Mechanism Design for Social Good Started as a Reading Group, Now It Launched an ACM Conference

Computer science research is about solving problems with computational tools — it could be how to predict where the next flu outbreak will occur, how robots can make life easier for senior citizens, or how to fight misinformation on social media. But while computer science (CS) researchers have all the technical know-how they still need to collaborate with people who are on the ground and know about the particular problem or situation. 

A group of graduate students from various institutions and disciplines (CS, Economics, and Operations Research, to name a few) recognized the gap and need for connections and collaboration between the different groups. And so, Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) was born in 2016, co-founded by Rediet Abebe and Kira Goldner. From a 12-member reading group, the multi-institutional initiative expanded to 2,000 participants involved in working groups, colloquium series, tutorials, and workshops at the ACM Conference on Economics and Computation, at EC’17 and EC ’18. 

Riding the wave of support from researchers, practitioners, governments, and non-profit organizations the inaugural ACM Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, & Optimization co-chaired by Ana-Andreea Stoica, Rediet Abebe, and Irene Lo was organized this October.   

The conference highlighted research where CS, economics, operations research, and social and humanistic sciences intersect and help improve equity and access for historically disadvantaged and underserved communities. A number of Best Paper and Poster Awards were presented at the digital conference.

Ana-Andreea Stoica
Ana-Andreea Stoica

We caught up with Ana-Andreea Stoica to find out more about the conference and why it is important to develop multi-disciplinary research opportunities.

What happened to make you realize that the MD4SG workshops could be expanded into a conference? How did the EAAMO conference come about?

Our technical workshop series has been increasingly growing since its first iteration in 2017. In 2020, we had the first standalone workshop that drew over 130 submissions. Given the rapid expansion as well as the expanded scope, we decided to start this conference series that would provide a better inclusion of all fields relevant to our mission of bridging research and practice for the scope of improving access to opportunity for marginalized communities (e.g. Economics, Operations Research, Computer Science, Sociology, Law). Rediet Abebe, Irene Lo, and I served as Program Co-Chairs for this inaugural conference, working closely with our General Co-Chairs, Illenin Kondo, and Francisco Marmolejo-Cossio, in organizing the first EAAMO conference. 


How is the conference different from the MD4SG workshops?

The conference series is a natural continuation of the MD4SG workshop series (given the growth in size and scope since its inception). The conference aims to be inclusive of all the fields that create research related to the mission of our organization, including Economics, Operations Research, Computer Science, Sociology, Law, among others. The conference would also serve as a publishing venue for such research — as an ACM-sponsored conference, our archival track includes papers published with proceedings in the ACM Digital Library.


How is the conference creating a space for publishing research that relates to your mission?

EAAMO’21 aims to open avenues for creating and sharing research at the intersection of all the fields I mentioned through both the archival and non-archival tracks. In particular, original research can be published in the ACM Digital Library, where it can be recognized and shared in the research community. We hope that EAAMO can serve our community as a space for interdisciplinary research, in particular for the unique ideas and projects that aim to apply computational tools and humanistic methodologies in improving access to opportunities for marginalized groups. 


Why does the group aim to connect computer scientists with other non-computational groups such as non-profits and the public sector?

EAAMO’21 aims to foster an interdisciplinary community that can bridge research and practice in tackling topics such as access to education and healthcare, interventions for poverty alleviation, fairness and privacy in labor markets or data markets, and many other topics related to underserved communities. 

To this end, working with non-profits, the public sector, and practitioners is crucial in order to understand the main issues at stake in each of these applications and to construct research-to-practice pipelines that have an impact on the communities we aim to center at the core of our research agenda. The success of our workshop series and previous and ongoing projects relies on this multi-disciplinary approach and on engaging domain experts working in non-profit organizations, municipalities, and companies. Domain-centered interdisciplinary work has always been the focus of MD4SG activities. 

Since its inception, MD4SG has organized various working groups in which students, researchers, and practitioners work on particular topics of interest. Our current working groups vary from 15 to 100+ people in size each and organize bi-weekly meetings with talks, discussions, and publication goals. Our groups have fostered cross-domain collaborations that led to several publications. As of Fall 2020, MD4SG has also organized working groups around specific geographical regions to foster collaborations on topics of relevance related to mechanism design for social good. 


How will the conference facilitate these collaborations?

EAAMO’21 featured keynote talks from leading academics and practitioners in domains related to the conference theme, presentations of submitted papers, problem pitches, datasets, and software demonstrations by participants, problem pitches and product demonstrations from domain experts and practitioners, as well as thematic policy & practice discussion panels with practitioners focused on Latin American topics and migration and asylees topics. 


Are you working on any projects that resulted from the MD4SG workshops and EAAMO? Please describe it and how is it going?

Definitely, our working groups are continuously working on projects that stemmed from our work together in MD4SG as well as from the MD4SG workshops. A recent paper that came out of the MD4SG Working Group on Bias and Discrimination can be found here. Other projects currently ongoing are related to provisions for social goods (in the Inequality Working Group for example). My co-organizers have several projects published and ongoing, for example, from the Data Economies Working Group, found on this page.


How can people become part of MD4SG?

We encourage people who are interested in joining MD4SG to subscribe to our (low volume) listserv, where we post opportunities to join working groups, events, collaborations, and related activities. Our website contains a detailed description of all of our activities as well.