Are the Authoritarians Winning?

Review of several books by Michael Ignatieff in the New York Review of Books: “In the 1930s travelers returned from Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany praising the hearty sense of common purpose they saw there, compared to which their own democracies seemed weak, inefficient, and pusillanimous.
Democracies today are in the middle of a similar period of envy and despondency. Authoritarian competitors are aglow with arrogant confidence. In the 1930s, Westerners went to Russia to admire Stalin’s Moscow subway stations; today they go to China to take the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, and just as in the 1930s, they return wondering why autocracies can build high-speed railroad lines seemingly overnight, while democracies can take forty years to decide they cannot even begin. The Francis Fukuyama moment—when in 1989 Westerners were told that liberal democracy was the final form toward which all political striving was directed—now looks like a quaint artifact of a vanished unipolar moment.
For the first time since the end of the cold war, the advance of democratic constitutionalism has stopped. The army has staged a coup in Thailand and it’s unclear whether the generals will allow democracy to take root in Burma. For every African state, like Ghana, where democratic institutions seem secure, there is a Mali, a Côte d’Ivoire, and a Zimbabwe, where democracy is in trouble.
In Latin America, democracy has sunk solid roots in Chile, but in Mexico and Colombia it is threatened by violence, while in Argentina it struggles to shake off the dead weight of Peronism. In Brazil, the millions who took to the streets last June to protest corruption seem to have had no impact on the cronyism in Brasília. In the Middle East, democracy has a foothold in Tunisia, but in Syria there is chaos; in Egypt, plebiscitary authoritarianism rules; and in the monarchies, absolutism is ascendant.
In Europe, the policy elites keep insisting that the remedy for their continent’s woes is “more Europe” while a third of their electorate is saying they want less of it. From Hungary to Holland, including in France and the UK, the anti-European right gains ground by opposing the European Union generally and immigration in particular. In Russia the democratic moment of the 1990s now seems as distant as the brief constitutional interlude between 1905 and 1914 under the tsar….
It is not at all apparent that “governance innovation,” a bauble Micklethwait and Wooldridge chase across three continents, watching innovators at work making government more efficient in Chicago, Sacramento, Singapore, and Stockholm, will do the trick. The problem of the liberal state is not that it lacks modern management technique, good software, or different schemes to improve the “interface” between the bureaucrats and the public. By focusing on government innovation, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assume that the problem is improving the efficiency of government. But what is required is both more radical and more traditional: a return to constitutional democracy itself, to courts and regulatory bodies that are freed from the power of money and the influence of the powerful; to legislatures that cease to be circuses and return to holding the executive branch to public account while cooperating on measures for which there is a broad consensus; to elected chief executives who understand that they are not entertainers but leaders….”
Books reviewed:

Reforming Taxation to Promote Growth and Equity

a white paper by Joseph Stiglitz
Roosevelt Institute, 28 pp., May 28, 2014; available at

Smart cities from scratch? a socio-technical perspective

Paper by Luís Carvalho in Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society: “This paper argues that contemporary smart city visions based on ITs (information and tele- communication technologies) configure complex socio-technical challenges that can benefit from strategic niche management to foster two key processes: technological learning and societal embedding. Moreover, it studies the extent to which those processes started to unfold in two paradigmatic cases of smart city pilots ‘from scratch’: Songdo (South Korea) and PlanIT Valley (Portugal). The rationale and potentials of the two pilots as arenas for socio-technical experimentation and global niche formation are analysed, as well as the tensions and bottlenecks involved in nurturing socially rich innovation ecosystems and in maintaining social and political support over time.”

Every citizen a scientist? An EU project tries to change the face of research

Project News from the European Commission:  “SOCIENTIZE builds on the concept of ‘Citizen Science’, which sees thousands of volunteers, teachers, researchers and developers put together their skills, time and resources to advance scientific research. Thanks to open source tools developed under the project, participants can help scientists collect data – which will then be analysed by professional researchers – or even perform tasks that require human cognition or intelligence like image classification or analysis.

