Technology in the Public Interest
Advance equity and justice by strengthening an ecosystem of people, organizations, and networks examining and addressing the social impacts of technology.
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 artificial intelligence (AI) related technologies that are replacing and shaping human decision making. 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 disproportionally harms historically marginalized people.
AI-related technologies, primarily driven by advances in machine learning, are being deployed across sectors with little oversight and accountability, including high stakes areas such as health care, finance, law enforcement, and education. While often touted as neutral, a growing body of interdisciplinary and intersectional research demonstrates that AI-related technologies can replicate and amplify existing biases in society that uphold racism, sexism, White supremacy, and other forms of oppression. Moreover, AI-related technologies play a major role in determining what we read, watch, and listen to on social media platforms and through search engines, but in ways that seek to optimize clicks and views to maximize the profits of powerful technology companies.
Beneath the veneer of new and emerging technology is an old story about power and how it operates. The changes in society driven by technology are both creating and augmenting power asymmetries between and among people and institutions. Addressing these challenges requires supporting and expanding a collaborative and diverse ecosystem of people, organizations, and networks advancing a vision for technology that is rooted in equity and justice. Technology in the Public Interest grantmaking is a response to these dynamics.
The Technology in the Public Interest strategy is focused on ecosystem development, a frame that encapsulates the breadth and complexity of the universe of actors that actively work to address public interest technology issues or are connected in some way to the work. The strategy seeks to connect people, organizations, and networks working to advance equity and justice in the digital age, paying particular attention to organizations and efforts focused on supporting historically marginalized communities. The Technology in the Public Interest strategy addresses the role of advanced technology in society and serves a larger vision for equity and justice across an array of sectors. Our grantmaking is undertaken 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
Mutually beneficial, strategic relationships between researchers, advocates, organizers, and policymakers 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 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, contact us to share new ideas and perspectives.
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, have 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 group 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.
To advance ecosystem development, Technology in the Public Interest provides general operating support, or the closest available equivalent, to select 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 equity and justice.
In addition, Technology in the Public Interest collaborates with other program areas at MacArthur and other philanthropic partners to align resources and efforts. We also support limited efforts exploring the civil and human rights considerations of emerging technologies that show the potential of having a broad impact on society but are early in their development.
Measurement and 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.
Updated June 2022