By: Tim Glynn-Burke, Associate Director of Democratic Governance and Student Programs
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is a leading research center at the Harvard Kennedy School focused on the intersection of government and technology. We are helping HKS students—our future public leaders—to learn crucial technology skills that they will take with them into their careers. The Center is also studying unanswered questions about the potential and the pitfalls of technology’s role in making government more modern, effective, and efficient as well as more responsive, transparent, and participatory.
A strong connection to real-world practice is an important element in most of our research, teaching, and outreach efforts. On October 9, 2015, the Ash Center hosted #Tech4Democracy Showcase and Challenge, welcoming over 350 people to the JFK Jr. Forum.
The #Tech4Democracy Showcase and Challenge was a festive gathering for the local civic tech community and anyone with an interest in learning more about how technology can benefit the civic health, public services, and political life in their communities. No matter your background, the event was an opportunity to share your ideas, join in conversation, or simply browse.
#Tech4Democracy featured 28 projects that have been dreamt up, designed, developed, and created by people with a connection to Greater Boston. They tackle issues from participation and engagement to voting and elections. There are ideas for recruiting more citizens to run for elected office and others for improving the communication between current elected and their constituents. There are also platforms that aim to help people connect to one another—both for the purpose of political organizing around shared interests and taking action together on public problems.
While #Tech4Democracy was not a hackathon, it was social. Celebratory, even, with a DJ, good food, beer and wine. Everyone in attendance was invited to vote for their favorite among 28 different teams competing to take home a $5,000 ‘People’s Choice’ award.
Meanwhile, a $5,000 ‘Judge’s Choice’ award was selected by an esteemed panel of judges comprised of Professor Eric Gordon of Emerson College, Scott McFadden of Microsoft, Jane Wiseman of the Institute for Excellence in Government, and Perry Hewitt, Chief Digital Officer for Harvard University. Their job was not an easy one!
The winner of the Judge’s Choice Award was Agora, an online civic network dedicated to purpose-driven dialogue between decision makers and busy people concerned about their communities. Runner up in the Judge’s Choice Award was CandiDating, a platform to match potential voters with political candidates based on their views.
The winner of the People’s Choice Award was DoneGood, an app that makes it easy to find businesses that share your values by empowering users to “vote with their wallets” to create a financial incentive for more businesses to adopt socially responsible business practices. Runner up in the People’s Choice Award was MetaCogs, a web-based collaborative space in which communities of learners don’t just share what they’re thinking, they share how they’re thinking.
There were also 12 local institutions displaying their civic tech work as non-competing exhibitors. Many thanks to them and our supporters that helped make the event a success: Boston Civic Media Consortium, City of Boston, City of Cambridge, City of Somerville, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Engagement Lab at Emerson College, FWD.us, Microsoft, and The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
The Ash Center was delighted to be hosting #Tech4Democracy as part of HUBweek, a joint venture between The Boston Globe, MIT, MGH and Harvard University. The spirit of HUBweek was to provide unique and unexpected experiences that celebrate the world-changing work, art, and thinking being imagined and built in Greater Boston. #Tech4Democracy was the Ash Center’s contribution toward celebrating and showcasing the growing and vibrant community of students, entrepreneurs, technologists, passionate citizens, and others in the Boston area who are using their creativity and knowledge of digital technology to make our governments run better, engage our communities, and improve our quality of life. More information, including a calendar of past HUBweek events, is available at hubweek.org.