Technology, Innovation and Politics led by Sonal Shah

Technology, Innovation and Politics

A study group led by IOP Fellow Sonal Shah
Thursday 4-5:30, L166

Technology, Innovation and Politics

Technology and Innovation are already having profound impact on our social, political and economic lives, including the way we access information, build social movements, catalyze political movements, and the way we interact.  Politically, organizations like,, KONY2012, Dan Savage, the Tea Party movement, and individual campaigns have used social media effectively to galvanize energy around particular political issues.  Technology will likely play a greater role in politics in this election and has played a significant role internationally (e.g Egypt, Tunisia, Serbia).  This raises very interesting questions about political targeting through the use of data from technology. As well as how technology has the potential to disrupt and help governments.   This session will look at how technology has the potential to disrupt governments as well as how it is already helping to lead to better governance.  What are the opportunities, pitfalls, and how it will lead to change. 

Online support and technology has the potential to lead to real action, e.g. voting, changes in legislation, or consensus in building a society.  This session wants to discuss how technology can help change politics.  How can better transparency, greater openness, and participation lead to real change. 

There are interesting projects domestically and internationally providing information to communities and non-profits so that they can hold their governments (local, state and national) more accountable.  For instance, in India, Kenya and Tanzania there are multiple efforts in education to make information available to communities about how much money is supposed to come to their communities for education.  In addition, NGOs are testing children and letting communities know about how much their children are learning.  These efforts have energized communities to ask their representatives, local governments and the national government about quality of teachers, and where all this money has been going.   In the US, mayors are using technology to better connect with citizens.  We will talk to the Mayor’s office in Boston and NYC. 

It is not only government, foundations, non-profits and businesses are also key in making this transformation.  We will talk to foundation leaders (Omidyar), non-profits leaders (Sunlight Foundation) and business leaders (Twitter), about the role of technology in the changing politics of communities, states, and countries. 

The eight weeks will start with an overview of social change through organizing and technology and will talk about how social change happens.  We will focus on what works and what doesn’t and how we can look to spark new ideas on how best to affect change and make a difference, both politically and socially.   At a minimum, we hope to achieve the following:

·     Have a discussion on how to use social media to achieve political and social change.   

  • Explore how technology and innovation are changing governance and holding government accountable. 
  • Discuss how transparency and open information lead to greater civic engagement, including participatory budgeting, collaborative democracy, disaster response, etc.


Week 1: (OCT 27).  Basic introduction to social innovation and social change.  Discuss today’s politics in achieving social change, and whether this only leads to politics as usual, the failures and understand the opportunities and innovations.  (Sonal Shah) – OCT 4

Week 2:  (OCT 4).  Susan Crawford co-director of the Berkman Center and visiting Professor at the Shorentein Center at Harvard.  She worked for President Obama on his transition team and as Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy.  She is considered one of Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology.  She will talk about how technology is disrupting politics today. (confirmed) 

Week 3:  (Oct 11).  Role of Technology in Politics today. Nicco Mele (confirmed) and Zac (Romney campaign – not confirmed). Nicco was the webmaster for Governor Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential race, pioneering the use of technology and social media that revolutionized political fundraising and American politics.  Zac is the webmaster of the Romney campaign.

Week 4: (Oct 18).  Role of Technology/Innovation in Governance:  Nigel Jacob from New Urban Mechanics and Macon Phillips.  Macon Phillips is Deputy Assistant to the President and runs New Media for the White House.  Prior to the campaign, Phillips led Blue State Digital's strategy practice and is a proud Americorps*VISTA alum.  Nigel Jacob co-runs the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, an in-house R&D shop for the city focused on micro-projects. (not confirmed)

Week 5: (Oct 25)  Role of Technology in Building Social Movements?: Ben Ratray (not confirmed) from or Dan Savage (not confirmed) from “It gets better” in conversation with Marshall Ganz (confirmed) on building social movements.  Dan Savage  is an American author, media pundit, journalist and newspaper editor. He writes a syndicated relationship and sex advice column Savage Love.  Savage and his husband Terry Miller began the It Gets Better Project to help prevent suicide among LGBT youth

Week 6:  (Nov 1)  What is the role of foundations and corporations in affecting social and political change?  Katie Stanton from Twitter or Megan Smith from Google and Matt Bannick from Omidyar will talk about how corporation and foundations are leading the way. (not confirmed)

Week 7:  (Nov 8).  Technology is creating disruptive change.  You don’t have to run for office to help create change.  Jennifer Pahlka (confirmed) is the founder and executive director of Code for America, which works with talented web professionals and cities around the country to promote public service and reboot government.   She has one of most watched TED videos.

Week 8:  (Nov 15).  How can Technology and Information create innovation, what can the government do?  Todd Park (confirmed), CTO of the Federal Government and founder of Athena Health