Every citizen can be a scientist
The project helps usher in new advances in everything from astronomy to social science.
‘One breakthrough is our increased capacity to reproduce, analyse and understand complex issues thanks to the engagement of large groups of volunteers,’ says Mr Fermin Serrano Sanz, researcher at the University of Zaragoza and Project Coordinator of SOCIENTIZE. ‘And everyone can be a neuron in our digitally-enabled brain.’
But how can ordinary citizens help with such extraordinary science? The key, says Mr Serrano Sanz, is in harnessing the efforts of thousands of volunteers to collect and classify data. ‘We are already gathering huge amounts of user-generated data from the participants using their mobile phones and surrounding knowledge,’ he says.
For example, the experiment ‘SavingEnergy@Home’ asks users to submit data about the temperatures in their homes and neighbourhoods in order to build up a clearer picture of temperatures in cities across the EU, while in Spain, asks citizens to report when they catch the flu in order to monitor outbreaks and predict possible epidemics.
Many Hands Make Light Work
But citizens can also help analyse data. Even the most advanced computers are not very good at recognising things like sun spots or cells, whereas people can tell the difference between living and dying cells very easily, given only a short training.
The SOCIENTIZE projects ‘Sun4All’ and ‘Cell Spotting’ ask volunteers to label images of solar activity and cancer cells from an application on their phone or computer. With Cell Spotting, for instance, participants can observe cell cultures being studied with a microscope in order to determine their state and the effectiveness of medicines. Analysing this data would take years and cost hundreds of thousands of euros if left to a small team of scientists – but with thousands of volunteers helping the effort, researchers can make important breakthroughs quickly and more cheaply than ever before.
But in addition to bringing citizens closer to science, SOCIENTIZE also brings science closer to citizens. On 12-14 June, the project participated in the SONAR festival with ‘A Collective Music Experiment’ (CME). ‘Two hundred people joined professional DJs and created musical patterns using a web tool; participants shared their creations and re-used other parts in real time. The activity in the festival also included a live show of RdeRumba and Mercadal playing amateurs rhythms’ Mr. Serrano Sanz explains.
The experiment – which will be presented in a mini-documentary to raise awareness about citizen science – is expected to help understand other innovation processes observed in emergent social, technological, economic or political transformations. ‘This kind of event brings together a really diverse set of participants. The diversity does not only enrich the data; it improves the dialogue between professionals and volunteers. As a result, we see some new and innovative approaches to research.’
The EUR 0.7 million project brings together 6 partners from 4 countries: Spain (University of Zaragoza and TECNARA), Portugal (Museu da Ciência-Coimbra, MUSC ; Universidade de Coimbra),  Austria (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation) and Brazil (Universidade Federal de Campina Grande, UFCG).
SOCIENTIZE will end in October 2104 after bringing together 12000 citizens in different phases of research activities for 24 months.”

Lessons in Mass Collaboration

Elizabeth Walker, Ryan Siegel, Todd Khozein, Nick Skytland, Ali Llewellyn, Thea Aldrich, and Michael Brennan in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “significant advances in technology in the last two decades have opened possibilities to engage the masses in ways impossible to imagine centuries ago. Beyond coordination, today’s technological capability permits organizations to leverage and focus public interest, talent, and energy through mass collaborative engagement to better understand and solve today’s challenges. And given the rising public awareness of a variety of social, economic, and environmental problems, organizations have seized the opportunity to leverage and lead mass collaborations in the form of hackathons.
Hackathons emerged in the mid-2000s as a popular approach to leverage the expertise of large numbers of individuals to address social issues, often through the creation of online technological solutions. Having led hundreds of mass collaboration initiatives for organizations around the world in diverse cultural contexts, we at SecondMuse offer the following lessons as a starting point for others interested in engaging the masses, as well as challenges others’ may face.

