Skip to content Skip to navigation

Spotlight on Herman Donner, Ph.D: In His Own Words

Monday, April 6, 2020

The future is determined by cities. It is where more than three quarters of U.S. GDP is generated, and where new technology makes it possible to create insight for better policy through understanding of where and when social and commercial activities take place. As a Research Scientist at the Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities Program, I engage with affiliate members to create and co-ordinate research projects of mutual interest to Stanford and our affiliated corporations. I also conduct research focused on urban big data, and how it allows for more granular understanding of social and economic activity. One such project is aimed at predicting neighborhood change and local demand.

I have always had an interest in cities, from my childhood ambition to becoming an architect that evolved to a PhD in Real Estate Economics at the Royal Institute of Technology in my native country, Sweden. My thesis was on the topic of estimating the magnitude and determinants of why foreclosed properties sell at a discount, and the impact of informational asymmetries on the housing market. I’m interested in finding answers to challenges that cities face, and this has resulted in policy-related projects such as co-authoring a report on the distributional effects of rent control on behalf of the Swedish Fiscal Policy Council and developing guidelines for commercial land appraisal for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I’ve also been engaged in local politics in my hometown of Vaxholm, as a member of city council and the building committee. I was also a candidate for chairman of the city executive committee (mayor).

During my PhD studies, I was fortunate enough to spend time at the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at the George Washington University, and the Global Projects Center (GPC) at Stanford. It was at the GPC, and the then newly formed Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities Program where I first got introduced to research on disruptive technology and how it will impact society. The program offers an unique research environment that brings together researchers from fields such as economics, machine learning and law – focusing on how sensors, networks, materials science, algorithms and computing is transforming industries and enables for new business models.

I started my position at Stanford as a postdoctoral researcher in the fall of 2018. Since then, I’ve published academic papers in real estate economics (such as estimating the effect of a Starbucks on surrounding rents) and have been engaged on several research projects on how data will impact business models. My current role is best described as a bridge between corporations and academia. I work with companies and researchers spanning all industry segments to identify relevant Stanford research, and have led research projects supported by companies such as Asahi Glass, Jones LangLaSalle and Visa.