As leaders in philanthropy and technology, we see immense promise of a tech-enabled future when technology is designed with the needs of the public in mind. Yet, where there should be bridges, we recognize a persistent gap. Even now, the people who could most benefit from learning from one another are rarely in the same rooms or virtual spaces, from scientists to community organizers, developers to social theorists. By improving these collaborations, new technologies can better serve the public and help deliver more positive outcomes.

What’s more, technologists who pair their deep technical expertise with an understanding of ethics, legal, policy, and societal concerns continue to be underrepresented in tech spaces across sectors.

Our imperative is to bridge that gap, to create a future that works for all. In order to do this, it’s critically important to invest in a more robust field of public interest technology. This growing, cross-disciplinary field challenges us to consider who technology benefits—and who might bear the brunt of its unintended consequences. It also helps foster interdisciplinary approaches, as public interest technology draws expertise from all backgrounds.

Working in concert, a range of institutions—for-profit companies and foundations, start-ups and advocacy organizations—can learn from one another to reimagine training, team structure, and design around new frameworks and goals. Ultimately, just as the field of public interest law ignited widespread investment in a more inclusive and accessible legal profession throughout the 1960s and 70s, public interest technology must spark a major, cross-sector shift today. With the public interest as a guide, leaders across the private sector and civic society can train their teams to understand the material context in which their code will operate, and advance both technology and justice in kind.

Just as tech leaders expand investments in social scientists and policy experts as part of public interest technology, philanthropy must bring grantees and program officers closer to understanding the technology that intersects with all their work, its uses, and its impacts.

Read the full article about public interest technology by Chuck Robbins and Darren Walker at Stanford Social Innovation Review.