What Mass Collaboration Looks Like

An early example of a mass collaborative endeavor was Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), which formed in 2009. RHoK was initially developed in collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA, the World Bank, and later, HP as a volunteer mobilization effort; it aimed to build technology that would enable communities to respond better to crises such as natural disasters. In 2012, nearly 1,000 participants attended 30 events around the world to address 176 well-defined problems.
In 2013, NASA and SecondMuse led the International Space Apps Challenge, which engaged six US federal agencies, 400 partner institutions, and 9,000 global citizens through a variety of local and global team configurations; it aimed to address 58 different challenges to improve life on Earth and in space. In Athens, Greece, for example, in direct response to the challenge of creating a space-deployable greenhouse, a team developed a modular spinach greenhouse designed to survive the harsh Martian climate. Two months later, 11,000 citizens across 95 events participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking in 83 different US cities, ultimately contributing about 150,000 person-hours and addressing 31 federal and several state and local challenges over a single weekend. One result was Keep Austin Fed from Austin, Texas, which leveraged local data to coordinate food donations for those in need.
Strong interest on the part of institutions and an enthusiastic international community has paved the way for follow-up events in 2014.

Benefits of Mass Collaboration

The benefits of this approach to problem-solving are many, including:

  • Incentivizing the use of government data. As institutions push to make data available to the public, mass collaboration can increase the usefulness of that data by creating products from it, as well as inform and streamline future data collection processes.
  • Increasing transparency. Engaging citizens in the process of addressing public concerns educates them about the work that institutions do and advances efforts to meet public expectations of transparency.
  • Increasing outcome ownership. When people engage in a collaborative process of problem solving, they naturally have a greater stake in the outcome. Put simply, the more people who participate in the process, the greater the sense of community ownership. Also, when spearheading new policies or initiatives, the support of a knowledgeable community can be important to long-term success.
  • Increasing awareness. Engaging the populace in addressing challenges of public concern increases awareness of issues and helps develop an active citizenry. As a result, improved public perception and license to operate bolster governmental and non-governmental efforts to address challenges.
  • Saving money. By providing data and structures to the public, and allowing them to build and iterate on plans and prototypes, mass collaboration gives agencies a chance to harness the power of open innovation with minimal time and funds.
  • Harnessing cognitive surplus. The advent of online tools allowing for distributed collaboration enables citizens to use their free time incrementally toward collective endeavors that benefit local communities and the nation.

Challenges of Mass Collaboration

Although the benefits can be significant, agencies planning to lead mass collaborations should be aware of several challenges:

  • Investing time and effort. A mass collaboration is most effective when it is not a one-time event. The up-front investment in building a collaboration of supporting partner organizations, creating a robust framework for action, developing the necessary tools and defining the challenges, and investing in implementation and scaling of the most promising results all require substantial time to secure long-term commitment and strong relationships.
  • Forging an institution-community relationship. Throughout the course of most engagements, the power dynamic between the organization providing the frameworks and challenges and the groupings of individuals responding to the call to action can shift dramatically as the community incorporates the endeavor into their collective identity. Everyone involved should embrace this as they lay the foundation for self-sustaining mass collaboration communities. Once participants develop a firmly entrenched collective identity and sense of ownership, the convening organization can fully tap into its collective genius, as they can work together based on trust and shared vision. Without community ownership, organizers need to allot more time, energy, and resources to keep their initiative moving forward, and to battle against volunteer fatigue, diminished productivity, and substandard output.
  • Focusing follow-up. Turning a massive infusion of creative ideas, concepts, and prototypes into concrete solutions requires a process of focused follow-up. Identifying and nurturing the most promising seeds to fruition requires time, discrete skills, insight, and—depending on the solutions you scale—support from a variety of external organizations.
  • Understanding ROI. Any resource-intensive endeavor where only a few of numerous resulting products ever see the light of day demands deep consideration of what constitutes a reasonable return on investment. For mass collaborations, this means having an initial understanding of the potential tangible and intangible outcomes, and making a frank assessment of whether those outcomes meet the needs of the collaborators.

Technological developments in the last century have enabled relationships between individuals and institutions to blossom into a rich and complex tapestry…”

Three projects meet the European Job Challenge and receive the Social Innovation Prize

EU Press Release: “Social innovation can be a tool to create new or better jobs, while giving an answer to pressing challenges faced by Europe. Today, Michel Barnier, European Commissioner, has awarded three European Social Innovation prizes to ground-breaking ideas to create new types of work and address social needs. The winning projects aim to help disadvantaged women by employing them to create affordable and limited fashion collections, create jobs in the sector of urban farming, and convert abandoned social housing into learning spaces and entrepreneurship labs.

