Frequently Asked Questions
Member institutions define public interest technology as the study and application of technology expertise to advance the public interest.
This definition underscores three very important points. For the Network’s purposes, we propose to define technology expertise very broadly. Technology expertise refers to a set of capabilities to create, apply, study, and use new technologies and an understanding of the core ethical, legal, policy, and societal dimensions of technological change. As technology becomes more of a governing force through its own design and uptake and its literal use by governments to govern, we need to cultivate a set of experts who can both wield the tools of the relevant technical domains and assess social and political implications. We think of this mix as a body of knowledge that enables the development, application, and study of technologies with attention to the social and political possibilities of their design and use, but that also can be applied analytically in the policymaking process.
Second, the definition is specific about the purpose sought by the application of technology expertise. The emphasis is on a notion of public interest or common good, as distinguished from the design of technology or technology policy to advance commercial or individual goals and interests.
The public interest—while difficult to define—is understood to reflect the welfare of society in general, rather than the welfare of a particular individual, group, or company. Government and civil society are seen as playing primary roles in advancing societal objectives, though other sectors often play a role as well. While this definition clearly includes the deployment of new technologies on behalf of public policy priorities, it also creates space for a shared recognition (by the private and public sectors) of the responsibility to critically assess the benefits and risks of the new technologies that are created and used, and to incorporate technical knowledge into the formulation of laws, regulations, and policies. This means that efforts to constrain the “bad” use of technology or to mitigate the harmful impacts of technology are also a part of the field.
Third, the definition specifically calls out a systematic way of studying technology in the world including unforeseen and adverse consequences and ways to harmonize technology and society. It is a study of the societal experiences imposed by technology design as well as ways to use technology design to harmonize and impact governance and society.
The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership that fosters collaboration among 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 agendas, and experiential learning programs in the public interest technology space, these universities are trying innovative tactics to produce graduates with multiple fluencies at the intersection of technology and policy.
Launched in 2019, the Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership that unites colleges and universities 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 agendas, and experiential learning programs in the public interest technology space, these institutions aim to develop graduates with skills and knowledge at the intersection of technology and policy. Becoming a member brings many benefits to Network schools, students, and faculties including educational and networking opportunities, information sharing, and guidance.
Interested educational institutions can submit their application from Sept. 1 until Nov. 30 each year. Applications are made via the Foundant platform.
Below are instructions for creating an account to start the application. Please direct questions regarding the online process or the development of your application to email@example.com. Applications will be accepted only during the application period.
- You may access the system at the following link: https://www.grantinterface.com/Home/Logon?urlkey=PIT
- Select Create a New Account. This will prompt you to fill out a profile about your institution. Please create only one account per institution.
- Once your profile is complete, you are ready to apply to PIT-UN. Click on Apply in the upper left corner.
- You can work on your application, save it, and return to it at any time. The system will autosave every 20 minutes, but please remember to save your work regularly. You can download a copy of the 2021 PIT-UN Application and prepare it in advance.
- The deadline for all submissions is Nov. 30. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions during the submission process.
The PIT University Network Challenge is a small grants competition that supports the development of new public interest technology initiatives and institutions. It aims to support the development of PIT programs within academia by encouraging new ideas, fostering collaborations, and incentivizing resource—and information—sharing among Network members. Please note: Only Network members can apply for the challenge.
We want to hear from all of our PIT-UN members as well as colleges and universities, students, and current PIT practitioners. We welcome story ideas, columns, blog posts, and other news about the PIT and PIT-UN worlds. You can suggest a story by reaching out to our editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.