

You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Book Talk With Eric Liu

Join Civic Hall and Eric Liu for the release of his new book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think. Eric will discuss the core laws of power and show that every one of us can upend the usual rules of engagement around power, revamp the narrative surrounding an issue, and effectively deploy our networks and influence to harness our power and use it most effectively.

April 5

NYC BigApps 2017 Workshop: Prototype Testing (Test)

In this workshop, we will live-test our prototypes with users and subject matter experts. We will incorporate users into the design process through this co-creation session and rapidly learn how to better the product functionality and design. We will also focus on different methods for gathering feedback outside of the workshop.

Modern Nonprofit Event – New York City

Calling all New York City area NONPROFIT DECISION MAKERS – you’re invited to a FREE half day event hosted by Microsoft Philanthropies, the Microsoft Citizenship team & Tech Impact.

This is your opportunity to take advantage of the Microsoft Cloud Nonprofits Donation, including the new $5000 yearly Azure credit. Make 2017 the year that your organization lowers technology costs while improving productivity and efficiency. Learn how the Microsoft Cloud is helping nonprofits, just like yours, modernize by elevating their mission using technology.

Run Local: A Conversation with the Young New Yorkers Changing Our Politics

Join the Robert F. Kennedy Young Leaders & the UN Youth Envoy’s Not Too Young To Run campaign for an evening of lively discussion featuring young people engaged in local politics! They’ll be speaking on the importance of civic engagement, the unique power that goofy goobers bring to our democracy, and what it takes to dive in and get involved!

Author Talk: Politics Across the Hudson

YPT-NYC and TransitCenter are excited to host Dr. Phillip Mark Plotch, author of Politics Across the Hudson, for a discussion of his award-winning book chronicling the three-decade struggle to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge. Currently an assistant professor and director of the Saint Peter’s University MPA Program, Dr. Plotch has been involved with large infrastructure projects for years, having worked with both the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the MTA.

Please join us for a night of insight into what the author learned while researching the Tappan Zee Megaproject, and how some of those discoveries might be able to shed some light on the region’s various other current or proposed large-scale infrastructure projects.

April 6

WE Day New York

Mark April 6, 2017 on your calendar and join us at Radio City Music Hall for our inaugural New York City event that brings together world-renowned speakers, A-list performers, and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives.

NY Hardware Start-up

We’ve got another meetup with some incredible presenters. We’ve got the head of hardware at Citibike, as well as the cofounders of The light Phone and Sunhouse. Bikes, phones and novel drumming, what more could one ask for? Hope to see you there!

Oweyaa Vet Career Connect Lunch

Join OweYaa on April 6th for our first Vet Connect Lunch. The monthly luncheons will provide civilian employment strategies and job search accountability for veterans and military spouses. You don’t want to miss out! Get informed and connected to professionals to discuss your career plan. Learn more about careers within the tech industry that fit your talents. Grow professionally with other veterans and spouses and build competitive skills to ace your next job interview.

April 7-8

Theorizing the Web

April 10

Warm Bodies: Using Data to Measure Room Level Occupancy

Join us for a discussion on measuring room-level occupancy using temperature and CO2 data to better control building operations.

April 17

Understanding Media Studies: “Media and Thermodynamics” with Tega Brain & Nicole Starosielski

Understanding Media Studies: “Media and Thermodynamics” with Tega Brain & Nicole Starosielski

Media Studies invites you to a talk with Tega Brain, Assistant Professor, SUNY Purchase; Fellow, Data & Society and Nicole Starosielski, Assistant Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU.
Tega Brain is an artist making eccentric engineering, work that intersects art, ecology & engineering. Eccentric engineering reimagines technologies to address their scope and politics, with a focus on externalities and unintended consequences. She has exhibited at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, the Science Gallery Dublin, Eyebeam in New York City and the Australian Centre for Design, Sydney. Tega is a fellow at Data & Society NYC and is an Assistant Professor of New Media at SUNY Purchase.

April 19

NYC BigApps 2017 Workshop: Learnings & Iterations (Refine)

At this point of the workshop series, we will focus on next steps and making it real. We’ll practice storytelling to get to the “why” behind the prototype, build a business case for the product, and practice pitching concepts to our key stakeholder groups. Participants and teams will come away with a practiced pitch and evaluative framework to submit to the BigApps 2017 Challenge.

April 25

NYC Bike Future Event

CUNY Tech Meetup

The wonderful folks at Tumblr have kindly invited our CUNY Tech Meetup members to visit their beautiful NYC office space on the evening of Tuesday April 25th at 6:15pm. We will have the opportunity to see Tumblr’s cool redesigned NYC space and hear from some of their engineering team about the creative technology behind this popular microblogging site.

April 27

Urban Tech Hub Launch

New Lab and NYCEDC are thrilled to launch the Urban Tech Hub, a program that supports New York City-based innovators who are building a more sustainable, resilient, accessible and equitable city.

April 28

Digital Future of Work

On Friday, April 28th, 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute and New York University’s Stern School of Business will host the first Digital Future of Work Summit.

The Summit will bring together business executives, entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers to discuss the forces that are shaping tomorrow’s workplace: the rise of freelance, “gig,” on-demand, and other forms of non-employment labor, along with the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics-driven labor automation. We will explore what futures of work are realistic to anticipate, how fast they will emerge, and what must be done by industry and society to prepare. In-depth parallel afternoon sessions will take a deeper dive into specific topics.

April 29-30

NASA Space Apps

Space Apps is an international hackathon that occurs over 48 hours in cities around the world. Because of citizens like you, we continue to grow each year. If you haven’t already, join us to share ideas and engage with open data to address real-world problems, on Earth and in space.

How We Can Use Tech to Help Citizens Better Access Local Government

Originally published by CHORUS on Medium.