After the success of the first edition in 2013, the European Commission launched a second round of the Social Innovation Competition in memory of Diogo Vasconcelos1. Its main goal was to invite Europeans to propose new solutions to answer The Job Challenge. The Commission received 1,254 ideas out of which three were awarded with a prize of €30,000 each.

Commissioner Michel Barnier said: “We believe that the winning projects can take advantage of unmet social needs and create sustainable jobs. I want these projects to be scaled up and replicated and inspire more social innovations in Europe. We need to tap into this potential to bring innovative solutions to the needs of our citizens and create new types of work.”

More informationon the Competition page

More jobs for Europe – three outstanding ideas

The following new and exceptional ideas are the winners of the second edition of the European Social Innovation Competition:

  • ‘From waste to wow! QUID project’ (Italy): fashion business demands perfection, and slightly damaged textile cannot be used for top brands. The project intends to recycle this first quality waste into limited collections and thereby provide jobs to disadvantaged women. This is about creating highly marketable products and social value through recycling.

  • ‘Urban Farm Lease’ (Belgium): urban agriculture could provide 6,000 direct jobs in Brussels, and an additional 1,500 jobs considering indirect employment (distribution, waste management, training or events). The project aims at providing training, connection and consultancy so that unemployed people take advantage of the large surfaces available for agriculture in the city (e.g. 908 hectares of land or 394 hectares of suitable flat roofs).

  • ‘Voidstarter’ (Ireland): all major cities in Europe have “voids”, units of social housing which are empty because city councils have insufficient budgets to make them into viable homes. At the same time these cities also experience pressure with social housing provision and homelessness. Voidstarter will provide unemployed people with learning opportunities alongside skilled tradespersons in the refurbishing of the voids.”

Civic Crowdfunding: Participatory Communities, Entrepreneurs and the Political Economy of Place

Rodrigo Davis: “Today I’m capping two years of studying the emergence of civic crowdfunding by submitting my master’s thesis to the MIT archives…You can read Civic Crowdfunding: Participatory Communities, Entrepreneurs and the Political Economy of Place in its entirety (173 pages) now,…
Crowdfunding is everywhere. People are using it to fund watches, comic books, even famous film directors are doing it. In what is now a $6 billion industry globally, I think the most interesting, disruptive and exciting work that’s happening is in donation-based crowdfunding. That’s worth, very roughly, $1.2 billion a year worldwide per year. Within that subset, I’ve been looking at civic projects, people who are producing shared goods for a community or broader public. These projects build on histories of community fundraising and resource pooling that long predate the Internet; what’s changed is that we’ve created a scalable, portable platform model to carry out these existing practices.
So how is civic crowdfunding doing? When I started this project very few people were using that term. No one had done any aggregated data collection and published it. So I decided to take on that task. I collected data on 1224 projects between 2010 and March 2014, which raised $10.74 million in just over three years. I focused on seven platforms: Catarse (Brazil), Citizinvestor (US), Goteo (Spain), IOBY (US), Kickstarter (US), (US) and Spacehive (UK). I didn’t collect everything. …
Here are four things I found out about civic crowdfunding.

