Boston’s innovation “secret sauce”: observations from the #JoinedUp Australia visit to the Boston innovation ecosystem

JoinedUp Boston

The idea hit the team late January this year. The first blizzard (of what would be many) had just struck, and the Civic Engagement team at Microsoft New England (MSNE) was hosting a colleague from sunny Australia. She had come to job shadow us, to see what ideas might be borrowed from the Boston innovation community. During her week here, we got a chance to introduce her to colleagues in local government, private sector and the startup space. The goal was to talk about innovation and what might be portable to Australia, which is grappling with pivoting their economy away from a dependency on natural resources and manufacturing, towards more innovation.

In spite of the bitter cold and increasing snow during her visit, our Australian colleague was inspired by the conversations she had here. There was an enthusiastic community in Boston, willing to share their insights. Could Microsoft find a way to bring together big thinkers from both the Boston and the Australian innovation communities to talk about innovation?

Seven months later, under significantly sunnier and warmer conditions, a 25-person group from Australian government, private sector and startups arrived in Boston to do just that. Under the joint auspices of Microsoft New England and Microsoft Australia, we convened a number of meetings to talk about the diverse facets of Boston innovation—the roles of government, urban planning, philanthropic organizations and place-making, as well as best practices like MassChallenge, CIC/Venture Café and District Hall. There were formal presentations, but also informal gatherings, tours and hands-on activities to fully immerse the group into the innovation space.

We got a chance to hear from the group about their key takeaways. Here’s what they observed:

  • Good innovation policy often means good urban planning. It’s important to think about the role of physical proximity, how it creates opportunities for face-to-face engagement, thus building trust that provides the glue for innovation.
  • There’s a sense of purpose to the work in Boston, where innovation is frequently aligned with social impact.
  • Cities appear to be the logical size when it comes to thinking about innovation places.
  • While there are large innovation initiatives, it’s good not to wait for a master plan, but rather, deliver smaller-scale innovation to help set tone and promote culture.
  • Innovation requires taking risks, and being comfortable that not every idea will lead to success.

Representing Boston as part of Microsoft New England, I was honored to be able to share such a rich ecosystem with key stakeholders from halfway around the world. Thank you to all of MSNE’s partners who came together to share their passion and insights in such a substantial fashion! I am grateful and humbled to work in a community of such generous and thoughtful people willing to contribute their time to foster international innovation.

Upcoming Event: How Do You Create an Innovation Culture in Cities?

How a community goes about building an innovative culture is unique. It often starts at the top, with leaders charged with governing who set the beliefs, expectations, a sense of purpose that underscores the importance of cultivating a culture of innovation and change, and who foster innovation by listening and supporting it in other community leaders and citizens. Join us for this upcoming event to hear from leaders and experts who are on the forefront of innovation in governance and technology:

Creating an Innovation Culture for the 21st Century City
Event Date: July 29, 2015, 5:00 pm – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

Speakers Include:



Program Agenda 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Welcome Remarks

Keynote Address, National League of Cities

Mayor’s Roundtable Led by The Director of the Working Cities Challenge, Boston Federal Reserve Bank

Technology for Communities: Microsoft Segment

Reception & Networking


This event is a joint effort by The Civic Innovation Project and The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center, New England


The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center aims for Microsoft to be “of” the community, not just exist within it. Through the Innovation and Policy Center we are extending beyond the tech community to: Connect stakeholders from tech to the broader business, academic and government communities; Catalyze important technology and public policy discussions, and; Contribute more directly with the health and vitality of greater New England.

The Civic Innovation Project is a national innovation and research platform focused on catalyzing government innovation. By expanding awareness and access to data and technology resources, our goal is to transform how leaders innovate in furtherance of government transparency and empower them with tools that have the potential to foster the creation of engaged and informed communities of citizens. Learn more about The Civic Innovation Project at and on Twitter @civinnovation.

