MIT Policy Hackathon produces new solutions for technology policy challenges

Nearly three years in the past, the Covid-19 pandemic modified the world. Many are nonetheless seeking to uncover a “new regular.”

“As an alternative of going again to regular, [there’s a new generation that] needs to construct again one thing completely different, one thing higher,” says Jorge Sandoval, a second-year graduate pupil in MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP) on the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS). “How will we talk this mindset to others, that the world can’t be the identical as earlier than?”

This was the inspiration behind “A New (Re)era,” this yr’s theme for the IDSS-student-run MIT Policy Hackathon, which Sandoval helped to arrange because the occasion chair. The Coverage Hackathon is a weekend-long, interdisciplinary competitors that brings collectively individuals from across the globe to discover potential options to a few of society’s best challenges. 

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Not like different competitions of its variety, Sandoval says MIT’s occasion emphasizes a humanistic method. “The thought of our hackathon is to advertise purposes of know-how which are humanistic or human-centered,” he says. “We take the chance to look at elements of know-how within the areas the place they have an inclination to work together with society and folks, a possibility most technical competitions do not supply as a result of their main focus is on the know-how.”

The competitors began with 50 groups unfold throughout 4 problem classes. This yr’s classes included Web and Cybersecurity, Environmental Justice, Logistics, and Housing and Metropolis Planning. Whereas some folks come into the problem with associates, Sandoval mentioned most groups type organically throughout a web-based networking assembly hosted by MIT.

“We encourage folks to pair up with others exterior of their nation and to type groups of various various backgrounds and ages,” Sandoval says. “We attempt to give people who find themselves typically not invited to the decision-making desk the chance to be a policymaker, bringing in these with backgrounds in not solely regulation, coverage, or politics, but in addition drugs, and individuals who have careers in engineering or expertise working in nonprofits.”

As soon as an in-person occasion, the Coverage Hackathon has gone by its personal regeneration course of these previous three years, in response to Sandoval. After going solely on-line throughout the pandemic’s peak, final yr they efficiently hosted the primary hybrid model of the occasion, which served as their mannequin once more this yr.

“The hybrid model of the occasion offers us the chance to permit folks to attach in a means that’s misplaced if it’s only on-line, whereas additionally protecting the wide selection of accessibility, permitting folks to hitch from wherever on this planet, no matter nationality or revenue, to supply their enter,” Sandoval says.

For Swetha Tadisina, an undergraduate laptop science main at Lafayette School and participant within the web and cybersecurity class, the hackathon was a novel alternative to satisfy and work with folks far more superior of their careers. “I used to be stunned how such a various group that had by no means met earlier than was in a position to work so effectively and creatively,” Tadisina says.

Erika Spangler, a public highschool instructor from Massachusetts and member of the environmental justice class’s profitable group, says that whereas every member of “Staff Slime Mould” got here to the desk with a special set of abilities, they managed to be in sync from the beginning — even working throughout the nine-and-a-half-hour time distinction the four-person group confronted when working with coverage advocate Shruti Nandy from Calcutta, India.

“We divided the venture into knowledge, coverage, and analysis and trusted one another’s experience,” Spangler says, “Regardless of having separate areas of focus, we made certain to have common check-ins to problem-solve and cross-pollinate concepts.”

In the course of the 48-hour interval, her group proposed the creation of an algorithm to determine high-quality brownfields that may very well be cleaned up and used as websites for constructing renewable vitality. Their corresponding coverage sought to mandate extra necessities for renewable vitality companies in search of tax credit from the Inflation Discount Act.

“Their coverage memo had probably the most in-depth technical evaluation, together with deep dives in a number of key cities to indicate the affect of their proposed method for website choice at a really granular stage,” says Amanda Levin, director of coverage evaluation for the Pure Assets Protection Council (NRDC). Levin acted as each a decide and problem supplier for the environmental justice class.

“Additionally they introduced their coverage suggestions within the memo in a well-thought-out means, clearly noting the related actor,” she provides. This readability round what might be performed, and who could be answerable for these actions, is very helpful for these in coverage.”

Levin says the NRDC, one of many largest environmental nonprofits in america, supplied 5 “problem questions,” making it clear that groups didn’t want to handle all of them. She notes that this gave groups important leeway, bringing all kinds of suggestions to the desk. 

“As a problem associate, the work put collectively by all of the groups is already getting used to assist inform discussions in regards to the implementation of the Inflation Discount Act,” Levin says. “With the ability to faucet into the collective intelligence of the hackathon helped uncover new views and coverage options that may assist make an affect in addressing the essential coverage challenges we face as we speak.”

Whereas having companions with expertise in knowledge science and coverage positively helped, fellow Staff Slime Mould member Sara Sheffels, a PhD candidate in MIT’s biomaterials program, says she was stunned how a lot her experiences exterior of science and coverage have been related to the problem: “My expertise organizing MIT’s Graduate Scholar Union formed my concepts about extra significant group involvement in renewables initiatives on brownfields. It’s not significant to merely educate folks in regards to the significance of renewables or ask them to log off on a pre-planned venture with out addressing their different wants.”

“I needed to check my limits, achieve publicity, and broaden my world,” Tadisina provides. “The publicity, friendships, and experiences you achieve in such a brief time frame are unimaginable.”

For Willy R. Vasquez, {an electrical} and laptop engineering PhD pupil on the College of Texas, the hackathon is to not be missed. “In case you’re within the intersection of tech, society, and coverage, then it is a must-do expertise.”


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