Collective Change for Health and Wellbeing (FIRST DAY Community Activation)

Blog Post

First Day focuses on personal responsibility for individual, local, global health. As we consider not only what attendees should consider (and hopefully take home) from the event, we must also think about how to activate participants. Catherine D’Ignazio, Justin Kang, and Nadeem Mazen came to speak to us about their experience in activating communities around the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon, the City Awake Festival, and as a City Counsillor in Cambridge, MA.

You can see the stream from the event here: We’re requesting feedback on the platform we use for videos, so please let us know if this especially did or didn’t work for you!

Make the Breast Pump Not Suck

We were pleased to hear about a project that successfully activated participants to engage in an area of social sensitivity.  

Catherine, a professor at Emmerson, spoke to us about the importance and difficulties of breast pumps, and a unique effort that engaged the community to improve them. Ample evidence points to the benefits of breastfeeding, while issues of culture impede the ability of women to provide breastmilk while also maintaining a career. Engineering has offered a "solution" in breastpumps which haven’t changed much at all since the early 1900s. And they SUCK (both literally and figuratively). The group Catherine is a part of put together a hackathon to be used as an intervention tool in the society, focused on designing technology that innovates around sensitive issues like breastpumping. So what happens when they opened up space, using the resources and prestigue of the MIT Media Lab, for parents and technologists to work together over a weekend to innovate around this challenge many are so intimately aware of?

It ends up that it went viral online and attracted a lot of media attention. A test pre-event spread over social media, garnering over 1,000 respondants offering suggestions on what they would change (or love to see changed) about breastpumping. The 150 attendees who participated in the event not only faced a unique challenge - they were also a unique demographic, with children running around, a high percentage of women participants (their partners were welcomed as well), and a focus on the user as the visionary and the technologist as support.

The teams worked on how to construct new kinds of breastpumps, like making it more like a baby’s sucking, or using a non-vaccum based pumping --- such as applying pressure to the breast. Another project was developing a system of software controls and an open hardware device, so various company’s devices can be compared. Others created a community network  so pumpers feel less isolated, worked on the space in which pumping takes place, and idenitfied ways to make the experience more social and holistic, by connecting moms that pump with other moms in a relaxed space.

This shifting from a private to public discussion, reframing how to think about this issue has again gone viral. An entire community of care takers has been activated, connected, and empowered. You can learn more about the event, projects, and results at

City Awake

Since we first started discussing First Day, a regular attendee and awesome person in general, Dhairya, suggested we check out City Awake. At this salon, one of the original instigators of City Awake, Justin, came to speak to us about their approach and vision. He sees Boston as the social innovation city (like Silicon Valley is the city for startups, and Los Angeles for movies). His talk opened with him asking, "How can an event create community, how do you engage and motivate people?"

To get things started, Justin acted as one of an incredible team of dedicated volunteers to create a festival to galvanize the emerging community. It ran Dec 4 to Dec 13 of 2014, and had about 250 partner organizations, and 10,000 of participants. Their ability to do this with a few dozen volunteers had mainly to do with the distributed nature of the event - City Awake hosted a central calendar and impetus for individually-organized talks, events, and activities. 

This year, they’ll be celebrating what worked by holding a second event, as well as ongoing engagements with groups like Mass BC/BS, They’ll be focusing on both marketing the ecosystem being built while making sure it has internal strength -- why promote something unless it really is the best?

Learn more about how to get involved at

Cambridge City Council

To continue the theme of activating community through events highlighting underlying committments, Nadeem Mazen spoke to us about being a city council member for the city of Cambridge. He reminds us that we don’t need huge numbers of people in order to affect change, 4-5 people pushing consistently for 20 years will fundamentally change how a community engages an issue.

He brings his storytelling and transparency skills to public office, and asks what government and tech communities working with each other might be able to do, advocating that accountability be more present for both. As an example, the experience of Brad Feld with start up communities in Boulder Colorado has transformed the city to having a high density of startups.

Nadeem works to help "underorganized communities" to become more organized, so they might advocate and build for themselves, even after he leaves office. His work focuses on what can positively support bottom-up organizing while he exists in the top-down structure. One way he does this is through creating updates in an accessible way on his website,, as well as documenting the processes of becoming and being a city council member.

In closing

Listen to what’s already there.

Amplify with the community.

Do it in a way that can exist outside of your individual self.

Keep doing it.

Meeting Notes

Who’s here:

Mark - complexity understandable to kids, networker

Yaneer -

Lyer - 

Paul -

Sarah - sees complex systems all around her that work

Lili - 

John - City of Sommerville - Uses systems thinking to tackle drug abuse in Sommerville

Vincent - 

Matthew - Science writer

Katherine - Makes data really simple for journalism students. Think about systems that humans are 

Arnan - artist and herbalist

Krit - interested in action embedded cognition

Dan - (send us the link to the research about left & right handed people and accident)

Marshall - excited about releasing a 1.0 version of software that reduces complexity

Anne - why is the system failing in providing adequate service to people who are being left 

Preeta - interested in distributed organizations and general wellbeing

Willow Brugh 


Breastfeeding is essential to healthy child development 

the breast pump sucks milk, but it also sucks as a device (experience)

Value of the milk or value of nursing? was the research focused on both? 

It’s a challenge to start an open discourse around private issues like brestpumping, but one can connect parents with geeks, and innovate together. This s a personal issue, so make it about the personal experience itself - use words that speak to people ("the lactation hackathon" vs make the breastpump not suck)

How do you have a hackathon that will consider the entire thing. Include not just the object, but the physical environment, social context, policy decisions, global health issues.

Changing the language that is used, to help people work together is important + curation  

One of the questions is how do we have the right people shos up to address those issues.

How do we shift from a one time hackathon to a process that can engage with the world.

The constitution was a hackathon (but it took a couple of years, and snail mail).

Justin Keng - City Awake

How can an event create community, how do you engage and motivate people?

Nadeem Mazen

Experience with Brad Feld on start up communities in Boulder, which has transformed to having high density of startups

4-5 people putting in time over 20 years will fundamentally change how a community engages in an issue. 

So what is it that we can do on a govenrment and tech community side to make change.

Seen the truth of that anecdote in my experience.

"underorganized communities"

How do you coordinate from bottom up?