LourdesLourdes German is the founder and director of the Civic Innovation Project, a national innovation and research platform intended to catalyze innovation among state and local government leaders and their citizens. Lourdes also serves as a fellow of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, where she is helping the institute launch an intellectual enterprise that will elevate the importance of municipal fiscal health as a national strategic priority, and is the author of the manuscript for the upcoming book, How Communities Finance America: A Guide to Government Public Finance. Prior to that, Lourdes spent the past decade working in the state and local government sector in various roles, including at Fidelity Investments where she helped create a new national business division focused on government public finance as a Vice President, at Breckinridge Capital Advisors where she served as General Counsel and Vice President of Research with respect to municipal government securities, and at Northeastern where she served as a Visiting Lecturer of Government Public Finance.

#JoinedUp — Celebrating Unity Between Australia and Boston

Last week, our team was honored to host a delegation from Australia to explore best practices in technology, city management, and innovation. Through visits to District Hall, MassChallenge, the Museum of Science, and more, we were able to share our pride in Cambridge and Boston and how we are working together as two cities in innovation.

We’ve gathered some of the best tweets from the visit below:

Microsoft New England Picks: 5 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 5 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

The summer’s still heating up — and with plenty of tech events happening in Boston and Cambridge, there’s no cooling down in sight! Here are our top five picks for events you don’t want to miss this week:

1) Interaction Design Foundation Boston/Wakefield Mash-Up Monthly
Tuesday, July 21, 6:30pm – 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge

The Interaction Design Foundation – the IDF – is a ten year old transformative non-profit enterprise focused on educating, informing and stimulating the global design community. IDF -Boston and IDF-Wakefieild are local chapters that get together on a monthly basis focusing on providing providing stimulating but fun discussions, insightful information, and face-to-face networking opportunities.

Boston Python2) Boston Python Presentation Night
Tuesday, July 21, 6:30pm – 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @bostonpython

Boston Python presentation nights are a chance for Python developers to explore new topics in depth. Members or outside experts prepare presentations at a variety of levels, on any number of Python-related topics. By giving Python developers a chance to expand and hone their skills, Boston Python is enriching and strengthening the Python community.

Boston Public Library3) Intro to the Boston Startup Community at the Boston Public Library
Tuesday, July 21, 6:30pm – 8pm
Boston Public Library (Commonwealth Salon) | 700 Boylston Street | Boston
Twitter: @GA_boston | @BPLBoston

This summer the Boston Public Library will open its doors to General Assembly on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. We will host some of our most popular classes at the Central Library’s Commonwealth Salon – from Web Development to Digital Marketing – to give you the practical, hands-on training you need to pursue work you love.

Robby Bitting, Director of Marketing at MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator and competition, gives an orientation to help newcomers to the startup scene get acquainted with the exciting tech world in Boston. We will give you the inside scoop on key events and meetups to attend, people, companies, venture capital, blogs, incubators, programs, hot issues, and more. EMERGE4) EMERGE
Wednesday, July 22, 8:30am – 7:30pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @Intelligent_ly helps high-growth startups across Boston develop their talent into highly effective leaders. To develop behaviors and networks that last, every program is grounded in expert facilitation, peer collaboration, and practical application.

The EMERGE conference is a one-day interactive workshop that brings together high-potential individual contributors from companies across Boston to learn fundamental leadership skills. The event enables emerging leaders to connect with peers in a collaborative environment, while developing core business skills.

Connect. Collaborate. Emerge.

#EndALZ Hackathon5) #EndALZ Hackathon
Saturday, July 25, 9am – 9pm
Hult International Business School | 1 Education Street | Cambridge
Twitter: @AlzheimersMANH | #ENDALZ

For The Longest Day, we’re organizing the first ever #ENDALZ Hackathon, hosted by Hult International Business School. We’ll be working hard to create tech-driven solutions in Alzheimer’s care, while raising funds and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association.
At the #ENDALZ Hackathon, we’ll be working towards solutions in care and support for individuals living with the disease and their caregivers.

