The Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI) recently hosted its annual conference, focusing this year on tackling social challenges and opportunities on a regional scale. Data and technology have long been used to solve problems affecting urban communities, but these challenges aren’t isolated to cities. The Smart, Connected Commonwealth: Data-Driven Research and Policy across the Region brought together academics, policy makers and industry experts to collaborate on how to spark data and technology application at the regional level.
“Every year the conference is successful in bringing together people doing cutting-edge, data-driven research and policy in one place,” said Dan O’Brien, Co-Director of BARI and Associate Professor here at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. “But this year I think we were especially effective at instigating the question: how do we do this better for all cities in the region?”
Over 400 people attended the conference at the Massachusetts State House, including attendees from 13 Massachusetts municipalities, eight state agencies and 12 universities. The keynote presentations and panel-based discussions centered on innovative ways to use data and technology towards solving greater issues such as social mobility, climate change, transportation and public safety on a larger scale. Conference speakers included Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University and Director of Opportunity Insights, and Representative Nika Elugardo.
“I loved seeing the variety of topics and at the same time the common challenges we are trying to address across all topics, such as equity and inclusion,” said Aimee Sprung, Director for Technology and Civic Engagement at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center. “There are some challenges that are not only better addressed as a region, but must be addressed as a region. Transportation, the opioid epidemic and housing are not bound by municipal boundaries. We must tackle them as a region in order to have an impact.”
The conference aimed to catalyze conversations about collaborative, data-driven techniques that could help foster more just, sustainable, and resilient communities. It worked to answer the question of just how to begin transforming Massachusetts into a smart city while also helping pave the way for other cities across the nation.
For photos from the conference, click here.