Ideas Lunch

Balancing Act: Innovation vs. Privacy in the Age of Data Portability

Thursday, July 12, 2018 @ 2 MetroTech Center, Brooklyn, NY 11201

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The ability of people to move or copy data about themselves from one service to another — data portability — has been hailed as a way of increasing competition and driving innovation. In many areas, such as through the Open Banking initiative in the United Kingdom, the practice of data portability is fully underway and propagating. The launch of GDPR in Europe has also elevated the issue among companies and individuals alike. But recent online security breaches and other experiences of personal data being transferred surreptitiously from private companies, (e.g., Cambridge Analytica’s appropriation of Facebook data), highlight how data portability can also undermine people’s privacy.

The GovLab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering is pleased to present Jeni Tennison, CEO of the Open Data Institute, for its next Ideas Lunch, where she will discuss how data portability has been regulated in the UK and Europe, and what governments, businesses and people need to do to strike the balance between its risks and benefits.

Jeni Tennison is the CEO of the Open Data Institute. She gained her PhD from the University of Nottingham then worked as an independent consultant, specialising in open data publishing and consumption, before joining the ODI in 2012. Jeni was awarded an OBE for services to technology and open data in the 2014 New Year Honours.

Before joining the ODI, Jeni was the technical architect and lead developer for She worked on the early linked data work on, including helping to engineer new standards for publishing statistics as linked data. She continues her work within the UK’s public sector as a member of the Open Standards Board.

Jeni also works on international web standards. She was appointed to serve on the W3C’s Technical Architecture Group from 2011 to 2015 and in 2014 she started to co-chair the W3C’s CSV on the Web Working Group. She also sits on the Advisory Boards for Open Contracting Partnership and the Data Transparency Lab.

Twitter handle: @JeniT


Reinventing – not Disrupting – the Role of Government Through Blockchain Technology

Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Room 9009, Brooklyn 11201

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The use of permissioned blockchains in the public sector has the potential to create a new balance point between two extremes: pure algorithmic governance (e.g., Bitcoin) and pure human governance (e.g., your local city council). This talk will explore if and how blockchain can help bring automation, transparency, and audit-ability to the world’s governing systems and institutions. Does the strategic introduction of blockchain-enabled validation mechanisms and smart contracts offer a means for rescuing public confidence in governing institutions while cutting costs and better ensuring fair outcomes per policy? Behlendorf will discuss these and other questions related to blockchain’s coming impact on how we govern.


Brian Behlendorf is the Executive Director of Hyperledger Project. Behlendorf was a primary developer of the Apache Web server, the most popular web server software on the Internet, and a founding member of the Apache Software Foundation. He has also served on the board of the Mozilla Foundation since 2003 and the Electronic Frontier Foundation since 2013. He was the founding CTO of CollabNet and CTO of the World Economic Forum. Most recently, Behlendorf was a managing director at Mithril Capital Management LLC, a global technology investment firm.

Twitter handle: @brianbehlendorf


Is Data the Oil of the 21st Century?

Thursday, March 2, 2017 @ The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Brooklyn 11201

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Is Data the Oil of the 21st Century?

Learning from History: From a Century of Oil to a Century of Data

Oil dominated our economies throughout the 20th century, strategies for access to oil influenced foreign policies and oil changed not only our mobility but also our everyday lives. It’s said that data will have a similar influence on the 21st century, impacting and even changing everything around us. Even if the phrase “Data is the oil of the 21st century” is mostly used for marketing, this analogy has a deeper meaning.

Malte Spitz will discuss his upcoming book, “Is Data the Oil of the 21st Century?”, which looks at the impact of oil on our societies, economies and geopolitics in the 20th century and draws comparisons to the impact of data in the 21st century. Even if history doesn’t repeat itself, we can learn from the oil-age and apply it to this new century of data. Spitz presents no glorification or pessimism, but new ideas for a century where data will challenge everything.

Malte Spitz is an author, activist and politician from Germany. He served seven years on the Executive Committee of the German Green Party and has been a member of their board since 2013. Currently he is Secretary General of the new NGO “Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte” (Society for Civil Rights) working on strategic litigation in the field of human rights. His book “What are you doing with my data?” was published in 2014. As a Fellow at the Bucerius Lab of Zeit Foundation Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius, he is working on his second book about “Is Data the oil of the 21st century?” looking back on the impact of oil on our societies, economies and geopolitics in the 20th century and drawing comparisons to the impact of data in the 21st century and what we can learn in this regard from the oil-age. He lives with his wife and two children in Berlin.



Please RSVP. Lunch will be served.