TEAM GOV Left to right: Regina Schwartz, Chief of Staff Department of Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of New York, Nicole Neditch, Senior Director of Community Engagement at Code for America, Tiana Epps-Johnson, Founder and Executive Director at Center for Technology and Civic Life, Matt Stempeck, Director of Civic Technology at Microsoft, and Stonly Baptiste, Co-Founder and Partner at Urban Us.

A few weeks ago, I got to spend two days in Chicago with a deep bench of civic innovators and senior campaign veterans to celebrate the launch of CHORUS, a new organization working to foster and strengthen the movement for equity, opportunity, inclusion, and justice. We shared candidly, brainstormed openly, and workshopped around advocacy, volunteering, voting, and governance, working out of the University of Chicago Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Our team took on the challenge of governance, or more specifically, how to improve residents’ awareness of, and engagement with their local government’s services. Fortunately, we had exactly the team you’d want to put together to do that kind of thing (see photo above).

First, we considered all of the barriers to effective government, as well as the levers that we might have available to us to create change.

Some of the common barriers within government included siloing of knowledge within individual city agencies and departments, difficulty effectively communicating the work that is done, and an overriding risk-averse culture. Fear of a negative headline was mentioned several times. On the public side of the relationship, a major barrier is a lack of basic civics education and awareness of how government works.

Fortunately, our team had experience in accomplishing things with government, and could identify some tactics that have worked in the past. Small pilots were encouraged as a way to experiment without triggering the bureaucracy’s allergy to risk. The ability to get quick wins, and generously share the credit for them within government was also a proven method. Having a short amount of time to complete the project — a sprint — was also found to be a great forcing function. And we acknowledged the power of peer networks to connect communities of practice within government to one another.

Our next challenge was to create a concise problem statement. Given the universe of potential problems, this took some discussion. We framed the challenge with a helpful model of citizen engagement proposed by Regina.

Her model flips the infamous ladder of civic engagement on its side to demonstrate residents’ spectrum of engagement with government, from:

  • ignorance of the public sector’s role in their lives to
  • awareness of what government provides them to
  • a deeper understanding that we shape our governments to
  • a sense of agency to go from a recipient of services to a shaper of services

We chose to focus on the early stages of this journey, helping residents discover government services, and setting the stage for deeper engagement.

“How might we enhance people’s awareness of their local government’s impact on their lives?” With this problem statement framing our work, here’s what we came up with…

Increasing Engagement with Government Services through Contextual Discovery

Our solution might best be understood as a specific example in an applied setting:

You go grocery shopping. As you check out at the register, the Point of Sale device where you swipe your debit or credit card asks you if you’d be interested in receiving help paying for your groceries (we’ll test the exact language here for comprehension, inclusiveness, and a sense of empowerment). If you say you’re interested, the dialog asks for your cellphone number so a staffer within your local government can text you more information.

As you’re on the way home with your groceries, we send you a text that starts a conversation. Over the course of a few questions, we get a sense of your situation, and whether you might qualify for available benefits. We keep the conversation going, helping you discover other relevant government services, or connecting other people you know to the same.

When we zoom out and abstract this model beyond food benefits and grocery stores, there are three key components:

1. Natural context

Let’s surface government programs at the exact time and place that someone might want or need to make use of such a program (e.g. introducing SNAP benefits exactly as the person is paying for groceries, including tax preparation assistance on the tax forms).

2. Personal engagement

We set the stage for a genuine two-way conversation with the person that, over time and with additional communication, can grow into a true relationship. We chose SMS intentionally, knowing that low-income New Yorkers have access to smartphones, prefer communicating by text, and already use them to do their shopping and banking. Our conversation is designed from the onset to provide people with an increasing sense of agency. We begin with information about relevant services and grow the conversation over time to let people feel that government is listening, understanding that experiencing a responsive bureaucracy improves engagement.

3. Human-assistive technology

Recognizing that local government outreach staff may be busy (or non-existent), we propose to scale staff’s time with emerging technologies that will help them reach more people through personal channels.

In our example, the initial flow of the SMS conversation is pre-scripted, so that a staffer or even a chatbot can pull from a template bank to get in touch and begin the relationship. This allows the local government to qualify large numbers of people before more time-intensive conversation is needed (inspired by Hillary for America’s concierge voter text hotline).

So what’s next?

We’d love to see engagement services like the one described here tested in the real world. The lightweight version of this project could be accomplished with administrators at the local government level who are willing to try something new with a little bit of staff time, and a staff or volunteer technologist who could set up a simple texting program.

CHORUS is looking for partners interested in collaborating to bring this idea to life.

If you know of existing programs that achieve these goals, or if you’re interested in exploring how we might design a small pilot to try this out, please leave us a note in the comments or get in touch.

March’s Civic Tech Events

Happy Women’s History Month!

The civic highlight of the month is the NYC School of Data, kicking off March 4 and continuing for a week (Sold Out).

Join for a week of celebrations of the 5-year anniversary of the NYC Open Data Law. Open Data enables and empowers New Yorkers like you to better understand how your City works and what is happening in your neighborhood, schools, streets and parks. We encourage you to explore this data for yourself by visiting the NYC Open Data Portal!

NYC Open Data Week is a collaboration between NYC Open Data, BetaNYC, BureauBlank and the dynamic NYC civic tech community. We’re kicking off the week on International Open Data Day with School of Data (March 4th) and wrapping up with an Open Data for All Workshop at the NYC Parks Hamilton Fish Computer Resource Center (March 11th). Peruse the descriptions of these events and many others below and sign up!

PLUS, on March 9Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is hosting a citizen workshop on responses to the L train shutdown, and how to improve the 14th street corridor.

