Solving Public Problems Using Technology

Institution(s): Harvard

Discipline(s): Design

Faculty Member(s): Susan Crawford

Keyword(s): Citizenship, Civic Tech, Democracy, Design, Policy

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Inside and outside government, technology has changed the way governance is perceived and delivered. Traditional good government advocates are pressing for more effective release and availability of government data so as to forward accountability and transparency. That same data can be used by entrepreneurs to launch private businesses that may or may not support public missions. Innovators within government are trying to find more efficient ways of both running government agencies and getting access to good ideas from outside the ranks of civil servants. Citizens increasingly want better, clearer access to government services. At the same time, core policy-makers are often uncomfortable with using technology to reveal and change how decisions are actually made within government. All of this is happening at local, national, and international levels, along with an explosion in the use of mobile communications and social media. But not everywhere: digital divides persist around the word. Technology is no longer something over which the IT department has unquestioned dominion (not that the IT department is going away). It is now part of every communications, operations, advocacy, and service-delivery strategy from both inside and outside government. However, strategic, directed, data-driven, outcomes-driven use of technology in governance is still very early in its development. Many governmental and NGO actors do not have the skills to use technology effectively, and talk about technology’s democracy-enhancing possibilities is often met with concern that technology will squelch public values rather than support them. This course will combine an overview of practical skills for using technology with analytical discussion, expert guest speakers, and an introduction to user-centered design. The course is designed to be at once an entry-level survey of the govtech landscape and a course on working with community partners to solve civic problems.