TEDxAlbany: Activism Drives Attention Drives Aid

I was grateful to be able to share a chapter of my thesis on Participatory Aid at TEDxAlbany last month. The video’s online now. Thanks to Lisa Barone and the OverIt team for inviting me and doing such a great job producing the event. Thanks also to Ethan Zuckerman and everyone at MIT Center for Civic Media for connecting me to these ideas in the first place.

It’s been an extremely violent year. What makes a crisis worthy of our attention? It turns out that human suffering does not predict media coverage. How closely is disaster aid correlated to receiving public attention? And, if we’re newly able to use our networks creatively to drive attention, can our active participation improve these formulas?

Personal Data Geographies

Our phones track our personal geographies. This enables dystopian surveillance, but also provides an interesting layer of biographical data that we haven’t had access to previously. My personal perspective is that if other actors (cellphone companies, marketers, governments) are going to have access to this information, I should at least be able to view and analyze this data, too. That’s why I’m thankful that Google exposes this data to end-users through the Location History page, and also allows outputs of raw geodata.

I’m going to use this data as a personal reflection aid, sort of the way social media data helps power TimeHop‘s semi-automated moments of reflection. I’m also experimenting with artistic visualizations (as in, actual paint and paper). But to start, I’ve taken the data from the 5 or so months that I’ve lived in New York, imported it into Google Earth, and created a GIF of my geographic footprint:

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Continue reading Personal Data Geographies

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Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

Liveblog of a #Berkman lunch written with Erhardt Graeff.

Tim Davies (@timdavies) is a social researcher with interests in civic participation and civic technologies. He has spent the last five years focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world, from his MSc work at the Oxford Internet Institute on Data and Democracy, the first major study of data.gov.uk, through to leading a 12-country study on the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries for the World Wide Web Foundation.

A broad coalition of companies, governments, and other entities have come together to open data. This work is based on the belief that opening data creates myriad benefits to society, for transparency, for economic value, and other benefits.

Does open data reconfigure power relationships in the political space? The past, promise, and reality of open data reminds wide. Continue reading Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

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 Why Use Private Data for Public Good

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

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.