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

The work week is back in full swing and we’re itching for August to show up. While our team is out and about welcoming Australian delegates into our community, we’ve gathered three tech events you don’t want to miss this week:

Boston TechBreakfast

1) Boston TechBreakfast
Tuesday, July 14, 8am – 10am
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @techbreakfast

Based on the popular TechBreakfast format, the Boston TechBreakfast is a “show and tell” format event where up to five different technologists will demo their technologies from a wide range of industries ranging from software to hardware, IT to Biotech, robotics to space tech. The event is “triple agnostic”. We don’t care if the technology is from a start up, a large company, a university, a government agency, or someone’s hobby. We are also agnostic as to the industry of the tech – it could be IT, biotech, robotics, aerospace, materials sciences, anything tech and innovative is cool. And we’re also region agnostic – even if you’re not from where we’re hosting, we want to see you and your technology!

TDRR: Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll2) TDRR: Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll
Tuesday, July 14, 4pm – 8pm
Metcalf Hall, George Sherman Union | 775 Commonwealth Avenue | Boston
Twitter: @OTDatBU

Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll (TDRR) is a networking event that started in 2010, which was designed to connect scientists and engineers with entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators. The event highlights emerging technologies from Boston University’s research programs in the fields of life sciences, physical sciences, medical technology, new ventures, and student-based ventures, with the additional presence of participating applied and translational research centers.

Talent Hackers Boston - Hacking the Diversity Challenge3) Talent Hackers Boston – Hacking the Diversity Challenge
Wednesday, July 15, 6pm-8pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge

Join us for an open discussion on how we can start to prioritize diversity in our hiring & company culture.

How does having a diverse team impact my business goals?

What sourcing methods can I use to build a more diverse talent pipeline?

How can I attract a diverse pool of qualified candidates?

How can I create a more inclusive company culture?

These are just some of the topics that our panelists will be diving into as they share their own advice and experiences.


Anik Das, Talent Acquisition @ RaziLabs

Vinay Gidwaney, Cofounder @ Maxwell Health

Carlie Smith, Talent Manager @ OpenView Ventures

Jibran Malek, Marketing Manager @ MassChallenge

Kate Morgan, CEO @ Boston Human Capital Partners


Microsoft New England Picks: 6 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 6 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Summertime, and the livin’s easy… we’ve rounded up some of the Boston area’s top events to help you hit the ground running after a relaxing holiday weekend:

Boston Python July Project Night1) Boston Python July Project Night
Tuesday, July 7, 6:30pm – 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @BostonPython

Python project nights are unstructured chances for Python developers to work together, mentor each other, connect socially, teach, learn, or do whatever else it is Python developers want to do together. Our project nights are great ways to build the Python community, by allowing them to meet and interact in whatever way they find most beneficial.

#TechHubTuesday Demo Night2) #TechHubTuesday Demo Night
Tuesday, July 7, 6pm – 10pm
TechHub Boston | 212 Elm Street, 3rd Floor | Somerville

Twitter: @TechHubBoston | #TechHubTuesday

Join #TechHubTuesday at TechHub to experience great demos from the exciting tech entrepreneur community. Follow the # all day to see other demos taking place in Bengaluru and then London.

Each startup has 5 minutes to demo their product in front of a live audience, it’s not a pitch but an opportunity for each startup to explain (and show) what they have been working on. After each demo there is live Q&A with the audience. The idea is to foster innovation and iteration.

Boston Marketing Technology Group July Meetup3) Boston Marketing Technology Group July Meetup
Thursday, July 9, 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @bostonmartech

Calling All New England Marketing Technologists!

We have a date, time and a great list of speakers lined up for our next Boston Marketing Technology Group meeting! Please join us for our next meeting on Thursday, July 9th from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm as we get together, network, learn and discuss marketing approaches and the technology to support them.

