2019 Digital Innovation Award

A REVOLUTION IN TRANSIT took place in London in 1863, when the first underground passenger railway in the world opened to the public. More than 150 years later, Lauren Sager Weinstein MPP 2002 is leading another kind of transformation for users of the world’s 11th busiest transit system.

Sager Weinstein is the chief data officer for Transport for London (TfL) where she uses the quantitative skills she learned at Harvard Kennedy School to improve travel in that city. She joined the agency after graduating in 2002. “At the time, there was no such thing as a data job,” she says. “It was a great opportunity to come here and put some of the things I’d been thinking about into a new organization. TfL was brand-new—there were multiple predecessor agencies—and it was set up as an integrated, unified organization to deliver mobility services in London.”

She started work at TfL as a senior business planner, and then over the next few years, when the technology developed, began to think about how to leverage the data that TfL was collecting at the time. “I’ve always been interested in technology and analysis,” she says—she comes from a family with lots of engineers and “techies”—“and as the data industry evolved, I began to look more and more into what we could do with the data.”

For example, in May, TfL announced an innovative use of Wi-Fi data that had been stripped of personal identifiers, with the goal of giving customers more-accurate and more-useful information about their journeys on the London Underground. “Historically, it would take days to analyze data, and some things—like surveying users—could only happen infrequently, say, once every five years,” Sager Weinstein says. “The biggest change since I joined TfL is that you need to respond faster. You want to know what is happening right now and use this information in real time to inform customers and our internal teams. Thinking ahead, I predict the next change will be, how can we understand the patterns in the network now so we can understand what will happen in the future?”

Lauren Sager Weinstein MPP 2002 at Reunion 2019, receiving the Digital Innovation Award.

“The next change will be, how can we understand the patterns in the network now so we can understand what will happen in the future?”

Lauren Sager Weinstein MPP 2002

Sager Weinstein is grateful for the training she received at HKS, particularly the classes that taught her key quantitative skills. “One of the classes I got a huge amount out of was Richard Zeckhauser’s course on analytic frameworks. It was a lot of fun and hugely challenging—it was a good way to learn how to think.”

Sager Weinstein also enjoyed her courses on management and leadership. “These courses were very relevant,” she says. “In my career, I’ve relied heavily on both the analytical and people skills that I honed at HKS. To be effective, you have to blend the two.” She does that with her team of data scientists and software engineers as they capture, measure, analyze, and report on travel patterns and other data.

She relishes the fact that she is helping to make London a better place. “It is a great opportunity to take the learning I got at HKS—to think about outcomes and how to build, measure, and lead change. It is wonderful to see how we can take actions at TfL, driven by data that is now more available.”

Photo by Martha Stewart