Connecting Government with Outside Expertise via Natural Language Processing

Thursday, February 16, 2017, 12:30-2pm @ The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Getting outside expertise is essential to improving the quality of decisionmaking in government. While universities are a storehouse of knowledge and experience, public officials often turn to lobbyists, think tanks and interest groups, instead, because of the difficulty of quickly ascertaining who has expertise on a given topic and the nature of that expertise. The problem is exacerbated by the absence of (i) well-formatted records of knowledge, when (ii) it is difficult ex ante to specify relevant types of expertise in a survey, and (iii) individuals with overlapping interests may use related, but not identical, language to describe similar issues. This talk explores new computational strategies—in particular, a growing class of “word embedding” models—for creating measures of individual-level expertise that might offer insight into how, in the future, we can match public problems to the supply of experts and help public institutions obtain diverse knowledge more quickly. The talk concludes with a discussion of how model estimates may be used on data outside of the training set (e.g., as merged with resumes, or ‘LinkedIn’ type data), when the quality of observed data varies across individuals, or in tandem with existing user meta data derived from a social network platform.



Michael Gill is a Moore-Sloan Data Science Fellow at the Center for Data Science at NYU, and a Research Fellow at the GovLab. Michael’s substantive interests include the study of special interest groups, the causes and effects of government transparency, and U.S. foreign policy. Methodologically, his research focuses on applications of machine learning methods for causal inference problems in the social sciences, experimental methods, and the analysis of text-as-data. He received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University, where he was an affiliate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences.


Hacking Parliament

Thursday, October 27, 2016, 12:30-2pm @ The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor.  Please RSVP here.

In this talk Cristiano Ferri, Director of the Brazilian Parliament’s Hacker Lab and author of The Open Parliament in the Age of the Internet, will highlight several open innovation (aka “crowdlaw”) experiments that the HackerLab is undertaking at the Brazilian House of Representatives and lay out their political, social and organizational impacts and challenges. HackerLab is the only public lab built in and totally funded by a legislature. The talk will conclude by outlining the future of crowdlaw and the research agenda needed to assess its effectiveness and legitimacy.

Cristiano Ferri is currently Director of the Hacker Laboratory in the Brazilian House of Representatives.  He has developed and managed the legislative e-Democracy Program at the House. As House’s senior official since 1993, his main fields of interest and expertise are lawmaking, public labs, open parliament, participation, parliamentary informatics, transparency, open innovation in public sector and quality of law (legistic). Faria is also a research associate from Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School. He holds a PhD in sociology and political science at the Institute for Social and Political Studies, State University from Rio de Janeiro and a Master of Science in public policy from Queen Mary’s College, University of London.


Crowdsourcing A Meeting of Minds: Designing the Future of Work

Tuesday, June 2, 2016, 12:30-2pm, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Fl, Brooklyn 11201

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Crowdsourcing is an increasingly powerful method where computation guides many amateurs’ efforts in order to recreate an expert’s abilities. However, across domains from design to engineering to art, few goals are truly the effort of just one person — even one expert. If we can now crowdsource simple tasks such as image labeling, how might computation coordinate many peoples’ abilities toward far more complex and interdependent goals? In this talk, we present computational systems for gathering and guiding crowds of experts, including professional programmers, designers, singers and artists. The resulting collectives tackle problems modularly and at scale, dynamically grow and shrink depending on task demands, and combine into larger organizations. We’ll demonstrate how computationally-enabled expert crowds can pursue goals such as designing new user experiences overnight, producing animated shorts in two days, and even pursuing novel research.


Michael Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, where he is a member of the Human-Computer Interaction group. His research focuses on the design of crowdsourcing and social computing systems. This work has received five Best Paper awards and eleven honorable mentions at premier venues in human-computer interaction and social computing. Michael has been recognized as a Robert N. Noyce Family Faculty Scholar, and awarded the Sloan Fellowship, NSF CAREER award and the George M. Sprowls Award. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University, and a master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT.

Melissa Valentine is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University in the Management Science and Engineering Department, and a core faculty member of the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization. She studies the changing nature of groups and teams in organizations, with a focus on team learning and design. She has conducted multi-method field research in a variety of organizational settings; current projects include team coordination in emergency medical care, synchronized group learning in cancer care, and complex group coordination in online labor markets.  Prof. Valentine has won awards for research and teaching. She won the Outstanding Paper with Practical Implications award from the Organizational Behavior division of the Academy of Management, and the Organization Science/INFORMS dissertation proposal competition. She received her PhD from Harvard University.


The Finance Innovation Lab – A Strategy for Systems Change

Monday, May 2nd, 2016, 12:30-2pm @The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Brooklyn, 11201

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When crisis hits, how do you organize a diverse, disgruntled and disparate group of people to take action together?

Rachel Sinha of the UK Finance Innovation Lab, will share stories, strategies and key lessons from seven years co-leading the project, which was launched in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis to catalyze a system that is democratic, responsible and fair.

The Finance Innovation Lab, first convened by The Institute of Chartered Accountants and the World Wildlife Fund, brought together accountants, activists, investors and citizens to work on transforming the future of finance. It launched several successful organizations as part of the strategy, from an accelerator program for economic justice campaigners (Campaign Lab), to a Rockefeller Foundation and World Bank funded ‘Natural Capital Coalition’ with a protocol for business to account for natural capital.