The rest of the month:

March 3-5

Giving Tuesday DataDive, Presented by 92Y, DataKind, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Open Data Week)

  • Friday 3/3 6:30pm-8pm EST: discuss goals for the DataDive and dive into the data!
  • Saturday 3/4 9am-9pm EST: choose a team and get to work!
  • Sunday 3/5 9am-3pm EST: final presentations and networking
    Note: You can attend one or all days.

We’re thrilled to be hosting a DataDive March 3-5 and are looking for data pros of all backgrounds to roll up their sleeves and work side by side with experts from the 92Y, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Facebook to help use data to unravel tough questions and prototype new solutions.

March 4

International Data Day (Open Data Week)

Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world. For the fifth time in history, groups from around the world will create local events on the day where they will use open data in their communities. It is an opportunity to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption of open data policies in government, business and civil society. View activities happening around the world here.

NYC School of Data (Open Data Week)

New York City School of Data is a community conference showcasing NYC’s civic design, civic/government technology, and open data ecosystem.

March 6

Civic Hall Presents: Open Data, Mapping Global Security & the Department of Defense (Open Data Week)

How can we get national security data into the open? The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will demo its geospatial data portals for the Arctic, for combating wildlife trafficking in Africa, and for Hurricane Matthew.

March 7

March 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

Join us for NYC’s most famous and longest running monthly tech event! You’ll see a fantastic lineup of New York tech companies presenting live demos of their products, followed by an afterparty where you can network with the community and meet our demoers and sponsors.

Five Year Anniversary of New York City’s Open Data Law, Local Law 11 of 2012 (Open Data Week)

In many countries, states and cities Open Data is a policy – here in New York City it is a law, which ensures that Open Data is here to stay.

NYC Chief Analytics Officer Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki speaking at Socrata’s Connect 2017 Conference in DC (Open Data Week)

10 – 10:25am on the Main Stage. Livestream details coming soon.

NYC Big Apps Workshop – NYC Open Data Portal & Department of City Planning Facilities Explorer Tutorials (Open Data Week)

Join members of the NYC Open Data team and Department of City Planning for a demo of the NYC Open Data Portal and new Facilities Explorer tool (launching soon) followed by a breakout session at the Tuesday March 7th NYC Big Apps Workshop. You’ll learn the basics about how to access NYC data (1600+ datasets!) and get an overview of other tools such as the Facilities Explorer powered by NYC Open Data that you can use to support your research and work for the Big Apps competition as well.

Disability, Bring It On

We will explore notions about stressors, and how when cultivated correctly, stressors can yield great fruit.

Hacknight @ Grand Central Tech

Come join us for a night of hacking at Microsoft’s Grand Central Tech Space! There will be a talk on Microsoft APIs and time to work on your own projects.

March 8

International Women’s Day 2017 at Civic Hall

In celebration of #IWD2017, and their campaign for #BeBoldForChange, we invite everyone—men and women—to participate in all-day programming at Civic Hall. Visit the website to find out more information about how to participate in this year’s International Women’s Day.

Civic Hall supports and encourages the initiatives by both the Women’s March and the International Women’s Strike on March 8th. We’re gathering our global community as we act together for equity, justice and the human rights of women, through a series of panels, workshops, and talks on economic solidarity.

Databite No. 95: Amanda Lenhart, Alice Marwick, & Zara Rahman

Please join us for presentations from D&S affiliate Amanda Lenhart on the prevalence and potential effects of online harassment and D&S fellow Alice Marwick on best practices for conducting risky research. Talks will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by D&S fellow Zara Rahman, exploring ways to reclaim power and control of activism in both the digital sphere and offline world.

NYC BigApps 2017 Workshop: Understand the Constraints (Design)

From here we’ll begin a series of rapid and iterative brainstorming processes that will lead us through prototyping and ideation. This session will focus on using the research from the previous weeks to start making design decisions and scoping product prototypes.

Made in NY Media Center + Fabernovel Data & Media: Open Data Breakfast (Open Data Week)

Whether you are a developer, agency or civil service non-profit having access to data drives business, improves services, and promotes free public access.

Together with FaberNovel we are hosting and interactive breakfast and conversation on March 8th to learn more about the City of New York’s Free Open Data Portal and how you can use it to build products, conduct research and analysis or create new applications.

Department of Small Business Services: 2017 Smart Districts Summit (Open Data Week)

Inaugural NYC Smart Districts Summit, where community and technology leaders will collaboratively explore how emerging technologies are being leveraged to address the most pressing district-level challenges.

College of Staten Island (CSI) Tech Incubator + Vizalytics: Data – A Driving Force of Innovation (Open Data Week)

Connect with us to discover how organizations and entrepreneurs are utilizing data to drive innovation within our local community. Learn the practices, technologies, and patterns the experts use to fuel their enterprises by way of big data.

Interrupting the Gender Imbalance in Media

Women continue to be under represented in the media. According to Media Matters for America, in 2015, only 21 percent of guests discussing foreign policy on prime-time cable and top Sunday news shows were women.

Join New America, Foreign Policy Interrupted, and Media Matters for America for the release of 2016’s findings and for a series of interactive workshops focused on “interrupting” the obvious lopsidedness.

March 9

Reaktor Open Data Studio (Open Data Week)

The goal of this evening is to share some ideas about how Open Data could be utilized in new ways, especially in New York. We have a happy hour with benchmarks from Helsinki, where open data catalogues have been advanced for a while, and companies and developers alike are used to creating cool applications for it.

Join us to hear examples of applying open data in a user-friendly way, and let’s come up with new ways to use open data to create new tools.

General Assembly Panel Discussion: Data and…Health (Open Data Week)

Big Data is continuing to significantly impact the way in which organizations operate and make informed business decisions. Emerging technologies are now paving the way to innovative medical developments, and it looks as though data is beginning to transform the entire healthcare industry! In collaboration with the first annual NYC Open Data Week, GA is bringing together influencers from the health and wellness spaces to discuss how data is impacting their organizations.