  1. Civic crowdfunding is small-scale but relatively successful, and it has big ambitions.Currently the average civic crowdfunding project is small in scale: $6,357 is the median amount raised. But these civic projects seem to be doing pretty well. Projects tagged ‘civic’ on Kickstarter, for instance, succeed 81% of the time. If Civic were a separate category, it would be Kickstarter’s most successful category. Meanwhile, most platform owners and some incumbent institutions see civic crowdfunding as a new mechanism for public-private partnerships capable of realizing large-scale projects. In a small minority of cases, such as the three edge-case projects I explored in Chapter 3 of my thesis, civic crowdfunding has begun to fulfill some of those ambitions. For the center of gravity to shift further in the direction of these potential outcomes, though, existing institutions, including government, large non-profits and the for-profit sector, will need to engage more comprehensively with the process.
  2. Civic crowdfunding started as a hobby for green space projects by local non-profits, but larger organizations are getting involved. Almost a third of campaigners are using civic crowdfunding platforms for park and garden-related projects (29%). Event-based projects, and education and training are also popular. Sports and mobility projects are pretty uncommon. The frequency of garden and park projects is partly because these projects are not capital intensive, and they’re uncontroversial. That’s also changing. Organizations from governments to corporations and large foundations, are exploring ways to support crowdfunding for a much wider range of community-facing activities. Their modes of engagement include publicizing campaigns, match-funding campaigns on an ad-hoc basis, running their own campaigns and even building new platforms from the ground up.
  3. Civic crowdfunding is concentrated in cities (especially those where platforms are based). The genre is too new to have spread very effectively, it seems. Five states account for 80% of the projects, and this is partly a function of where the platforms are located. New York, California are our top two, followed by Illinois and Oregon. We know there’s a strong trend towards big cities. It’s hard work for communities to use crowdfunding to get projects off the ground, especially when it’s an unfamiliar process. The platforms have played a critical role in building participants’ understanding of crowdfunding and supporting them through the process.
  4. Civic crowdfunding has the same highly unequal distributional tendencies as other crowd markets. When we look at the size distribution of projects, the first thing we notice is something close to a Pareto distribution, or Long Tail. Most projects are small-scale, but a small number of high-value projects have taken a large share of the total revenue raised by civic crowdfunding. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. On Kickstarter most successful projects are between 5 and 10k, and 47% of civic projects I studied are in the same bracket. The problem is that we tend to remember the outliers, such as Veronica Mars and Spike Lee – because they show what’s possible. But they are still the outliers.

Now, here are two things we don’t know.

  1. Will civic crowdfunding deter public investment or encourage it?
  2. Will civic crowdfunding widen wealth gaps?”

Looking for the Needle in a Stack of Needles: Tracking Shadow Economic Activities in the Age of Big Data

Manju Bansal in MIT Technology Review: “The undocumented guys hanging out in the home-improvement-store parking lot looking for day labor, the neighborhood kids running a lemonade stand, and Al Qaeda terrorists plotting to do harm all have one thing in common: They operate in the underground economy, a shadowy zone where businesses, both legitimate and less so, transact in the currency of opportunity, away from traditional institutions and their watchful eyes.
One might think that this alternative economy is limited to markets that are low on the Transparency International rankings (such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for instance). However, a recent University of Wisconsin report estimates the value of the underground economy in the United States at about $2 trillion, about 15% of the total U.S. GDP. And a 2013 study coauthored by Friedrich Schneider, a noted authority on global shadow economies, estimated the European Union’s underground economy at more than 18% of GDP, or a whopping 2.1 trillion euros. More than two-thirds of the underground activity came from the most developed countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Underground economic activity is a multifaceted phenomenon, with implications across the board for national security, tax collections, public-sector services, and more. It includes the activity of any business that relies primarily on old-fashioned cash for most transactions — ranging from legitimate businesses (including lemonade stands) to drug cartels and organized crime.
Though it’s often soiled, heavy to lug around, and easy to lose to theft, cash is still king simply because it is so easy to hide from the authorities. With the help of the right bank or financial institution, “dirty” money can easily be laundered and come out looking fresh and clean, or at least legitimate. Case in point is the global bank HSBC, which agreed to pay U.S. regulators $1.9 billion in fines to settle charges of money laundering on behalf of Mexican drug cartels. According to a U.S. Senate subcommittee report, that process involved transferring $7 billion in cash from the bank’s branches in Mexico to those in the United States. Just for reference, each $100 bill weighs one gram, so to transfer $7 billion, HSBC had to physically transport 70 metric tons of cash across the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body established in 1989, has estimated the total amount of money laundered worldwide to be around 2% to 5% of global GDP. Many of these transactions seem, at first glance, to be perfectly legitimate. Therein lies the conundrum for a banker or a government official: How do you identify, track, control, and, one hopes, prosecute money launderers, when they are hiding in plain sight and their business is couched in networked layers of perfectly defensible legitimacy?
Enter big-data tools, such as those provided by SynerScope, a Holland-based startup that is a member of the SAP Startup Focus program. This company’s solutions help unravel the complex networks hidden behind the layers of transactions and interactions.
Networks, good or bad, are near omnipresent in almost any form of organized human activity and particularly in banking and insurance. SynerScope takes data from both structured and unstructured data fields and transforms these into interactive computer visuals that display graphic patterns that humans can use to quickly make sense of information. Spotting of deviations in complex networked processes can easily be put to use in fraud detection for insurance, banking, e-commerce, and forensic accounting.
SynerScope’s approach to big-data business intelligence is centered on data-intense compute and visualization that extend the human “sense-making” capacity in much the same way that a telescope or microscope extends human vision.
To understand how SynerScope helps authorities track and halt money laundering, it’s important to understand how the networked laundering process works. It typically involves three stages.
1. In the initial, or placement, stage, launderers introduce their illegal profits into the financial system. This might be done by breaking up large amounts of cash into less-conspicuous smaller sums that are then deposited directly into a bank account, or by purchasing a series of monetary instruments (checks, money orders) that are then collected and deposited into accounts at other locations.
2. After the funds have entered the financial system, the launderer commences the second stage, called layering, which uses a series of conversions or transfers to distance the funds from their sources. The funds might be channeled through the purchase and sales of investment instruments, or the launderer might simply wire the funds through a series of accounts at various banks worldwide. 
Such use of widely scattered accounts for laundering is especially prevalent in those jurisdictions that do not cooperate in anti-money-laundering investigations. Sometimes the launderer disguises the transfers as payments for goods or services.
3. Having successfully processed the criminal profits through the first two phases, the launderer then proceeds to the third stage, integration, in which the funds re-enter the legitimate economy. The launderer might invest the funds in real estate, luxury assets, or business ventures.
Current detection tools compare individual transactions against preset profiles and rules. Sophisticated criminals quickly learn how to make their illicit transactions look normal for such systems. As a result, rules and profiles need constant and costly updating.
But SynerScope’s flexible visual analysis uses a network angle to detect money laundering. It shows the structure of the entire network with data coming in from millions of transactions, a structure that launderers cannot control. With just a few mouse clicks, SynerScope’s relation and sequence views reveal structural interrelationships and interdependencies. When those patterns are mapped on a time scale, it becomes virtually impossible to hide abnormal flows.