Art + Science Movie Night Fundraiser4) Art + Science Movie Night Fundraiser
Thursday, July 9, 7pm – 9pm
Movie Room | 4 Longfellow Place | Boston

Twitter: @giqueme

Join Gique and fellow art+science lovers from the Boston area in a film screening of Eames: The Architect and the Painter! All donations will go toward’s Gique’s STEM+Arts educational programs.

Boston CanvasCon5) Boston CanvasCon
Friday, July 10, 8:30am – 5pm
CIC Cambridge | 1 Broadway | Kendall Square

Twitter: #BostonCanvasCon

Boston CanvasCon is the first event of its kind to bring together Canvas-enthusiasts and newcomers who teach with Canvas. We’re here to find common ground, to support each other in improving educational outcomes, and to learn to better use technology to engage our students, whether adult, traditional or K-12.

Tracks for faculty bring you back to why you love teaching in the first place. We help you integrate technology better in the classroom, in ways that make sense for you and your students. Learn hands-on Canvas skills to make you a Canvas master. Gain confidence if your school has just moved to Canvas. Tracks will focus on learning the tools, teaching effectiveness, design thinking, and the coolest tech.

Ship It! Saturday Hackathon at Launch Academy6) Ship It! Saturday Hackathon at Launch Academy
Saturday, July 111, 9am – 9pm
Launch Academy | 33 Harrison Avenue | Suite 501 | Boston
Twitter: @LaunchAcademy_

Join us for Ship It! Saturday – an all-day Hackathon at Launch Academy’s Mission Control in Downtown Boston. Everyone at this event wants to create something amazing. Have a side project or a nagging bug you’ve been meaning to fix? Ship It! is the venue to get ‘er done. Join a team or hack away on your own, and deploy something of value!

Pitch in the City Highlights Roxbury Innovation

What can Boston create? On June 16, the greater Roxbury community came together to celebrate some of the top innovative companies in the local area — and we were thrilled to join and see all of the good work! Roxbury’s “Pitch in the City” highlighted six local start-ups using innovative processes to make their businesses stand out.

As an early stage venture competition, the “pitch event” was organized around three particular segments: (1) a demonstration (2) a presentation made by the competitors on behalf of their start-up and (3) a judging round.  However, the overall significance of the event was that it provided aspiring entrepreneurs with a venue to practice their pitching skills and served as a phenomenal precursor to the Roxbury Innovation Center.

The night kicked off with an hour of networking and drinks. Audience members were encouraged to look at each booth, meet the entrepreneurs and learn about their product(s). “Pitch in the City” seamlessly blended entrepreneurial energy with constructive learning: angel investors meandered around to meet with co founders and offer feedback, community partners encouraged the finalists to showcase their ideas, and family members and friends of competitors excitedly watched the scene unfold.

Following the networking portion of the evening, each venture presented a PowerPoint on stage. The judges then responded with insightful comments at the end of the presenters’ allotted time. Makomas, an organic drink company that blends traditional African ingredients with minimal sugar to produce a refreshing beverage, successfully won the competition. All of the ventures that presented, however, were delightfully representitive of local innovation — the backbone of any successful entrepreneurial economy.

Start-Up #1: Fittus

Pitch in the City — Fittus

Fittus is a software company that aims to “get local citizens back into the gym”.  Similar to a social networking site, Fittus operates on a “buddy system” and has clients make ‘friends’ through the app who will be gym partners.  Fittus’ customer is the average gym goer; Fittus plans to sell and market the app through existing gym franchises.

Start Up #2: Loadlytics

Pitch in the City — Loadlytics

Loadlytics is a transportation management software for small to medium sized truck companies. The goal of Loadlytics is to make a more effective trucking operation. The Loadlytics team brings an expansive knowledge of the trucking industry to the venture and is passionate about stream-lining management opportunities.

Start Up #3: Makomas (winner!)