March 11

2017 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Wikimedia’s gender trouble is well-documented. In a 2011 survey, the Wikimedia Foundation found that less than 10% of its contributors identify as female. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity, however, is not. Content is skewed by the lack of female participation. This represents an alarming absence in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.

Let’s change that. Join us at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Education and Research Building at The Museum of Modern Art, 4 West 54th Street, on Saturday, March 11, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for an all-day communal updating of Wikipedia entries on subjects related to art and feminism. People of all gender identities and expressions welcomed and encouraged to attend.

NYC Parks Computer Resource Centers Open Data for All: TreesCount! Workshop (Open Data Week)

This free workshop, presented by NYC Parks and the NYC Open Data team, offers a broad introduction to the NYC Open Data Portal along with the concept of data literacy and analysis.

Using NYC TreesCount! 2015 data, the most accurate map of NYC’s street trees ever created, you will learn how to identify, download, manipulate, and visualize NYC Open Data with a focus on community engagement and awareness. Using tools such as Google Sheets and CARTO, you will be able to create your own graphs and maps from NYC Open Data.

March 20

Women’s Political History Gallery Reception by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer

In my office gallery, beginning March 7th, will be a display documenting women’s political history, with photographs, posters and political campaign ephemera from women candidates and causes. The reception for this show, on Monday, March 20, from 6–8 pm, will also serve as our celebration of Women’s History Month, and we will honor the late Maggie Peyton by naming the 19th floor gallery in her honor. Please RSVP for the event at

March 22

NYC BigApps 2017 Workshop: Ideation and Prototype Building (Design)

At this stage of the workshop series, we’ll “build to think.” We’ll rapidly prototype our concepts in order to get a better sense of how it more tangibly supports the needs of our users. This will be an opportunity for teams to get early stage feedback from a variety of experts, mentors, and community members.

March 27

Understanding Media Studies: “Power Plays with Data” with Zara Rahman and Mimi Onuoha

Media Studies invites you to a talk with Zara Rahman, Fellow, Data & Society and Mimi Onuoha, Artist & Research Resident, Eyebeam.

March 30

SPARCC Launch Event — A Conversation on Building Equity, Prosperity & Sustainability for All

Join us for a conversation on how collaborative, community-driven approaches to addressing poverty, racial equity, health, and climate impacts can positively shape our cities and regions for generations.

Over the next decade, trillions of dollars of public and private sector funding will fuel new investments in infrastructure, transit, housing, health, and preparing for the challenges of climate change. This event will bring together thought leaders, philanthropic visionaries, community representatives, and stakeholders to discuss how to ensure large-scale investments benefit everyone.

The Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) is supporting locally driven efforts to ensure that major new infrastructure investments lead to equitable, healthy, and sustainable opportunities for all.

March 31

Machine Eatable: When Recommendation Systems Go Bad, with Evan Estola

Microsoft Technology & Civic Innovation presents Machine Eatable, a lunchtime conversation at Civic Hall. This monthly series offers a candid discussion led by community leaders on the front lines of data science for civic good.

Machine learning and recommendations systems have changed how we experience the internet, and by extension, many of the products and services we use in our civic and private lives. While the reach and impact of big data and algorithms will continue to grow, how do we ensure that people are treated justly?

As the people that build these systems, we have a social responsibility to consider their effect on humanity, and we should do whatever we can to prevent these models from perpetuating some of the prejudice and bias that exist in our society today.

Evan Estola (@estola), the Data Team Lead at Meetup, will share examples of recommendation systems that have gone wrong across various industries, and what can be done about them. Importantly, Evan will offer concrete technical approaches that can be employed. Evan will also offer arguments data scientists can use to justify making ethical decisions in a field that’s obsessed with optimization.

You can arrive at 12pm for light lunch and conversation. Feel free to bring your own, too. We’ll begin the program at 12:30pm and wrap up by 1:30.

Beyond Representation: Designing a Modern Government

I recently flew down to San Pedro Garza Garcia, a city next to Monterrey, Mexico, for a quick trip to help launch DesafíoSP (‘Desafio’ translates to ‘Challenge’). I was invited by Dinorah Cantú-Pedraza, who runs NYU’s GovLab Academy, and helped organize the challenge, together with Graciela Reyes, the City Councilwoman who made the project happen, and Miguel Salazar of Codeando México, the country’s Code for All Brigade.

DesafíoSP reminded me of the most recent incarnation of NYC’s BigApps. Like BigApps, DesafíoSP focused on where technology, data, and innovation can improve residents’ lives. The list of finalist teams is an exciting mix of projects, including work to make government data more transparent and accessible, to capture more value from the city’s waste streams, to create geospatial maps of the community, and multiple projects to protect pedestrians from auto traffic.

While BigApps began as an open challenge to encourage New Yorkers to build apps powered by open government data, it has evolved over the years into a more sophisticated model where teams co-design solutions with the people they’re working to benefit. DesafíoSP is starting at this point, and is especially focused on the participatory governance benefits of the program. The residents who participate have already made serious commitments of time and energy to improving their community, and will continue to as the program goes on. They will be coached by others who have embarked on similar projects, thanks to the GovLab Academy, and they’ll be connected to the offices and agencies doing related work in the public sector.

Below are my remarks from the launch event, edited for brevity:

Programs like DesafíoSP and BigApps NYC present an important question, as surveys show that people have lost faith in public institutions: What would it take to have a government that we truly believe in?

It’s quite easy to lose faith in our government when it doesn’t do what we want, or doesn’t do anything at all. The greater challenge is to help design a government that’s worthy of your involvement. The key word there is ‘help’ — we need to show up. Not just on Election Day, but also by participating in the many new programs designed to bring the people’s expertise to bear on public sector challenges.

