New University Collaboration Aims to Support Civic-Minded Tech

The 21-member-strong Public Interest Technology University Network, backed by a trio of large nonprofits and a number of major schools, aims to bring together the worlds of public policy and tech.

Universities are perfectly suited to bring together the worlds of tech and policy—and with the help of a new collaborative, a number of major schools are well-positioned to put that civic-minded approach into action.

The Public Interest Technology University Network will bring together 21 major schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, Harvard University, and Arizona State University, to focus on cross-disciplinary training in the fields of technology and policy, while creating collaboration opportunities between schools for the goal of public interest technology.

The new initiative has support from the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the New America think tank. In a joint op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, leaders of these three nonprofits said that the goal of the group is to help scientists, engineers, and other technologists anticipate the broader impact of their technological creations.

“The time to harness technologies’ potential to do good is now. Our country’s colleges and universities have been crucial nerve centers of our digital age, incubating some of the most exciting technological innovations and educating leaders in the field,” the authors wrote. “They can play a vital role in ensuring that the next generation of technologists in partnership with those that shape public policy are equipped to apply their skills and knowledge to questions of individual rights, justice, social welfare, and the public good.”

The officials noted that four of the schools that are taking part in the collaboration—Harvard, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Chicago, and the Georgia Institute of Technology—already offer programs with elements of civic-minded tech at their core.

In a news release, New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter, who is also a well-known author and cultural commentator, explained that there was plenty of room to bring technologists into the public sector, comparing it to public-interest law, which she said grew as a field a quarter-century ago.

“Technology has incredible potential to solve some of our society’s most pressing challenges, as well as to create big new problems to address,” she said.  “In either case, we need as many technologists as lawyers and economists working in the public interest, and this network of colleges and universities will help build a new generation of technologists trained to advance the public good.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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