Empowering Public Interest Technologists to Have Social Impact
Creating a Journey Towards Public Interest Projects with Social Impact
We’ve already identified that the technologists need to become civic-minded from early career and education, through efforts such as PIT-UN. Supporting PIT isn’t just about developing the skills and awareness of the technologists. Support involves the whole ecosystem in which they will need to find and grow projects. We take a look at three benchmarks that PubinTech has identified for empowering technologists to become public interest technologists with social impact.
The first need is to validate the social impact purpose and positioning. There is a lot of technology that’s being created simply because it’s possible or on the assumption of what communities need. It then becomes difficult for these technical achievements to have a real impact or be communicated in a way that resonates with those who could benefit the most. An example would be creating a map or app to help signpost health resources in real-time. The creation of the app is one piece of work that could be done very well. But when introduced to a community, aspects such as time investment, language, culture, and technology adoption could keep the app from seeing wide or continued adoption. Positioning technology usually involves social impact marketing and community engagement through events, focus, groups, surveys, and more.
The second is collaboration and partnership brokerage through network building. This is need concerns with how people find the missing pieces to their project and involves everything from visualization of projects to live events that encourage natural networking. This work motivates people to make use of the resources around them or travel to make an impact in spaces where they may be needed the most. Partnership brokerage is a popular method for engaging in PIT as New America and the Ford Foundation have shown because you are making use of the talents that already exist and bringing them together.
The last need is accountable and equitable action leading to social impact. The biggest issue the technology side of this space has is providing the resources for those who understand the public interest issues but lack the technical capacity or the capital to build solutions. This funding needs to happen at various levels because not every prototype needs heavy investment. How we find this balance must involve outreach and funding bodies willing to be progressive and engaged in how they support people. Right next to funding is the need for accountability and equity in what projects we create and how communities who will be impacted are engaged during the project from the beginning. That may not be the role of a technologist, but technologists should always be aware of the research and communication people leading projects are having so it doesn’t become a case of apologizing after the fact. If we keep these kinds of principles in mind, projects are likely to create true, accountable social impact.
There is no one perfect way to develop an identity or career as a public interest technologist. Many technologists already have a career in PIT without the official identity because of how recently the term has been coined. The journey of personal development into public interest, creating a network where you can engage communities and projects, and ethically following through on social impact provides three clear benchmarks that will always be able to evolve with your career. The decision to become a public interest technologist is the pursuit of taking your passion for technology and helping make the world a better place.