How can we redesign our governments to invite people to take part in the first place? What would it look like if voting and taxes weren’t the only times you thought about your government? It won’t surprise anyone when I say that I think technology can help answer this question. But technology doesn’t automatically lead to better government.

In a lot of ways, technology has empowered individuals more than it has empowered our shared collective. But technology can do more than just enhance the agency of the individual. Technology can improve the shared group, too. We can make better groups, and collaborate better. We can use technology to discover new participants across very large groups of people that we previously couldn’t, as GovLab’s expert network projects seek to do. We can match problems to the people with experience solving that kind of problem.

For participatory government to work, we need two things:

  1. We need more people to know how their government functions.
  2. We need their government to open up more to more people.

It’s frequently said in civic tech circles that our governments organize 21st century citizens with 18th century technologies. There are good reasons for representation; Not everyone should have to spend all day reading legislation. There are also bad reasons for representation, like a fear of what citizens will do if they’re fully engaged. Representation allows us to become lazy as citizens, and forces our representatives and government employees to do all of the work.

We need to do a better of job communicating to the public what government does, who it’s for, and what all of these municipal departments actually do. What do all those government employees do? That park I bring my dog to each morning – who fought to create it, and where do I show up to keep it there? We need to tell the stories of the public sector – we can’t assume people will just trust institutions as they might have in the past.

There’s so much value the rest of us can contribute to government to improve it, to make it worthy of its ideals of serving all and lifting our community. But we can’t access that value if our government won’t acknowledge it or expend the energy to organize it.

Now, maybe all of this is obvious. But it’s really hard to actually do the things i’m saying.

What if I came to you at your job, in your busiest time of year, and said, I’ve got 50 people who want to help, but they don’t know how to do your job. Can you train them, and hold their hand, and find them work that’s appropriate for their skill level and background and degree of motivation each day?

You’d kick me out of your office.

So, how do we bring the public into the public sector?

We gathered to mark the launch of DesafíoSP, and to celebrate the government opening up to not just include, but really leverage the people it represents. We’re celebrating the people leading the way with projects to reinvent their communities, and their government in the process. With your expertise, your commitment, we will point a new way forward.

The municipality, Codeando México, and the Govlab Academy launched a call not just for solutions, but for solutions and involvement. And the people answered.

It wasn’t easy. There’s a big time commitment. More meetings and phone calls after a day of work. Very few of the people participating in DesafíoSP work for the municipality. All of the people live or work here and care about this place.

You probably know, there are two categories of motivation — extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. And when surveyed, you spoke of the impact of getting something done.

These are the projects you’re going to get done. Wanting to see something through for the sake of the result, not prize money or the glory of winning. That’s intrinsic motivation.

That drive, to contribute to changing something for the better, and your acting on that drive, is what will make this work worth your commitment, in the end.

Getting stuff done is where local governments can really excel.


While there can be a variety of barriers to successfully doing something, one limit to getting things done at the local government level is often as simple as someone raising their hand to do it.

San Pedro, you raised your hand.

From pedestrian improvements and composting to government transparency, you’ve identified exciting areas to update and improve where you live. You submitted projects from the public sector and the private, as committed individuals who built a team, and as existing groups re-engaging.

You represent a range of ages, professional backgrounds, and life experiences.

The Coaching program you’re embarking on is unique. It’s tailored to help you accomplish the impact that set you on this course to begin with. So you’ll be trained, and connected with others who have done similar work, and provided guidance by experts.

And I hope that even after recruiting your team, you will continue to connect others to your projects, to involve the communities around you early and often. Because your project will be most successful if it’s adopted, if you are not it’s only champion.

Thanks to Dinorah Cantu and Beth Noveck and codeando mexico, we’re moving in the right direction. Thanks to the leadership of San Pedro Garza Garcia, we have a place to experiment. Technology can improve how we do this. San Pedro Garza Garcia could be to participatory citizenships what Porto Alegre was to participatory budgeting – a shining example for the rest of the world to watch, and then, when things go well, to point to, in their own town meetings and government boards, and say, “Hey, why don’t we try that, too?”

NYC wasn’t the first city to do participatory budgeting. It now distributes $32 million a year guided by a public election rather than a government official. 27 city councilors participate.

In Boston, youth who can’t even vote, who have every reason to treat government like a faceless entity, have already had the experience of directing public funds towards improvements they specifically want to see to their neighborhoods.

With work, we can move the system in the right direction. It begins with a strong pilot. And from there, it can grow, to a handful of pilots, and then ongoing commitments. Maybe next it becomes a trend. And sooner than later, if we keep working at it, our innovation becomes so successful, we stop noticing that we do it this way. Like libraries and subways and NASA and all the other shifts in our idea of what the public sector can achieve, we’ll know we’ve accomplished victory when we completely take it for granted that one of the fundamental parts of an effective government is the contributions of its talented citizenry.

We’re all here in this together, and the point of having a public sector and a government isn’t to rule, it’s to bring us together to get things done. When the very idea of government and shared investments like public education are under attack, we need to prove that we’re better together every once in awhile.

That’s exactly why we’re here together today. By signing up to participate, by coming together to improve San Pedro, you’re living out the highest ideals of what government should be. Congratulations and please, lead the way.

February’s Civic Tech Events

Thanks to everyone who shared event links and invitations with us. We’re looking forward to seeing you around the city all this month. Check out some of our favorite events taking place in NYC in February:

All month

Carol Jenkins toured the new African American Museum in Washington, DC, as part of her program “Black America” on CUNY TV. You can view the hour-long show, “More Than A Building, A Dream Come True” online at

Wednesday, February 1, 4:00pm

Databite with Jonathan Mayer

Regulatory agencies—especially the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission—have risen to prominence on technology security and privacy issues. Drawing on recent federal experience, this talk will explain why FTC, FCC, and similar agencies have assumed policy leadership roles, what legal authorities are at their disposal, and how agencies have exercised their authorities. The presentation will include case studies of both successes and failures, and it will offer suggestions on best practices and recurring challenges. The talk will also address how researchers and civil society groups can effectively engage with regulatory agencies.

