Social Change: Powered by Data

“I’ve always been interested in how government is using technology and civic tech,” said DeeDee Kim, a DUSP graduate student studying City Design and Development. “Private companies are always excelling in new technologies and it seems like government is always a bit behind in terms of keeping up with where technology is in society.” This technological disparity was the catalyst that led Kim to spend the last year working on-and-off with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) first, through a course called “Planning in Practice” and later with the PKG Center’s Federal Work-Study program.

MAPC is a regional planning agency serving 101 cities and towns of Metropolitan Boston. “They have different departments--housing, transportation, land use--and all the specialized planners within those departments act as consultants to smaller municipalities that need that support. It’s a great setup. I was in the data services department and our team provides digital support for cities or groups of towns or cities that need applications built for them. Last semester I worked on a project with the city of Boston,” said Kim.

The City of Boston’s Youth Jobs Boston program was put in place to help teens develop an understanding of financial management, gain real-world work experience, and build their resumes, but students weren’t always getting the message. “Last summer, before MAPC’s involvement they had a somewhat inefficient system where youth would apply through The city would then email [the students] and match them according to location and interest,” said Kim. “MAPC built them a digital platform to streamline the process and also incorporated texting the teens which is a really new and novel way for government to use relevant technology that teens are currently using. I helped them build this digital platform and even though it will never be public-facing, people within the program (city employees, teen workers, and the organizations that needed the teen workers) can all utilize the resource.”

The system was a success with teens and the City of Boston. Now other cities are looking to replicate Boston’s model. “My boss, Alicia, who is also a DUSP alumna, has been presenting this project at conferences and there have been a ton of other cities that have said ‘we want to adopt this!’ It’s all open-source, so hopefully other cities will be able to use this technology, too,” said Kim.

After such a positive experience with MAPC in 2017, Kim wanted to continue her work with MAPC through the PKG Center’s Federal Work-Study program over IAP. “I wanted to own a project and do something substantial since I was able to work full-time,” said Kim. “Every five years, MAPC releases a ‘State of Equity in Boston’ report. They look at the past five years and see how far Boston has come and in what ways equity has shifted. Usually they just release a PDF document but this time they wanted to do something a bit more interactive and exciting and release a website. That’s what I spent the majority of my time on in January-- designing the website, coming up with a branding scheme then making some data visualizations with the rest of my team to show how Boston has changed and how it hasn’t and what needs to be happening in the next 5 years,” Kim added. The final result was launched at the State House earlier this month.

Though she hasn’t settled on what she’d like to do after graduation this spring, Kim hopes to continue in the space of civic technology. “I’d like to use data to affect change in a positive manner,” said Kim. “We learn about planning in the classroom and discuss ‘what does equity mean?’ and all these other issues, but to see it implemented in real life is really cool and inspiring.”