Clinical Associate Professor Mahmud Farooque

ASU receives grant from Public Interest Technology University Network to support innovation

By

Eliza Robinson

Arizona State University received one of 27 grants awarded as part of Public Interest Technology University Network’s inaugural “Network Challenge,” which aims to support the development of new public interest technology initiatives and institutions in academia and foster collaboration among the network’s partner institutions, which includes ASU. Grant awardees were announced at the network's first annual convening at Georgetown University on Monday. 

The Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) is a partnership of 21 colleges and universities dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists. Originally convened by the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation and New America, the network represents a major commitment by partners in philanthropy, higher education and public policy to define and build the public interest technology sector.

We talked with grant awardee Mahmud Farooque, clinical associate professor with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and associate director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, about the grant and the goals of the Community Innovation Fellowship program. 

Question: Why is engaging the public on issues of science and technology important?

Answer: We live in a world of complex natural, scientific and technological changes that can both empower and disempower vulnerable people and communities. These include climate change, sustainability and community resilience; artificial intelligence, automation and technology-driven effects on workforce, privacy, security and equity; and biotechnology, biomedical innovation and the future of health. All technological advances have intended and unintended consequences that can be positive as well as negative. Engaging the public early and often in informed and inclusive dialogues is one way we can anticipate the societal implications and prepare our society, institutions and policies for a better future for all.

Q: How will partnering with science and technology centers lead to more public engagement? 

A: There is growing demand from scientists and policymakers for authentic participation of the public in key global issues and trends. Science and technology centers around the country are trying to answer that call by engaging the millions of people who come to visit, who would never think to be part of a focus group or public hearing, to share their hopes and concerns about the societal implications of emerging technologies. However, they lack the capacity and resources for these new types of dialogue-based societal engagement. The ECAST-ASTC Community Innovation Fellowship will pilot a replicable, scalable, competitive training curriculum and fellowship program for a new generation of public engagement professionals at science and technology centers in PIT-UN cities. Fellows will be trained to work collaboratively with a local government, community or university partner to convene informed and inclusive dialogues on public interest technology issues for their respective communities. 

Q: How will Innovation Fellowship work? 

A: The Community Innovation Fellowship program will forge a partnership between the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) network and the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC). Led by ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and the Museum of Science, the ECAST network combines academic research, informal science education and policy analysis to engage experts and citizens on science and technology issues. ASTC is a network of nearly 700 science and technology centers and museums and related organizations that welcome more than 110 million people each year across North America and in nearly 50 countries worldwide. The immersive training curriculum and fellowship program will be piloted at five ASTC centers in PIT-UN cities. Teams of fellows will be chosen through an open competition to be announced in late October. Outcomes will be evaluated against the program's objectives in learning and impact to facilitate recommendations for improvement, replication and scaling to other cities.