Pitch in the City — Makomas

Makomas drinks come in 3 different flavors: Ginger, Baobab and Hibiscus. Currently, Makomas is distributed locally in Massachusetts, but the company would like to move to a larger market. A selling point of this product is that each juice only contains 3 (very unique and healthy) ingredients. Makomas is gluten free and does not use GMOs.

Start Up #4: Percival Brewing Company

Pitch in the City — Percival Brewing Company

The Percival Brewing Company is a beer company that specializes in making beer that reflects the different ethnicities and neighborhoods in Boston.  This particular company wants to build a microbrewery and eventually envisions home delivery of craft beer.

Start Up #5: St. John 316

Pitch in the City — St. John 316

St. John 316 is an urban Christian apparel company. Their target audience is the churchgoer who is inspired by urban streetwear and culture. St. John 316 offers designs and logos on their clothing that offer meaningful messages and conversation starters about the Gospel of Christ.

Start Up #6: Techtrition

Pitch in the City — Techtrition

Techtrition is a nutrition education company. The cofounders are currently building a mobile app that will teach users how to commit to a healthy lifestyle (i.e. choosing the right food and workout routines). The vantage point of this mobile app is that it is tailored to being culturally sensitive to the current lifestyles of its users. Specifically, the cofounders noted that not all of their users grew up eating salads and therefore when designing a meal plan, they want to make sure the food they are suggesting is available and delectable.

Congratulations to all the ventures who participated in Pitch in the City! We’re excited to see what you all contribute to our community.

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

With summer in full swing and July hitting the ground running, here are our top picks for events not to miss this week:

OpenNebula TechDay Boston

1) OpenNebula TechDay Boston
Monday, June 29, 9am – 5:30pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @opennebula

The OpenNebula TechDays are full day events to learn about OpenNebula with a hands-on cloud installation and operation workshop, and presentations from community members and users. These events are targeted at cloud architects, data center admins, systems admins, systems integrators, DevOps architects, and solutions architect. The emphasis is to find local speakers and users to come together and talk about things that they care about most, and to share stories from their experiences using OpenNebula.

Net Impact Boston's 8th Annual Speed Networking Event2) Net Impact Boston’s 8th Annual Speed Networking Event
Monday, June 29, 6pm – 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @NIBoston #nibevents

You’ll hear from our VIP’s as they share their career stories as well as have the opportunity to learn and network with all of the attendees at the event in a round robin format. The event will promote more in-depth discussions as you can cater the topics of conversation to your interests in this more intimate setting. Attendees can choose which VIP’s spark their interest and elect to have more time to hear these selected VIP’s stories. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the sustainability world, this event will be a worthwhile and fun experience!

Featured VIPs:

• Ashley Stanley – Founder/Executive Director, Lovin’ Spoonfuls

• Erica Mattison – Legislative Director, Environmental League of Massachusetts

• Elizabeth Turnbull Henry – Sr Manager for Energy and Environment, adidas group

• Tedd Saunders – Green Hotel Pioneer, Saunders Hotel Group

• Graham Sinclair – Principal, SinCo Sustainable Investment Consulting

MassChallenge Presents: 1000 Pirates3) MassChallenge Presents: 1000 Pirates
Wednesday, July 1, 6:30pm – 9:30pm
World Trade Center Pier | 200 Seaport Blvd | Boston
Twitter: @MassChallenge #1000Pirates

MassChallenge has teamed up with the Bay State Cruise Company to bring back the biggest party of the year. For a measly 10 dubloons, one may board the celebratory reunion happening on the Provincetown II, laden with food, drink and music. 1,000 Pirates is a glorious opportunity to meet up with other MassChallenge alumni classes and this year’s finalists. Those who come dressed in their best pirate gear will be awarded prizes.


Microsoft New England Picks: 4 Not-To-Miss Events This Week


June is in full swing! Here are our top picks for tech events this week.

