Principles of Public Interest Technology

Arizona State University

Study load: 3 ECTS / credit hours
Time frame: January - February 2023

Course coordinator(s)

Course teacher(s)


This course will introduce students to the fundamentals of Public Interest Technology through the lens of Responsible Innovation, including key concepts, theories, considerations, tools, and analytical frameworks. Students will identify and analyze stakeholders, societal dimensions, and policy issues in the context of governing current and emerging technologies such as facial recognition technology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and financial technology. Students will be introduced to governance, socio-technical change, public values, accountability, responsiveness, and other key concepts when considering how technologies can be designed and developed with normative issues in mind. They will be exposed to critical issues such as data ownership, consent, privacy, security, accessibility, and the digital divide.


Course Objectives

Course objectives include (1) understanding, (2) critically comparing and (3) applying theories, concepts, frameworks and methods for normatively assessing and governing technology

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Define, understand and apply fundamental principles and theoretical frameworks of public interest technology to real world cases.
  2. Critically study, analyze and reflect on the successes and failures of existing and prospective sociotechnical systems, identifying key reasons for pain factors and how to overcome these problems by the creation of new and innovative products, processes or services; multi-directional feedback loops and multi-level alignments among end-users, providers, and developers; and anticipatory governance frameworks.

Course Format

This course is based on an existing online course. Using the teaching approach of the ‘flipped classroom’, participants will be asked to watch the lectures of this online course individually. Live group sessions will subsequently be used for further discussing the material offered in these video lectures and the accompanying literature. See the Course Requirements section further down this page for more details.

Required Texts

Where possible, we will rely on freely available online readings, web links, books and research articles. The one book students should consider purchasing is:

Susan G. Clark. The policy process: a practical guide for natural resources professionals. Yale University Press, 2002.

This useful book is designed to teach natural resources professionals how to be more effective in solving conservation and environmental policy problems. Its presentation of basic concepts, case studies, and “real world concerns” provides a deeper understanding of the policy process and makes the book an invaluable aid for students and practitioners in such fields as wildlife biology, conservation biology, forestry, range management, ecosystem management, and sustainable development.

Course Modules

Module 1: Pubic Interest Technology

1.1 Understanding Public Interest Technology

  • PIT aspirations, rationales, challenges and Principles
  • The Midstream Matrix
  • Overview of the course

1.2 Clarifying and Securing the Public Interest

  • Understanding Public Interest and its essential tensions
  • Public Interest approaches
  • The Policy Sciences framework


  • Ribeiro et al. 2018;
  • Kuzma and Roberts 2018;
  • Clark 2002 (Ch 1-2).
Module 2: PIT Precedents and Cognate Areas

2.1 Precedents and Cognate Areas I

  • Constructive Technology Assessment
  • Real-Time Technology Assessment

2.2. Precedents and Cognate Areas II

  • Midstream Modulation
  • Anticipatory Governance
  • Responsible Innovation


  • Fisher et al. 2006;
Module 3: Governance and Change

3.1 Governing Technology in the Public Interest

  • Governance contexts, functions, conditions, resources and challenges
  • Governance actors and mechanisms

3.2 Theories of Sociotechnical Change

  • Models of technological innovation
  • Concepts of technological innovation
  • Theories of socio-technical change


  • Sovacool and Hess 2017;
Module 4: Reflexivity for Accountability

4.1 Principle of Reflexivity

  • Understanding reflexivity
  • Challenges to reflexivity

4.2 Methods, applications and practices

  • Public accountability
  • Organizational accountability
  • Professional accountability
  • Sociotechnical tool: STIR
  • Policy Sciences tool: Policy-orientation


  • Stilgoe et al. 2013 (p 1571 and Table 2);
  • Clark 2002 (ch 6);
  • Pielke 2007 (ch 1-2);
Module 5: Anticipation for Readiness

5.1 Principle of Anticipation

  • Understanding anticipation
  • Challenges to anticipation

5.2 Methods, applications and practices

  • Foresight methods
  • Sociotechnical tool: Societal readiness
  • Policy Sciences tool: Problem Orientation


  • Stilgoe et al. 2013 (pp 1570-1 and Table 2);
  • Averill 2005;
  • Clark 2002 (ch 5).
Module 6: Inclusion for Robustness

6.2 Principle of Inclusion

  • Understanding inclusion
  • Who is a stakeholder?
  • Challenges to inclusion

6.2 Methods, applications and practices

  • Participation and Representation
  • Polling and surveys
  • Public engagements
  • Sociotechnical tool: ECAST pTA method
  • Policy Sciences tool: Social Process


  • Stilgoe et al. 2013 (pp 1571-2 and Table 2);
  • Wickson et al. 2010;
  • Clark 2002 (ch 3);
  • Brand & Blok 2019.
Module 7: Responsiveness for Alignment

7.1 Principle of Responsiveness

  • Understanding responsiveness
  • Challenges to responsiveness

7.2 Methods, applications and practices

  • Regulatory and industry-wide
  • Strategic and managerial approaches
  • Incremental approaches
  • Sociotechnical tool: Stage gating
  • Policy Sciences tool: Decision Process


  • Stilgoe et al. 2013 (pp 1573-3 and Table 2);
  • Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, 2020;
  • Clark 2002 (ch 4);
  • van de Poel et al. 2020.

Course Planning

  • Class Meeting 1 – Friday 01/27, 11am-1pm AZ / 7-9pm CET
  • Class Meeting 2 – Friday 02/03, 11am-1pm AZ / 7-9pm CET
  • Class Meeting 3 – Friday 02/10, 11am-1pm AZ / 7-9pm CET
  • Class Meeting 4 – Friday 02/17, 11am-1pm AZ / 7-9pm CET
  • Class Meeting 5 – Friday 02/24, 11am-1pm AZ / 7-9pm CET
  • Final Class Meeting for Presentations: Date To Be Determined

Course Requirements

  1. Discussions (30%): Students will participate in weekly discussions and related activities. In most cases these will consist of a 500 word clear and concise post, as well as a 100 word response to at least one classmate’s post.
  2. Participation (10%): We will schedule 5 group meetings to discuss course readings, lectures, and final papers. Students should attend these and do their best to actively participate.
  3. Presentation or paper (60%): Students will give a presentation in the last course session, or alternatively may opt for writing a thoughtful yet focused paper (15-30 pages, double-spaced). The paper/presentation should relate one or more theories, concepts, frameworks, or tools we have studied in the course to a specific aspect of the student’s dissertation research. After introducing the course material (theory, concept, etc.) the student has chosen, the presentation/paper should introduce a topic, site, question, method, etc. from their dissertation research. The presentation/paper should explain how the chosen course material will be applied to the dissertation research, and it should justify why this application is important, timely, promising or otherwise relevant, ideally based on a short literature review. The rest of the presentation/paper will then consist of your application including any conceptual, theoretical, or empirical findings and/or reflections. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of application. For instance, will you use the course material to analyze, critique, test, or explore the dissertation research? Will you use it to illustrate inherent conflicts, uncertainties and trade-offs that any understanding of the public interest will likely entail (including generating winners and losers, controversies over social values, and both technological and policy trade-offs)? Will you explain how well the course material can help resolve, ameliorate or inform our understanding of one or more of these identified challenges? Or will you do something else? I will look forward to your reflections!

Note: This diagram was conceptually designed by Erik Fisher and visually designed by Jason Robinson. It illustrates the relationship of the procedural and productive aspects of the four PIT principles around which the course is organized