Wednesday, February 1, 6:30 PM

The Business of Comedy

Join LMHQ for a fireside chat about the business of comedy, where we’ll give attendees a peek behind the curtain about what goes into making comedy work. More funny folks are experimenting with comedic mediums, more clubs are opening for standup, and comedy is being woven more effortlessly into the fabric of pop culture on a daily basis. What does it take, beyond the performance, to make comedy as a business successful?

Moderated by Taylor Moore, comedian and comedy curator at Kickstarter, in conversation with Justine Giannino, Manager of Original Programming (Current Series & Development) at IFC TV; JD Amato, Director and Executive Producer of The Chris Gethard Show; Jasmine Pierce, Writer at Reductress and Heidi Vanderlee, Publicist at Shark Party Media.

Tuesday, February 7, 7:00pm

February 2017 NY Tech Meetup and Afterparty

Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York, followed by a networking afterparty.

Wednesday, February 8, 2:00pm

Accessibility, Mobility, and Design

A conversation about the meaning of mobility and the role of design as a process that can cultivate a culture of accessibility that goes beyond accommodations. Sara Hendren (Olin College of Engineering) and April Coughlin (SUNY, New Paltz) will discuss physical, structural, social, and attitudinal barriers within and outside of the classroom, that shape access to education for students with disabilities. The discussion will be moderated by Jessica Murray (Futures Initiative Fellow, GC Doctoral Student in Human Development). You can also watch the live stream at and follow along at #fight4edu.

Wednesday, February 8, 6:00pm

Proposition: We Can Solve The Fake News Problem

Conversations is a series of events focused on open discussions on the changing new media landscape. Our events will feature panels with insights from the most respected news organizations, the newest disruptive publishers, and tech and media thought leaders. Through conversations, let’s work to transform media together.
The role of fake news — from PizzaGate to the 2016 election — is of grave importance, and a debate is roiling in tech and media circles about its impact and what can be done to curb it going forward.

By the time we reach the next presidential election cycle, the volume of fake and machine-generated news, information, commentary and debate may explode. From algorithmically composed text to photorealistic video simulations of people and events, from conversational bots to machine-generated audio that is indiscernible from the voices of politicians, there is a high probability that discourse among citizens will take place in a universe of fictions.

This event — structured as a debate — will chart and discuss key areas of technological advance that will impact the information landscape and consider how technology companies, media, governments and academia will respond to the benefit or detriment of democracy. It will imagine potential futures, and identify developments that are key to understanding which of those futures is most likely to play out. Crucially, it will ask the audience to decide: can we solve this problem? Or is fake news an unavoidable side effect of the internet?

Wednesday, February 8, 6:00pm

Research & Understand (Discover)

For BigApps participants — In this session, we will apply a human-centered and empathic approach to design research and ethnography in order to deeply understand unmet user needs. Some of these activities will include user and subject matter expert interviews, as well as observations and secondary research. Participants will come away with an understanding of the core principles of design research.

Thursday, February 9, 3:00pm

Civic Hacker Hours

Join Civic Hall members & the Hacker Hours community for an informal coworking session to give & receive support from developers, engineers, data scientists, and other technical professionals. Open to all skill levels.

Thursday, February 9, 6:00pm

The Cooperative Platform Economy: A Conversation with Trebor Scholz and Yochai Benkler

Hear Trebor Scholz in conversation with Yochai Benkler to celebrate the publication of Trebor’s new books, Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers are Disrupting the Digital Economy (Polity) and, co-edited with Nathan Schneider, Ours to Hack and to Own. The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet (OR Books).

Thursday, February 9, 6:00pm

How can government agencies rethink public space to sustain lasting value?

For the second installment of the Parks Without Borders Discussion Series, NYC Parks welcomes leadership from New York City’s Public Design Commission. This discussion will delve into how government agencies can rethink guidelines, concepts, and expectations to sustain lasting value, helping to support a more seamless public realm.

Justin Moore, AICP Executive Director of NYC Public Design Commission
Signe Nielsen, FASLA, President for NYC Public Design Commission

Moderated by:
Nancy Prince, Deputy Chief of Design for NYC Parks

Saturday, February 11, 9:00am

Girl Develop It: Hackentine’s Day

Girl Develop It NYC is hosting its first-ever hackathon! It will be a one day event for all skill levels to work in groups on projects with the added bonus of skill-building workshops attendees can sign up for. This is a great opportunity to try out a hackathon with beginners like you, learn new skills and work on exciting projects with support from mentors and other GDI members.

Saturday, February 11, 2:00pm

Celebrating The Diaspora: Highlighting the Richness and Diversity of Black History (past, present, & future)

2017 NMACDST CHANGE MAKER AWARDS will be presented to:

Edna Simbi, Upendo Women’s Foundation
Wayne Devonish, 500 Men Making A Difference

The 2017 Youth On The Move Award will be presented to:
Jtara Clark, NAACP New York Branch’s Youth Committee

Performances by:
Broadway’s – Joaquina Kalukango, MOVE(NYC), Mfoniso Udofia, J. F. Seary & More

Please join us for – Food . Fellowship . Vendor & Exhibit from The National Black Theatre

This event is Free & Open to The Public

Monday, February 13, 6:30pm

No One Ever Said Mapping Time Was Easy.

If you’ve ever tried to map a historical database, you understand how hard it is to do all the things at once. Showing data over time presents unique issues: overlapping features, navigation through time and parallel boundaries/standards/data are just the beginning.