6Kgjr9gK1) 2015 MITX Data Summit: “The Art & Science of Data”
Tuesday, June 23, 8am – 5pm

Microsoft Technology Center | 255 Main Street | Cambridge
Twitter: @MITX #MITXData

The MITX Data Summit will explore the ever-changing landscape of the latest data strategies for marketers. How do you balance the art and science of data and creativity? This full-day summit will bring together top minds in the industry to share proven best practices for business success.

Keynote Speakers:

  • John Costello, President, Global Marketing & Innovation, Dunkin Brands, Inc.​
  • Brian Tilzer, Chief Digital Officer, CVS Caremark Corporation

For more information, head to

11391311_1667301020172163_5677147775632088134_n2) SkyLab Boston Open-House
Tuesday, June 23, 6pm – 8pm

@ Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building | 2300 Washington St | Boston
Twitter: @DudleySkyLab

SkyLab Boston will be hosting their first open house on the sixth floor roof deck of the Bruce C. Bolling building in Dudley Square. Stop by and learn more about SkyLab Boston and their plans to promote innovation and entrepreneurship to individuals and local businesses in the Roxbury area.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 5.48.33 PM3) Global Venture Café sponsored by Basis Technology
Thursday, June 25, 3pm – 8pm
@ Venture Cafe | 5th Floor of the CIC | One Broadway | Cambridge
Twitter: @VentureCafe

Thursday’s international-themed Café offers you a chance to think and act globally. Start by reserving your appointments for Office Hours now. Then, in between your meetings on Thursday, mix and mingle in the Café before choosing from the cascade of Feature Events, including TCN UpStart Roundtable in the Cancun conference room in the Café and 3 panels in the Havana conference room outside of the Café. Also, find resources and learn about opportunities to take your startup abroad at Info Tables located inside the Café during the intermission in between panels.

Feature Events:

  • 4:00 – 5:00 P.M. | Foreign Talent — an agent for growth in the American Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem — Potential and Challenges
  • 4:00 – 6:00 P.M. | TCN UpStart Roundtable
  • 5:30 – 6:30 P.M. | International Expansion — When and Where is it Right for You?
  • 6:45 – 7:45 P.M. | Building A Global Brand – Tips from the Experts

For more info on featured events + Info Tables, check out

RailsBridge-boston4) Railsbridge Boston
Friday, June 26 – Saturday, June 27, 7pm – 9pm
@ Microsoft New England | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @RailsBridgeBos 

RailsBridge Boston is a two-day workshop that teaches Ruby on Rails to women in the Boston community.

Do you dream of someday writing software that helps people and improves the world? Led by an all-volunteer team of seasoned, enthusiastic Ruby and Rails developers, the workshop introduces women of all backgrounds to the concepts, tools, and techniques of Ruby and Rails development. Our audience is those with no or little programming experience.

We welcome you to the Boston Ruby community. Whatever your goal is in learning to program, we hope to connect you with the tools to take the next step.

Applications of Civic Media and Evaluating their Impact, Success and Metrics in Different Fields


#bostoncivic panel | Photo via @EngageLab

The beauty of civic media is that it can be applied to an amalgamation of different disciplines: government, art, mathematics, etc. However, creating one methodological approach for civic media implementation and measurement is arduous, if not impossible, as each field has its own set of standards.

For example, a civic media arts initiative may not resemble a civic media government initiative. Furthermore, the “arts” and “government” arguably cater to different audiences. Therefore the type of impact and success by each civic media initiative will be inherently unique.

In the “Metrics and Methods” in Civic Media Conference sponsored by the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, our speakers grappled with the provocative questions: “Given this proliferation of methods and variety of origin points from which people are approaching this civic media topic, what should the goals of the leaders of this field be? Who is this research for?”

Microsoft is proud to have been a primary sponsor of this event as it encouraged an in depth conversation between academics who focus on media and civics, with professionals specializing in designing, implementing and aiding civic interventions. This specific session contained dedicated speakers, each of whom added a different perspective on metrics, methods and applications.