SynerScope’s relation and sequence views reveal structural and temporal transaction patterns which make it virtually impossible to hide abnormal money flows.”

New York Police Twitter Strategy Has Unforeseen Consequences

J. David Goodman in The New York Times: “The New York Police Department has long seen its crime-fighting strategies emulated across the country and around the world.

So when a departmental Twitter campaign, meant to elicit smiling snapshots, instead attracted tens of thousands of less flattering images of officers, it did not take long for the hashtag #myNYPD to spread far beyond the five boroughs.

By Wednesday, the public relations situation in New York City had sparked imitators from Los Angeles (#myLAPD) to Mexico (#MiPolicíaMexicana) and over the ocean to Greece (#myELAS), Germany (#DankePolizei) and France (#maPolice).

The images, including circles of police officers, in riot gear poised to strike a man on a bench, or hosing down protesters, closely resembled those posted on Tuesday by critics of the Police Department in New York, in which many of the most infamous moments in recent police history had been dredged up by Twitter users….”

Twenty-one European Cities Advance in Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge Competition to Create Innovative Solutions to Urban Challenges

Press Release: “Bloomberg Philanthropies today revealed the 21 European cities that have emerged as final contenders in its 2013-2014 Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life, and that ultimately can spread to other cities. One grand prize winner will receive €5 million for the most creative and transferable idea. Four additional cities will be awarded €1 million, and all will be announced in the fall. The finalists’ proposed solutions address some of Europe’s most critical issue areas: youth unemployment, aging populations, civic engagement, economic development, environment and energy concerns, public health and safety, and making government more efficient…
James Anderson, the head of government innovation for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said: “While the ideas are very diverse, we identified key themes. The ideas tended toward networked, distributed solutions as opposed to costly centralized ones. There was a lot of interest in citizen engagement as both a means and end. Technology that concretely and positively affects the lives of individual citizens – from the blind person in Warsaw to the unemployed youth in Amsterdam to the homeowner in Schaerbeek — also played a significant role.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies staff and an independent selection committee of 12 members from across Europe closely considered each application over multiple rounds of review, culminating in feedback and selection earlier this month, resulting in 21 cities’ ideas moving forward for further development. The submissions will be judged on four critieria: vision, potential for impact, implementation plan, and potential to spread to other cities. The finalists and their ideas are:

