Social Impact Internships: Kieran Dunn (’26)
My name is Kieran Dunn, and I am a freshman at MIT studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Over the most recent IAP, I worked as a Peer City Analyst with SomerStat, the City of Somerville Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Analytics. My project focused on developing a tool that could identify cities with similar situations and challenges to Somerville to aid in policy making decisions.
For cities like Somerville, understanding the right policy decisions as well as the impacts of such decisions is becoming increasingly difficult as problems become more complex and intertwined. The goal of the Peer Cities project was to allow Somerville to make more informed decisions by identifying similar cities from which Somerville can better view the results of policy choices.
At first, the project seemed simple to me, we take some variable, take Median Household Income, and compare Somerville’s Median Household Income to every other city’s Median Household Income and take the most similar. However, as I explored the previous tool and we hypothesized what would be important in identifying similar cities, I quickly realized that cities are far more complex, and what makes a city similar is not one metric but rather a multitude of parameters. Working through the data and different parameters, I began to understand why it is so hard for policy makers to make choices about their city; cities are complex and confusing, and it is hard to try to solve one problem when five more problems are closely intertwined.
Although I was merely pulling data from online databanks and writing python scripts to group cities, the work I was doing was truly meaningful. I was developing an efficient way of identifying cities like Somerville so that the challenges Somerville is facing can be viewed from the light of other cities, and policy makers can analyze the impacts of decisions made in these peer cities. I did not fully realize how meaningful the work I did was for the mayor and for Somerville until our final project presentations to the mayor on the last Friday of IAP. As I presented our findings and the tool itself, the mayor talked at great length about how the tool could be used in so many ways to help Somerville, from its tax system to limiting the number of families leaving Somerville.
In talking to the mayor, I realized just how difficult her job was, and how tools like this can make her life so much simpler by allowing her to be informed. Social change is not simple, there is no one easy solution that will correct all the challenges that people are facing. Not only through my project, but through every project they perform, SomerStat is actively working to make data a medium for meaningful social change. When I would sit in on the Thursday staff meetings, I was surprised and inspired by how many projects the team is constantly attempting to tackle, and how each project is specifically targeted towards making a certain process of the Somerville government more efficient and accurate.
I am so glad that I worked with SomerStat over IAP because it has shown me how the work our governments do is so important and challenging, and that we can play a role in helping make that work easier so that decisions that impact society are better and more impactful. I cannot wait to see what else I can do for the world using data and analytics.