A robust public interest technology field can help build a society where technological expertise is seen as an important contributor to advancing equity, expanding opportunity and protecting basic rights and liberties. Academia, civil society, government, and the private sector can all benefit from this expertise, and talent pipelines that connect these sectors will allow public interest technologists to migrate between fields, bringing their ethics and experience with them. For society to fully benefit from technology while limiting its downsides, we need to cultivate public interest technology expertise across these four sectors.
Public interest technologists and the sectors they transform
Universities and colleges are crucial to creating talent for this burgeoning field, and have already made significant strides. They increasingly educate public interest technologists who create and implement technology that improves people’s lives. An education in public interest technology that cuts across established fields like law, sociology, journalism, public policy and more allows students to better understand the challenges technology can either worsen or address — providing young people with pathways to pursue careers in technology for purpose across many established fields.
Hosted at New America, is a partnership that fosters collaboration between universities and colleges committed to building the nascent field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists. Through the development of curricula, research, and experiential learning programs, these schools are producing graduates with multiple fluencies at the intersection of technology and policy. The network currently includes 43 member organizations.
Is helping to shape the future of technology and society to advance equity, expand opportunity and protect basic rights and liberties. As the lab grows, students and faculty will work together to develop and provide technologies in the public interest, enable research and development and identify ways to share knowledge about public interest technology across institutions and disciplines.
Community engagement and equity are at the heart of public interest technology, and civil society organizations across the globe are seeing how PIT can help unlock their full potential and fulfill their missions. Through public interest technology, civil society organizations can hold the private sector and government accountable—whether urging them to properly regulate technology or advance equitable service delivery programs—while also leveraging technologies and services to the communities that need them most.
Is an opportunity for those who want to ensure the internet is a force for good. From web activists, open-source researchers, engineers and policy experts, these fellows develop new ways of thinking about emerging threats to a healthy internet.
Empowers a diverse network of “social researchers,” including scholars, civil society representatives, artists and journalists, to create a more equitable and representative technological future. By creating a pipeline that fosters research and social engagement, the program works to enrich public discourse, inform policy, and imagine just futures where public interests drive technological change.
Is a collaboration across the sectors of civil rights, digital rights, media justice and public interest to advance the digital civil rights movement. By working toward a world where technology brings greater safety and economic opportunity for everyone, the table designs and uses new technologies that reflect the values of equal opportunity and justice.
pairs community members with local government to address inequities in service delivery. With the aim to train and support community members, those closest to the problem are paired with the skills they need to make crucial changes in government.
Public interest technologists are critical to ensuring that governments at every level can effectively offer important and, in many cases, life-saving services to everyone. Their understanding of both technology and ethics makes service provision more efficient and accessible for those historically marginalized by the government. Government officials that utilize and regulate technology can become better equipped at their jobs with a public interest technology lens.
Helps tech experts understand the policy process through fellowship and executive education programs, and encourages them to develop outside-the-box solutions to society’s problems.
is dedicated to increasing the ability of the US government to recruit modern technical leaders to achieve critical social, economic, and policy outcomes. It was founded in 2017 by former technology leaders from the administrations of Presidents Obama and Trump.
Puts experienced, pro-bono technologists to work with government and organizations responding to moments of crisis to quickly deliver critical services and infrastructure that support the needs of the public.
Envisions a future where the people who build technology mirror the people and societies for whom it is designed. They connect, inspire, and guide women in computing and organizations that view technology innovation as a strategic imperative.
Is committed to strengthening nonprofits and governments by providing them with the support and tools they need to deliver outcomes that better serve the public.
By understanding the fundamental principles underlying public interest technology and the challenges and opportunities technology creates, leaders in the private sector can gain a competitive edge, preventing unintended consequences and building brand loyalty. Moreover, as the American workforce increasingly looks for employers that align with their values, companies with a reputation for doing good will attract and retain top talent.
Clarice Chan took a civic leave sabbatical from her role at Microsoft to serve as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow. Upon completion of her fellowship, Chan partnered with the Tech Talent Project and Ford Foundation to produce this paper about the urgent need to bring technical talent into government. The paper also demonstrates what Ford learned from its investments in developing public interest law and applies those lessons to public interest tech, namely that public-private partnerships benefit the private sector because technologists return to their permanent positions with a greater understanding about government and its functions.
As the Mozilla Manifesto Addendum states, opportunities for learning, connection and innovation are the driving values behind Mozilla’s work. Through programming and strategic initiatives, such as accessibility campaigns like Common Voice and its fellowships, Mozilla is committed to advancing the public interest through technology.
The Partnership on AI brings diverse voices together across global sectors, disciplines, and demographics so developments in AI advance positive outcomes for society. As a nonprofit partnership of industry, academic, civil society, and media organizations creating solutions, it seeks to pool collective wisdom to make change.
The CyberPeace Initiative works with civil society organizations focused on protecting communities vulnerable to cyber attacks. It analyzes cyberattacks and grounds that analysis in evidence on the impact on society, exposing violations in international law and norms. This nonpartisan and independent organization prioritizes the security and privacy needed to create worldwide cyber peace.