Catherine D’Ignazio
Art and Civic Media
Catherine D’Ignazio is redefining how participatory art can influence our civic goals. According to D’Ignazio, art can be a research method for activating civic imagination. The project D’Ignazio highlighted was The City Formerly Known as Cambridge which was initiated through the Institute for Infinitely Small Things. In this project D’Ignazio and her team attempted to rectify a problem they identified within the city of Cambridge, MA: many street names and public places had Anglo-Saxon name derivatives. In response to this, her group held created a multifaceted approached in which they researched the origins of the Anglo-Saxon street names, informed the public about these “infinitely small histories” and then held an outdoor convention at which they invited members of the local community to “rename” the spaces. These newly renamed places were then put on a map, and “The City Formerly Known as Cambridge” commenced.

Matthew Battles
Media in the Arts and Humanities

Matthew Battles is re-imagining civic media as a catalyst for understanding the arts and humanities. How can media change the value of the material we produce? Battles’s project focused on history of libraries: he explored the Harvard depository in Western, MA. With the help of colleagues, Battles created a video of the depository to better understand how the storage unit of a library system works. His hope was to contrast the physical representation of a traditional library (i.e. Widener Library in Harvard Yard) and the concept of a temporary holding unit for books (the depository). Battles then expanded on this concept by questioning the “social dimensions” of the library system as well. He challenged the audience to ask: “What does it mean to be an employee at the Harvard depository, but have no interaction with campus life?” To find out more, look at <>.

Cold Storage Teaser Trailer from metaLAB(at)Harvard on Vimeo.

Justeen Hyde
Gaming for Change

Introducing a new perspective to the discussion on civic media, Justeen Hyde stressed the importance of utilizing new technology platforms to address issues in health care. Hyde represented the Institute for Community Health, a research and consulting firm that started in the early 2000s in a response to the pervasive problem that hospitals were unaware of the needs of the community they served.

In an attempt to engage more community members in discussions pertaining to health care, the Institute for Community Health partnered with the Community PlanIT. Community PlanIT is a game platform that originated out of Emerson College’s Engagement Lab. In this “simulation,” members of a community can voice their opinions, give feedback on public projects and express substantial concerns about their neighborhood.

Within the version of the game introduced by the Institute for Community Health, players had three weeklong missions. While playing, there were also trivia questions and ways for constituents to gain extra points.

  1. Mission one was about “healthy people”.
  2. Mission two was about “healthy neighborhoods”.
  3. Mission three was about “The City of Boston”.

Overall Justeen considered this initiative to be a success. 488 people played the game and 60% of those who played said that they had not had prior involvement with the Institute for Community Health. Moreover, there were many advantages with data collection from this game simulation: citizens could play/participate at their own convenience and the questions had been specifically constructed to engage the players.

Community PlanIt Primer from Engagement Lab on Vimeo.

Sarah Williams
Open Data In Nairobi, Kenya

Sarah Williams is striving to employ civic media to (1) expose urban patterns and (2) affect policy change. As the acting director of the Civic Design Lab, Williams spearheaded a case study about Matatus in Nairobi, Kenya. Public transportation routes for Matatu were ambiguous: there was little public data pertaining to Matatu stops, routes and operating times. Williams’ group wanted to make a dataset to account for this data-deficiency and utilized the ubiquitous nature of cell phones for data collection.

Through engaging local academics, the Matatu Association and Matatu drivers, and the GTFS technology of cell phones, Willaims’ group created a paper map to show the Matatu routes. Furthermore, her team helped with the creation of Ma3Route, a mobile app that also displays Matatu traffic. One of the biggest successes of the program was when the local government celebrated the initiative of these new Matatu digital maps and certified them as official maps of the city.

Williams argued that the best way to measure success in an open data project is to observe how/if others leverage the data created to generate their own policy changes. Williams noted at the World Bank now uses the Matatu dataset.