Data for social good is becoming part of the business vernacular and SecondMuse holds a dynamic space in that world view. For the past seven years, SecondMuse has pioneered projects that promote open data and open source solutions while forging unlikely partnerships between governments, companies, and citizens to address global needs. “Data informs and connects people solving social and and environmental problems on the global and local scales,” says Carrie Freeman of SecondMuse.
A strong advocate for using information and communication technologies to help solve global challenges, Carrie joined SecondMuse three years ago after an illustrious career as Director of Sustainable Business Innovation at Intel, where she developed technology market solutions for challenges such as climate change and pioneered strategies such as a corporate impact investing fund. At SecondMuse she manages open innovation programs with clients such as NASA, Nike, The United Nations, The World Bank, and USAID. Freeman continues to push mass collaboration between governments, business, and communities, a cornerstone of what SecondMuse is about as a company.
When Todd Khozein started SecondMuse seven years ago, he wanted a business model that would be collaborative — where competition would take a back seat to collaboration. “When we look at any natural system, be it the human body – the cosmos or the natural environment – even though we see competition, it all happens within the larger context of harmony. These systems are built in accordance with natural laws and are balanced,” Khozein says. “Our economic systems are built in accordance with ideas and beliefs dating back centuries that are naturally flawed,” Khozein adds.
Khozein, a medical doctor with a background in complexity science, is a pioneer in systems innovation based on biological models. In this context, he has studied and applied systems theory to real market challenges, developing programs and businesses in a range of industries. At SecondMuse, he has founded initiatives such as Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), bringing together Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, NASA, and the World Bank around crisis response, and LAUNCH, an open innovation platform created by NASA, NIKE, USAID and The U.S. Department of State to find, support, and scale sustainable solutions.
In this way, Khozein has effectively led governmental agencies to play a leading role in encouraging mass collaboration and social good by pioneering data innovation projects including the International Space Apps Challenge and National Day of Civic Hacking. Hackathons represent one form of mass collaboration where large numbers of technologists, entrepreneurs, and citizens use their expertise to address pressing issues. “It is necessary to bring citizens into the equation because, without tapping into the tremendous talent that exists in citizens who want to improve their communities, we will neither understand the extent of some of the challenges, nor be able to design useful solutions.” Khozein told NPR in 2014.
The first hackathon produced in the spirit of mass collaboration by SecondMuse was Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) in 2010. “What started as collaboration in a room of people with distinct backgrounds, skills, and experiences has morphed into a forum that brings together people across cities and around the world behind common themes and challenges,” says Katey Metzroth of SecondMuse who participated initially in Random Hacks of Kindness as a hacker, went on to co-lead the first National Day of Civic Hacking and is currently leading a 160 city, 20,000 participant global civic hack. “Our mass collaboration work is a platform to spur relationships and partnerships that we have seen last long after the hackathons themselves,” she adds.
When designing large scale innovation projects SecondMuse strives to deeply understand the target problem by authentically and empathetically engaging with people to understand their stories and point of view. Having a unified vision when solving challenging social and environmental problems is the kind of holistic, social good approach that SecondMuse continues to encourage in an era of civic innovation.
Today National Day of Civic Hacking and NASA’s Space Apps Challenge are considered national and international civic tech movements respectively.
In a 2013 NPR interview, Roxann Stafford of SecondMuse talked about this emerging field. “Civic tech is a movement of people in active dialogue with their governments and each other to solve complex social and environmental problems,” Stafford said. She also highlights the importance of having diverse skill sets as key to the sustainability of ideas and initiatives. Stafford says although we talk a lot about civic tech from the standpoint of coding, what we really need is an ecosystem of players — people who really understand and know a community, marketing, design, and communications to name a few. “You don’t necessarily need to have all the hardcore tech or STEM types of skills at your fingertips. But what you do need to be able to do is have a collaborative mindset to understand how to bring those skills to bear when you’re trying to help your community,” Stafford added.
In 2014, hundreds of projects were created as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking. Here’s a small snapshot of what was built:
- @MBTA_Alerts: A series of Twitter accounts for each service, created by Calvin Metcalf at Code for Boston, that keep riders up to date on transit delays and statuses.
- AdoptMeApp: An app created at the Palo Alto Apps Challenge to enable volunteers, fosterers in animal shelters, and rescue groups to easily share information about adoptable pets. In 2014, they received the Red Cross Silicon Valley 2014 “Tech Hero” honor.
- Report LA Waste Water: A mobile website from Hack for LA that allowed users to report wasteful water use (broken hydrants/sprinklers, improper lawn watering, etc.) and receive notifications of reports in their community.
As part of an Innovation Pipeline led by Intel and SecondMuse, six teams were also selected to receive mentorship and access to advanced data analytics to strengthen their projects. Across industries, companies are encouraged to adopt the principles of the circular economy and enabling creativity and collaboration in the use of data is a big factor in ushering in the civic innovation space.
SecondMuse is also actively involved in a big data innovation project with The World Bank, putting into practice the notion that open and big data can help empower communities to find solutions. “Data is enabling people to take an active role in solving their local challenges,” says Neisan Massarrat of SecondMuse, who has led data programs and strategies for the World Bank, NASA, and Intel Corporation. “Data innovation is allowing citizens to leverage technology in meaningful ways and to push forward idea sharing”.
“Acknowledgement of the oneness of humanity is necessary for the well-being of the entire social body to advance,” says Carrie Freeman. “Fundamental to social justice is acceptance that all people are one and should have equal rights and opportunities,” she adds.