Well, we are going to help you get started by presenting a few projects which went all the way there. Whether through obsession or assigmnet, they’ve scraped old books and photographed old maps. They’ve digitized and georeferenced. And they’ve finally made something new from the activities of the past.

So join us for a little time-travel with maps. We look forward to seeing you in the past and future.

Wednesday, February 15, 6:30pm

Startup Cities

Entrepreneurs, economists, and urbanist thinkers join forces to discuss the actions, effects, and impacts of startup methodology for cities.

Join the conversation!

Wednesday, February 15, 6:30pm

Digital Pioneers and the Urban Environment

Across the United States, designers are using cognitive computing and data analysis to help American cities meet the needs of their diverse populations. Tiffany Chu, Code for America fellow and cofounder of the public transport data initiative Remix; Adam Cutler, distinguished designer at IBM Design; and Sarah Williams, director of MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab and cocreator of the City Digits: Local Lotto project, will discuss the promise and challenges of this important partnership with moderator Cynthia E. Smith, Curator of Socially Responsible Design. Remix and City Digits: Local Lotto are currently on view in the special exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America.

*This event has a $15 admission price. Admission is reduced to $8 for educators, seniors, and students.*

Wednesday, February 15, 7pm

Analytic Activism: Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy

Some of the most remarkable impacts of digital media on political activism lie not in the new types of speech it supports, but in the new forms of listening that it fosters among organized pressure groups. Organized advocacy groups are increasingly turning to digital analytics in order to gauge supporter interest, monitor public sentiment, experiment with new tactics, and craft strategies that resonate in the new media environment. In his new book, Analytic Activism, Dave Karpf discusses the heretofore overlooked role of analytics in organized political engagement. He explores how this new mode of activism works, how it is produced, what it is useful for, and what its limitations are. In this public talk, he’ll discuss how the themes of Analytic Activism relate to the new challenges we face in the He Who Must Not Be Named Era.

Thursday, February 16, 6:00pm

Shades of Intimacy: Women in the Time of Revolution

In her trenchant analysis of U.S. history, literary critic and Black feminist scholar Hortense Spillers considers the aftermath of the notion of partus sequitur ventrem—the “American ‘innovation’ that proclaimed that the child born of an enslaved mother would also be enslaved.” In this lecture, Spillers engages the idea of the “shadow” family to explain one of the tectonic shifts in the concept and practice of social relations in the New World from the 18th century—a period of profound contradiction and change when dangerously hegemonic definitions of race, gender, and family took hold—onward. Registration for the evening lecture is preferred but not required.

Friday, February 17, 12:00pm

Machine Eatable: The Journey from Analytics to Editorial

Journalism’s adjustment to the digital age has required a crash course in data and analytics. The editor’s hunch now sits next to realtime metrics on content performance across a dizzying array of channels.

How do leading publications like The New York Times adjust to a wide range of new competitors? How has data been introduced to newsroom staff and leadership? How has it affected newsroom decision making? What can be done to ensure that we protect the craft of investigative journalism while ensuring it finds and resonates with a meaningful audience?

Please join us for a rich, attendee-driven discussion on what data-driven journalism should look like and how it should serve a society in need. Also, sandwiches. Always sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 21, 6:00pm

For BigApps Participants — In this session, we will identify patterns across qualitative and quantitative data sets. We’ll explore open source data & reports, interpret qualitative data from our interviews and learn data visualization techniques. From there, we’ll generate insights to highlight the opportunities for initial product concept direction.

Thursday, February 23, 6:00pm

How Does Technology Enrich Urban Policy?

Sidewalk Labs is an Alphabet company that imagines, designs, tests, and builds new technologies that address big urban problems across a range of areas, from mobility to housing to government services.


Saturday, March 4th, all day

Save the date: NYC School of Data

NYC School of Data 2017 – Save the Date

Saturday, Mar 4, 2017, 9:00 AM

No location yet.

106 Brigade Members Attending

The New York City School of Data is a collaborative network improving the City’s data ecosystem. This network seeks to enrich our lives and communities through technology, data, & design. This year, we will invited civic hackers and community based organizations to learn from each other and share how we can improve our communities and our data.Thi…

Check out this Meetup →

Microsoft New York Team Demo Night

Each season, we take a moment to showcase our team’s latest work, share updates to existing projects, and make key announcements. It’s an opportunity to bring our community in on key programs, as well as a forcing function to ship code! You can watch the presentations below, and check out previous demo nights and events on our YouTube channel. Thanks to everyone who joined us at the Microsoft Reactor at Grand Central Tech Friday evening!

The evening’s presentations include:

  • Matt Stempeck – Vision Zero with DataKind (at 06:35 in the video)
  • Briana Vecchione – Civic Graph (at 10:03)
  • Ross Dakin – Microsoft Translator (at 15:46)
  • Rebecca Garcia – Tech Jobs Academy (at 19:53)
  • Natasha Scantlebury – Tech Jobs Academy (at 24:53)
  • Matt Stempeck – Campaign Technology and Civic Engagement (at 35:10)
  • John Paul Farmer – State of Civic Tech (at 42:34)

Thanks to Joly MacFie of the Internet Society New York chapter for recording the event.

Some top tweets from the night:

Civic Tech Events This January in NYC


Happy 2017! It’s time to shrug off the holiday lethargy and kickstart the new year the only way we know how: with the best events in civic tech NYC has to offer.

Here are our top picks for January 2017:

January 5

Brooklyn Innovation Awards

Get ready for the Brooklyn Innovation Awards 2016! It’s our 2nd annual awards ceremony where we throw a party to celebrate the nominees, the community and announce the winners.

We’ll keep the talking to a minimum and make this more about a chance to meet and connect with each other. The goal is to honor the game changers of our community.