About Rachel

Rachel Sinha is a British award winning social innovator. One of four co-founders of The Finance Innovation Lab, named by the Guardian newspaper as one of 50 Radicals- ‘changing the face of the UK for the better’, she built the Lab from an idea, to an independent fully funded not-for-profit. She is an established thought leader in the field of social innovation and systems change and the co-author of Labcraft, a book on social Labs. She has written for publications including HBR and Fast Company, documented the work of systems leaders with Oxford University as well as published her experiences of running a Lab in A Strategy for Systems Change.


Fighting corruption with advocacy, tech and civic engagement

Thursday, April 14th, 2016, 12:30-2pm @ The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Brooklyn 11201

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In 2015, the public learned of a series of political corruption scandals in Chile. The Smart Citizen Foundation (Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente) decided to lead the fight against corruption with a new approach: file lawsuits against politicians accused of illegally financing their campaigns, participate in a presidential commission against corruption, and create tools for civic engagement in the transparency and probity reforms agenda. Leading the charge was Smart Citizen’s Executive Director, Pablo Collada. In this talk, he will discuss the opportunities and challenges of reimagining Latin American democracy: from engaging a larger citizenry, to reforming the relationship between money and politics, to establishing new forms of public innovation. In a moment where corruption scandals are common news, Collada will discuss how citizen-driven responses are growing in intensity and size.

About Pablo

Pablo is the Executive Director of Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen Foundation), a Latin American nonprofit based in Chile that designs and implements participation models that integrate research, communication and civic tech developments. Pablo is a Mexican sociologist that has worked for the past 14 years in the Social Development sector mainly in education, youth and community organization projects either in the public sector or the civil society arena. His previous work includes being head of the Research Area for the Lab for the City initiative in Mexico City, where he was part of the development of the Open Government Platform. He also lead the creation of regional networks promoted by international agencies such as UN-Habitat to promote local government observatories, and the development and implementation of digital tools for youth participation in the Mexican context.


Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in the Digital Age

Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 12:30-2pm @ The GovLab, 2 Metrotech Center, 9th Floor, Brooklyn 11201

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Hollie Russon Gilman will speak about her new book, Democracy Reinvented, the first comprehensive academic treatment of participatory budgeting in the United States. Participatory budgeting empowers citizens to identify community needs, work with elected officials to craft budget proposals, and vote on how to spend public funds. This global phenomenon started in Brazil in 1989 but came to America only in 2009.

Democracy Reinvented places participatory budgeting within the larger discussion of the health of U.S. democracy and focuses on the enabling political and institutional conditions. Gilman presents theoretical insights, in-depth case studies, and interviews to offer a compelling alternative to the current citizen disaffection and mistrust of government. She offers policy recommendations on how to tap online tools and other technological and civic innovations to promote more inclusive governance. Gilman suggests practical ways to empower citizens to become change agents. Democracy Reinvented also includes a discussion on the challenges and opportunities that come with using digital tools to re-engage citizens in governance.

About Hollie

Hollie Russon Gilman is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs where she is co-teaching a new course on Technology and the Future of Governance and Public Policy. She is also a fellow at New America and Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Innovation and Governance.  Hollie most recently served as Open Government and Innovation Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University. She is a founding researcher and organizer for the Open Society Foundation’s Transparency and Accountability Initiative and Harvard’s Gettysburg Project to revitalize 21st Century civic engagement. She has worked as an advisor, researcher, and consultant to leading non-profits and foundations at the intersection of technology and the public sector including the Case Foundation, Center for Global Development,, and the World Bank Institute.


Designing a Public Sector Innovation Lab

Designing a Public Sector Innovation Lab

MindLab, existing since 2002, is the longest living public sector innovation lab. MindLab runs design-led projects to create policies and services that deliver better outcomes for people and society. Through the use of ethnography and design methods, like rapid prototyping and testing, MindLab involves citizens in the development of new public sector solutions, and brings an out-side-in perspective to organizations.

MindLab Deputy Director, Kit Lykketoft, will share the story behind the first government lab, addressing the unique challenges and lessons learned from working within government administration, as well as her insights from setting up other public sector labs in various countries. Kit will also discuss MindLab’s methodology and current work with the elementary school reform and it´s implementation.

About Kit:

Kit Lykketoft is the Deputy Director of MindLab, a cross-governmental innovation unit in Denmark. Kit has been part of MindLab for the past eight years and previously worked in the Danish Ministry of Employment where she also began her career in 2001.

As an experienced change leader with deep practical knowledge on policy-making, service-design and organizational development, she has served as an advisor on innovative capacity-building, trainer, facilitator and presenter to numerous organizations and institutions in Denmark and around the globe. Kit has assisted in setting up public sector labs in several countries. Kit has had numerous prior engagements with the UNDP.

Kit holds an Executive M.Sc. from Oxford/HEC, Paris (2014) and a MA and BA in History and Anthropology from Copenhagen University.  She lives and works in Copenhagen, however July 2015 – July 2016 she will be based in NYC as a visiting scholar at Parsons the New School for Design, DESIS Lab as well as work with MindLab partners in the region.

More here.