  1. AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Youth Unemployment: Tackling widespread youth unemployment by equipping young people with 21st century skills and connecting them with jobs and apprenticeships across Europe through an online game
  2. ATHENS, Greece – Civic Engagement: Empowering citizens with a new online platform to address the large number of small-scale urban challenges accelerated by the Greek economic crisis
  3. BARCELONA, Spain – Aging: Improving quality of life and limiting social isolation by establishing a network of public and private support – including family, friends, social workers, and volunteers – for each elderly citizen
  4. BOLOGNA, Italy – Youth Unemployment: Building an urban scale model of informal education labs and civic engagement to prevent youth unemployment by teaching children aged 6-16 entrepreneurship and 21st century skills
  5. BRISTOL, United Kingdom – Health/Anti-obesity: Tackling obesity and unemployment by creating a new economic system that increases access to locally grown, healthy foods
  6. BRNO, Czech Republic – Public Safety/Civic Engagement: Engaging citizens in keeping their own communities safe to build social cohesion and reduce crime
  7. CARDIFF, United Kingdom – Economic Development: Increasing productivity little by little in residents’ personal and professional lives, so that a series of small improvements add up to a much more productive city
  8. FLORENCE, Italy – Economic Development: Combatting unemployment with a new economic development model that combines technology and social innovation, targeting the city’s historic artisan and maker community
  9. GDAŃSK, Poland – Civic Engagement: Re-instilling faith in local democracy by mandating that city government formally debate local issues put forward by citizens
  10. KIRKLEES, United Kingdom – Social Capital: Pooling the city and community’s idle assets – from vehicles to unused spaces to citizens’ untapped time and expertise – to help the area make the most of what it has and do more with less
  11. KRAKOW, Poland – Transportation: Implementing smart, personalized transportation incentives and a seamless and unified public transit payment system to convince residents to opt for greener modes of transportation
  12. LISBON, Portugal – Energy: Transforming wasted kinetic energy generated by the city’s commuting traffic into electricity, reducing the carbon footprint and increasing environmental sustainability
  13. LONDON, United Kingdom – Public Health: Empowering citizens to monitor and improve their own health through a coordinated, multi-stakeholder platform and new technologies that dramatically improve quality of life and reduce health care costs
  14. MADRID, Spain – Energy: Diversifying its renewable energy options by finding and funding the best ways to harvest underground power, such as wasted heat generated by the city’s below-ground infrastructure
  15. SCHAERBEEK, Belgium – Energy: Using proven flyover and 3D geothermal mapping technology to provide each homeowner and tenant with a personalized energy audit and incentives to invest in energy-saving strategies
  16. SOFIA, Bulgaria – Civic Engagement: Transforming public spaces by deploying mobile art units to work side-by-side with local residents, re-envisioning and rejuvenating underused spaces and increasing civic engagement
  17. STARA ZAGORA, Bulgaria – Economic Development: Reversing the brain-drain of the city’s best and brightest by helping young entrepreneurs turn promising ideas into local high-tech businesses
  18. STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Environment: Combatting climate change by engaging citizens to produce biochar, an organic material that increases tree growth, sequesters carbon, and purifies storm runoff
  19. THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Civic Engagement: Enabling citizens to allocate a portion of their own tax money to support the local projects they most believe in
  20. WARSAW, Poland – Transportation/Accessibility: Enabling the blind and visually impaired to navigate the city as easily as their sighted peers by providing high-tech auditory alerts which will save them travel time and increase their independence
  21. YORK, United Kingdom – Government Systems: Revolutionizing the way citizens, businesses, and others can propose new ideas to solve top city problems, providing a more intelligent way to acquire or develop the best solutions, thus enabling greater civic participation and saving the city both time and money

Further detail and related elements for this year’s Mayors Challenge can be found via:”

