TheBridge profile: Betsy Cooper
Name: Betsy Cooper
Current city: Oakland, CA
Current job: Director of the Aspen Tech Policy Hub
Past job: Executive Director, UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity; Department of Homeland Security Attorney and Policy Advisor
Q. Favorite spot for a coffee meeting? Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park.
Q. Describe how a skill you learned in a previous job helped you in your current job. I try very hard to take the time to craft emails that are carefully written, personalized, and responsive. I've found that people really appreciate when you care enough to communicate with them in a meaningful way, and get back to them quickly; they tend to return the favor. I'm sad to see the style of letter-writing become more abbreviated, like text messaging. It's a shame.
Q. Job advice in three words? Don't be fearful.
Q. How are you (or your company, org, nonprofit) currently bridging the gap between politics and tech/innovation and regulation? At the Aspen Tech Policy Hub, we are encouraging Silicon Valley and DC to work together by launching a true tech policy incubator for technologists. We take tech experts, teach them the policy process through a paid in-person fellowship program in the Bay Area (first cohort to arrive this summer), and encourage them to develop outside-the-box solutions to society’s problems.
We model ourselves after tech incubators like Y Combinator, but train new policy thinkers and focus the impact of their ideas. Our theory of change is that Silicon Valley and Washington have a lot to learn from each other, but would need to build a less adversarial relationship for that conversation to be productive. We're trying to build a space where useful conversations can happen on both sides, and policy can be innovated in the process.
Q. What can innovators teach policymakers? Innovators have a unique way of doing things: quickly, creatively, without following traditional rules. As much as innovators can help develop new policy solutions (and I hope they do), I think the more important role they can play is to help policymakers rethink the way they engage in the policymaking process. Why are white papers and books always our policy outputs? Why don't we make policy by building toolkits, writing mock legislation, even building apps?
Q. What can policymakers teach innovators? I always find it funny that at its essence, coding is the writing of rules a computer should follow, yet innovators who code are often so resistant to having rules set for themselves. Policymakers can teach innovators that rulemaking is not a black and white process. Sometimes well-written rules can be enabling, not stifling.
Q. Favorite long-form article you recommend? I'm a big NYTimes Magazine fan, and also a proud Oakland resident (Go Dubs!). So this article about the Ghost Ship fire and its aftermath really hit home. The poverty so close to affluence is stark, and we need to do more to help those who can't afford their lives out here.
Q. What's one piece of advice you are still trying to master? Don't take it personally.
Q. Last time you were completely unplugged? I took a (three years belated) honeymoon to Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand, and didn't buy a data plan. It was heaven. (Less so for my poor husband, who had to do all the navigating.)
Q. How often do you work from home? As much as humanely possible. I am infinitely more productive, and procrastinate by doing laundry instead of looking at Facebook (which is what I would do if I were in an office.)
Q. Startup to watch? Hopefully the Aspen Tech Policy Hub. Applications for our fellowship program are open now!
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