January 10

NY Tech Meetup + Afterparty

Join fellow technologists for an evening of live demos from companies developing great technology in New York, followed by a networking afterparty.

January 11

Women in Tech Panel

Calling all women in tech!

Come out for a fun night of networking and candid discussion about women in leadership.

January 12

NYC BigApps 2017 Launch Event

We are thrilled to launch NYC BigApps 2017 with a public event at Grand Central Tech! We encourage designers, developers, entrepreneurs, students, and New Yorkers at large to participate by joining us. Come for NYCEDC’s official announcement of this year’s challenges and stay for an interactive workshop to jumpstart ideas and team formation.

January 13

Microsoft Civic Tech Fellow Demo Night

Come join Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Innovation team as we showcase our latest work and the progress we’re making in using technology for public good right here in NYC. Our team is passionate about creating and deploying useful tools and programs to support the growing civic tech movement. Come see what we’ve been up to, have a drink, and connect with other civic technologists as 2017 heats up.

You’ll hear from:

  • Rebecca Garcia and Natasha Scantlebury, Tech Jobs Academy
  • Briana Vecchione, Civic Graph
  • Ross Dakin, Microsoft Translator
  • Matt Stempeck, Campaign Technology and Civic Engagement
  • John Paul Farmer, Director of Technology and Civic Innovation at Microsoft

Doors (and the bar) will open at 6:00pm, with presentations beginning at 6:30 pm.

January 13-15

Debug Politics: 1st NYC Hackathon

The first NYC Debug Politics Hackathon will happen the weekend of Jan 13-15. You can RSVP to attend here.

Debug Politics Hackathon is also coming to LA and will happen the weekend of Feb 3-5. Details are here.

If you want a better political process for this country, and really any country, and you want to hack on that desire, then consider attending one of these events.

January 17

Machine Learning & Big Data Project Demo Day

During this event you will see some of the best machine learning and big data projects created by NYC Data Science Academy 12-week Data Science bootcamp students.

You will also have an opportunity to meet our bootcamp students and find out more about what it is like to be a student at NYC Data Science Academy and gain an overview of the program. Join us for data wrangling tips, fun facts and in-depth discussions.

January 18

How can innovative park planning create a more seamless public realm?

NYC Parks is excited to host the first discussion of the new series by welcoming park leadership from across the country for a conversation about the public realm and how innovative park planning is changing the face of cities for the better.


  • Kathryn Ott Lovell, Commissioner, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
  • Jayne Miller, Superintendent, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board
  • Jane Rudolph, Director, Department of Parks and Recreation for Arlington Virginia
  • Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, Commissioner, NYC Parks
  • Moderated by:
    Lynn B. Kelly, Executive Director, New Yorkers for Parks

January 20

Playcrafting + Microsoft 2017 Global Game Jam!

Join us for a weekend of game-making plus free talks and workshops, refreshments and prizes! Stay tuned to this page as we confirm speakers, workshops and prizes in the coming weeks! Want an idea of what’s in store? Check out this recap from last year presented by Xbox’s own Major Nelson (Larry Hyrb)!

NYC Port & Logistics Hackathon

You heard it before, software is eating the world. There is plenty of eating to do in the Ports and Logistics sectors. Ports America, the Port Authority of NY/NJ and the world’s largest shipping line, Mærsk Line, are backing a hackathon focusing on Ports and Logistics.

100+ participants with multiple backgrounds – developers, business people, designers, domain experts, and yes even lawyers – will gather for 48 hours of building prototypes, rapid fire market validation and business model invention.

The event will be hosted by the Manhattan Cruise Terminal and will take place from 5.30pm Friday January 20th to 6pm Sunday January 22nd.

January 23

Smart City Panel Discussion for Australian Trade Commission

During this panel discussion the EDC, MOTI, and GFG will talk about the current status and future of the Smart City environment in NYC, their current projects, and how the International Trade and Urban Tech divisions meet. There will be an opportunity for companies to do pitch presentations of their projects.

January 24

She Geeks Out Happy Hour Sponsored by BounceX

Join She Geeks Out and BounceX for a Happy Hour at their space in the New York Times Building! We are thrilled to return to NYC, and what better way to ring in the New Year than spending some time meeting and mingling with other geeky awesome women? Expect wonderful company, delicious food and plenty of drinks. We’re looking forward to kicking off 2017 with you!

Please note that this is a women-only event that intends an inclusive definition of women. We are welcoming and respectful of trans women and any others who identify as a woman in a way that is significant to them.

January 25

Rotary Club of Wall Street

The Rotary Club of Wall Street NY was chartered on January 23, 2010. Join them on January 25 to celebrate our 7th birthday & learn more about the club!

January 26

LMHQ Women’s Breakfast: Build Your Dream Network with Kelly Hoey

Join us at LMHQ for our first women’s breakfast of 2017 where we’ll host author, connector, and networking expert Kelly Hoey to speak about her new book, Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World (Penguin Random House). Moderated by author, executive coach, and motivational speaker Colette Ellis, Kelly will pull back the curtain on how to “stop committing random acts of networking” and create a modern roadmap for cultivating meaningful connections.

January 27

Actualize NYC January Showcase Lunch Hour

Join Actualize for the Actualize Showcase Lunch Hour in NYC!

The Showcase is an open-house style event where our graduates present their individual Capstone projects – web apps created from scratch using our full stack of frameworks and languages. There’s also networking and, as always, hot food and cold beer!

January 30

Disruptive Technologists: Augmented Reality Experience

HoloLens, the first fully self-contained, head-mounted, holographic computer, developed and manufactured by Microsoft. . HoloLens gained popularity for being one of the first computers running the Windows Holographic platform under the Windows 10 operating system. Developer Nick Landry will present the latest along with four other AR experts.