Technology in the Public Interest

Strengthening research and advocacy addressing the social impacts of technology.

Our Strategy

The Technology in the Public Interest strategy focuses on ecosystem development. This framework encapsulates the breadth and complexity of individuals, organizations, and systems working to address issues at the intersection of technology and society to benefit people and communities. We seek to connect people, organizations, and networks working to advance equity and justice in the digital age, in ways that center historically marginalized people and communities. Our strategy addresses the role of advanced technology in society and serves a larger vision for equity and justice across an array of sectors.

Central to this work is supporting research, policy development, and practice that aims to uphold public interest considerations in the development and governance of artificial intelligence (AI). We undertake our grantmaking through five key approaches that are designed to meet the strategy’s overarching goal:

  • Support a diverse and healthy ecosystem. This approach seeks to expand the diversity of organizations in the ecosystem (e.g., research, advocacy, litigation, policy, and movement-building organizations), their impact, and their resilience. An important focus is building affirmative visions for technology that are rooted in equity and justice.
  • Strengthen networks and foster strategic connections between researchers, advocates, organizers, and policymakers. Mutually beneficial, strategic relationships are fundamental to a healthy ecosystem. This approach focuses on fostering and strengthening connections between ecosystem actors to share ideas, knowledge, and resources, and to understand and strategically leverage each other’s strengths.
  • Advance greater understanding of the social impacts of technology. This approach focuses on advancing knowledge production and increasing the dissemination of and access to that knowledge. The approach pays specific attention to diversifying who produces knowledge, such that people from historically marginalized communities are valued in, centered in, and driving knowledge production.
  • Support movement-building centering historically marginalized people. This approach focuses on supporting power building for historically marginalized people to maximize their influence in the development, governance, and use of technology. It includes specific support for grassroots organizing, capacity building for advocacy in organizations that represent historically marginalized communities, and more effective communications about the sector’s impact on historically marginalized communities.
  • Advance the creation and enforcement of norms, standards, policies, regulations, and laws that protect human and civil rights. This approach focuses on supporting actors in advocating for increased governance over the technology sector as well as ensuring human and civil rights are central in the governance of technology. This includes strengthening the ability of advocacy organizations to adapt so they can effectively capitalize upon opportunities to catalyze change and respond to threats.
While we are not currently accepting unsolicited proposals, we welcome hearing about new ideas and perspectives.
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Movement Alliance Project participated in a Day of Action on May Day near Philadelphia City Hall.

Why We Support This Work

We live in a world increasingly mediated by a range of technology and computational systems that impact nearly every facet of life. The internet and social media platforms have fundamentally reshaped how people communicate, share knowledge, understand, and engage the world. Rapidly expanding data with abundant storage, combined with growing computational power, has driven the development and use of AI systems that are shaping economies, institutions, and societies in many parts of the world. This trend is poised to accelerate with the increasing use of generative AI. These developments have ushered in a range of opportunities and challenges and have significant implications for the future of democracy.

Technology is not neutral. The internet and social media platforms are places where speech and civic participation can both thrive and be censored by government and private sector actors. Access to information is both democratized and controlled in new ways. Misinformation, hatred, and dangerous speech can spread as quickly as truth in the digital environment. The internet and related technologies have introduced new and deepening threats to privacy and security and facilitated the expansion of surveillance that disproportionately harms historically marginalized people.

AI is being deployed across sectors with too little oversight and accountability, including high-stakes areas such as healthcare, finance, law enforcement, and education. While often touted as neutral, a growing body of interdisciplinary and intersectional research demonstrates that AI systems can replicate and amplify existing biases in society that uphold racism, sexism, White supremacy, and other forms of structural oppression. Moreover, AI-related technologies play a major role in determining what we read, see, watch, and listen to on digital platforms and search engines, but increasingly powerful technology companies use them to optimize clicks and views to maximize their profits.

Beneath the veneer of new and emerging technology is an old story about power and how it operates. Too often, the changes driven by AI and other technologies create and augment existing power asymmetries in society. Addressing these challenges requires supporting and expanding a collaborative and diverse ecosystem of people, organizations, and networks advancing a different vision for technology. A vision that is rooted in equity, justice, and other public interest considerations. Technology in the Public Interest grantmaking is a response to these dynamics.

Expected Outcomes

Over the long-term, Technology in the Public Interest expects to demonstrate contributions to the following outcomes through our grantmaking:

  • A diverse ecosystem of actors, with strong representation from historically marginalized communities, has complementary knowledge, skills, and capacity to effectively influence and drive sustainable change toward a future with technology that is rooted in equity and justice.
  • Relationships have been formed and strengthened across and beyond the ecosystem that enable a diverse set of actors to maximize resources and build collective power to advance change.
  • Knowledge production focused on the social implications of technology has increased, centers the expertise of historically marginalized communities, and is broadly disseminated, accessible, and actionable.
  • The ecosystem has a demonstrated ability to quickly adapt to shifting contexts, respond to threats, and catalyze and take advantage of opportunities.
  • Sustainable mechanisms and resources are in place to support and strengthen a healthy ecosystem infrastructure for effective coordination, communication, knowledge production, and dissemination across the ecosystem.

Funding Priorities

To advance ecosystem development, Technology in the Public Interest provides general operating support, or the closest available equivalent, to organizations that typically contribute to two or more of our grantmaking approaches. Central to our investments is support to organizations led by and/or serving people from historically marginalized communities. Our grantmaking supports efforts to understand and address harms emerging from technology as well as efforts to imagine and build an affirmative vision for technology that is rooted in humanity, full respect for personhood, and our shared future.

In addition, Technology in the Public Interest collaborates with other program areas at MacArthur and with other philanthropic partners to align resources and efforts.

Evaluation for Learning

Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.

We have engaged Social Policy Research Associates as an evaluation and learning partner to carry out our evaluation framework for Technology in the Public Interest.

Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.