'Hackathons' Aim to Solve Health Care's Ills

Amy Dockser Marcus in the Wall Street Journal: “Hackathons, the high-octane, all-night problem-solving sessions popularized by the software-coding community, are making their way into the more traditional world of health care. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a recent event called Hacking Medicine’s Grand Hackfest attracted more than 450 people to work for one weekend on possible solutions to problems involving diabetes, rare diseases, global health and information technology used at hospitals.
Health institutions such as New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have held hackathons. MIT, meantime, has co-sponsored health hackathons in India, Spain and Uganda.
Hackathons of all kinds are increasingly popular. Intel Corp.  recently bought a group that organizes them. Companies hoping to spark creative thinking sponsor them. And student-run hackathons have turned into intercollegiate competitions.
But in health care, where change typically comes much more slowly than in Silicon Valley, they represent a cultural shift. To solve a problem, scientists and doctors can spend years painstakingly running experiments, gathering data, applying for grants and publishing results. So the idea of an event where people give two-minute pitches describing a problem, then join a team of strangers to come up with a solution in the course of one weekend is radical.
“We are not trying to replace the medical culture with Facebook culture,” said Elliot Cohen, who wore a hoodie over a button-down dress shirt at the MIT event in March and helped start MIT Hacking Medicine while at business school. “But we want to try to blend them more.”
Mr. Cohen co-founded and is chief technology officer at PillPack, a pharmacy that sends customers personalized packages of their medications, a company that started at a hackathon.
At MIT’s health-hack, physicians, researchers, students and a smattering of people wearing Google Glass sprawled on the floor of MIT’s Media Lab and at tables with a view of the Boston skyline. At one table, a group of college students, laptops plastered with stickers, pulled juice boxes and snacks out of backpacks, trash piling up next to them as they feverishly wrote code.
Nupur Garg, an emergency-room physician and one of the eventual winners, finished her hospital shift at 2 a.m. Saturday in New York, drove to Boston and arrived at MIT in time to pitch the need for a way to capture images of patients’ ears and throats that can be shared with specialists to help make diagnoses. She and her team immediately started working on a prototype for the device, testing early versions on anyone who stopped by their table.
Dr. Garg and teammate Nancy Liang, who runs a company that makes Web apps for 3-D printers, caught a few hours of sleep in a dorm room Saturday night. They came up with the idea for their product’s name—MedSnap—later that night while watching students use cellphone cameras to send SnapChats to one another. “There was no time to conduct surveys on what was the best name,” said Ms. Liang. “Many ideas happen after midnight.”
Winning teams in each category won $1,000, as well as access to the hackathons sponsors for advice and pilot projects.
Yet even supporters say hackathons can’t solve medicine’s challenges overnight. Harlan Krumholz, a professor at Yale School of Medicine who ran a many-months trial that found telemonitoring didn’t reduce hospitalizations or deaths of cardiology patients, said he supports the problem-solving ethos of hackathons. But he added that “improvements require a long-term commitment, not just a weekend.”
Ned McCague, a data scientist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, served as a mentor at the hackathon. He said he wasn’t representing his employer, but he used his professional experiences to push groups to think about the potential customer. “They have a good idea and are excited about it, but they haven’t thought about who is paying for it,” he said.
Zen Chu, a senior lecturer in health-care innovation and entrepreneur-in-residence at MIT, and one of the founders of Hacking Medicine, said more than a dozen startups conceived since the first hackathon, in 2011, are still in operation. Some received venture-capital funding.
The upsides of hackathons were made clear to Sharon Moalem, a physician who studies rare diseases. He had spent years developing a mobile app that can take pictures of faces to help diagnose rare genetic conditions, but was stumped on how to give the images a standard size scale to make comparisons. At the hackathon, Dr. Moalem said he was approached by an MIT student who suggested sticking a coin on the subjects’ forehead. Since quarters have a standard measurement, it “creates a scale,” said Dr. Moalem.
Dr. Moalem said he had never considered such a simple, elegant solution. The team went on to write code to help standardize facial measurements based on the dimensions of a coin and a credit card.
“Sometimes when you are too close to something, you stop seeing solutions, you only see problems,” Dr. Moalem said. “I needed to step outside my own silo.”