Why Use Private Data for Public Good

I wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review about data philanthropy, where private corporations donate or otherwise share valuable data with public partners like local government and non-profits. This piece introduces the idea, makes the business case, and begins to explore how an internal champion might go about executing such a project.

Fortunately, the post went live the very same day that John and I attended UN Global Pulse’s excellent Responsible Data Forum on Private Sector Data Sharing (organized with the Data & Society Research Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation). The attendees represented an incredible range and depth of experience in this nascent field. Together we began drafting additional resources, like a road map showing how to commit data philanthropy, and a starter kit. I’ll share these as soon as they’re ready (or sooner, if you’re interested in helping to shape them). Continue reading

Racial Profiling and Bike Sharing: Urban Data Science at Microsoft Research

A liveblog of Microsoft Research’s Data Science Summer School. Errors likely mine.

The Data Science Summer School program recruits some of the most talented data students in the city to solve really difficult problems. Fortunately, they were able to choose the 8 extremely talented students from a city of 8 million people.

Data Science School students
Data Science Summer School students. Photo by Microsoft Research.

Microsoft Research’s instructors and directors pulled all the necessary strings to put this program together on an expedited timeline. Tonight are their final presentations: Continue reading

Life News

Cross-posted from MicrosoftNewYork.com:

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve joined Microsoft as Director of Civic Technology here in New York City.

My career decisions have been driven by a desire to maximize my social impact. This overarching goal is why I’ve spent the better part of the past decade using technology to accelerate change in organizing, movement building, campaign finance reform, and journalism and digital media.

Recently, I’ve become convinced of the unrealized potential for technology companies themselves to make substantial contributions to social change. In addition to their resources (human, financial, data, and tech), these companies are building the products used by an ever-growing portion of the human species. These products are increasingly the conduits through which we connect, learn, and act. They could reduce barriers to information and courses of action that improve our civic lives.

As we think about how technology can improve citizens’ lives in cities, in particular, it has become quite clear that the opportunities and rewards of the technology economy must be shared more equitably across the power faults of race, gender, class, and access. A big chunk of our work will be focused on inclusion, looking to make improvements in both the existing community and the long-term pipeline. Related to that, we’re excited to support and expand STEM education and employment programs in New York.

We’re lucky to be working in New York City, one of the bastions of civic tech. I’ve been collaborating with the civic tech community here for years, be it through conversations at Personal Democracy Forum (the pinnacle conference in the space), working with news outlets and media startups while getting my Master’s at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, or interviewing for my thesis the many technologists and organizers who innovated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, employed technology to power an unprecedented participatory aid response and in doing so, redefined the resilient community.

What I didn’t know before applying to this job is that Microsoft has assembled a Civic team of great talent, based right here in New York. I’m excited to work closely with John Paul Farmer, co-founder of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. In addition, the team boasts three amazing Civic Tech Fellows: Jenny Shore from Harvard, and Ken Chan and Fatima Khalid, both from NYU.

A key moment for me in making the decision to join this team was attending Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith’s eloquent, impassioned speech at Personal Democracy Forum, where he unequivocally established Microsoft’s support for net neutrality as well as citizens’ privacy rights in the face of NSA overreach. As you may have seen in the news lately, big changes are afoot at Microsoft, and I’m thrilled to join these efforts.

Please get in touch if you’re in New York and want to think through these challenges together. I’m @mstem on Twitter and matt.stempeck@microsoft.com.

Play into a Broader World View with Terra Incognita

My colleague Catherine D’Ignazio is one of those rare people who manages to create beautiful art and clever software while remaining incredibly down to earth. I’ve been helping out here and there on her Media Lab Master’s thesis, Terra Incognita. Here’s an overview of the project I wrote up for the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning.

We’re building a news game that helps you explore a wider swath of the globe than you may have before. Terra Incognita: 1000 Cities of the World is a game delivered by Chrome browser extension. When you open a new tab, you’ll be prompted to read a news story from one of the top 1,000 global cities. You’ll also get credit for news stories you read on a limited set of news sites. You can get early access to Terra Incognita today.

Terra Incognita screenshot

Continue reading

Joi’s Guiding Principles for Innovation in the Network Era

I just got to hang out with my friends at MIT’s Center for Civic Media and the insanely relevant and great group of people that Civic and the Knight Foundation bring together for the annual conference. Here’s my liveblog of Joi Ito‘s 9 Principles for the Media Lab, some of which directly informed my thesis on participatory aid and crisis resilience. Check out the Civic blog for more coverage.

Liveblogged at #civicmedia with help from Ed Platt. Any errors are likely ours.

Joi Ito (@joi), Director of the MIT Media Lab, is here to share his nine principles.

Nearly thirty years ago when the Media Lab was founded, the internet was about connecting together supercomputers. The Media Lab was all about empowering the individual and making everything digital. The Lab’s founder, Nicholas Negroponte, wrote Being Digital.

What’s changed in these last thirty years is that we’ve made a lot of progress empowering the individual, and as a result, we now have a network. When you have a network, you need to think about systems rather than objects. ‘Media’ is plural for medium, and a medium is something in which you can express yourself. In the past, that was hardware: displays, robots. Today, a medium can also be society itself. Applied social science and journalism are newly relevant. Continue reading

Yahoo!’s employee diversity

Yahoo! has responded to Google’s release of employee diversity statistics with its own numbers. Also like Google’s report, Yahoo! has broken out tech and leadership categories versus the overall employee population. The numbers still aren’t great for African Americans, Latinos, or Native Americans, but the regular release of these statistics will allow us to hold these companies accountable — from within and from outside — for improving diversity. So, without further blog post, here are Yahoo!’s employee diversity visualized on their new logo:

62% male, 37% female

Race at Yahoo!: 50% white, 39% Asian

50% White, 39% Asian, 4% Hispanic ethnicity, 2% Black, 2% Two + races, 2% Other / not disclosed Continue reading

Tally Your Next Panel

I just built a quick app with friends old and new. It’s called Tally, and it lets event attendees and media consumers call out the all-too-frequently terrible gender ratios on panels and in Who’s Who lists. We took an existing social practice, where feminists take and share photos of panels with awful gender ratios, and built software to support it.

Tally’s a very simple app: You just enter where you are (or what you’re reading), and the number of men and women represented in this particular slice of the public dialog. The tool generates a representative pie chart graphic for you to share with others, send to the organizers, or just document. Positive ratios are adorned with a happy star, and negative ratios earn a storm cloud.

A recent Tally chart of #FortuneTech's gender ratio
A recent Tally chart of #FortuneTech’s gender ratio

Continue reading