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Who Are PIT Entrepreneurs?

PIT Entrepreneurs

October 12, 2021
Written by Raymar Hampshire

We believe in a “big tent” PIT field that is inclusive, with a primary focus on people, and that is composed of individuals committed to designing, implementing, and advocating for tech-enabled solutions with the goal of advancing the common good in an equitable manner. Our team’s understanding of the field includes social entrepreneurs who are developing products and services that address shortcomings from existing markets and government. Like public interest technology, the field of social entrepreneurship includes many definitions. We have adapted J. Gregory Dee’s definition of social entrepreneur which states:

“Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents, in the social sector, by; adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value) [through the creation or use of technology]; recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission; engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation and learning; acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand; and exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and outcomes created.” The last clause of his definition, “exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and outcomes created”, is of particular interest to our work.  

BIPOC social entrepreneurs and their communities are often directly impacted by the solution they are developing. As such, they benefit from a unique perspective of what accountability looks like for the constituencies that they serve and the outcomes they create because they are a constituent. In the field of public interest technology, solutions are often designed to reflect the lived experiences of it’s creators. We came up with the term PIT entrepreneurs to better situate and mainstream the lived experiences and embodied knowledge of these practitioners. 

In our report titled, “​​Building Career Pathways for Diverse Public Interest Technology Entrepreneurs” we found that these practitioners aim to create social justice and equity, while collaborating with stakeholders across sectors and disciplines — synthesizing learning and developing knowledge in order to deliver innovative solutions. We also found inequities within the startup ecosystem based on race and gender that compound challenges of securing funding and developing key relationships needed to support their development. 

PIT entrepreneurs bring valuable skill sets and experiences to the field of public interest technology. It is our hope that the field of PIT provides a more responsive experience for PIT entrepreneurs who can contribute their knowledge to help ensure that the field is built with diversity, equity, and inclusion as a guiding force and not an afterthought. We believe that these practitioners and their solutions can advance the common good in an equitable manner.

What is Public Interest Technology?


September 15, 2021
Written by Tayo Fabusuyi

A hallmark of a field in its infancy is ambiguity in its definition, and in this regard, the Public Interest Technology (PIT) field is no exception. While there is a consensus on the direction and broad contours of PIT, differences of opinion exist on the details of who or what is included and who or what is not. Varying definitions emanating from academia and the foundation community have typically emphasized a technological expertise prerequisite for being in PIT. Examples of these  include the New America, Cornell and Ford Foundation definitions of PIT. More recently, a New America working group of academics have defined PIT as the “study and application of technology expertise to advance the public interest/generate public benefits/promote the public good.”

In our assessment, such definitions address only a subset of the PIT ecosystem. Specifically, we make the case for a definition that puts a premium on technology while acknowledging that fundamentally these solutions are about people; and that is explicit about the equity dimensions of the PIT space. Towards this end, we define the field of PIT as that which aims to design, implement, and advocate for tech-enabled solutions with the goal of advancing the common good in an equitable manner.

Some of the most ardent advocates of the use of technology to address problems of public interest may not have expertise in tech. Our definition harkens to the need to make the PIT ecosystem more inclusive of these individuals who may not be technologists in the conventional sense but who advocate for equitable tech solutions.

A key element of PIT is that individuals who are developing tech solutions for the common good should meaningfully engage with those who are intimately familiar with the situation the tech solution is intended to improve and where possible, elevate their involvement in the project as co-creators of the solution. To enable this, more resources should be channeled towards adequately understanding and framing the problem, and only afterwards should the attention be on the technical features of the solution.

Which brings us to the equity dimensions, on which many PIT definitions are silent.  The PIT space is inequitable, a consequence of an asymmetric power structure and lack of representation of historically marginalized voices. Many of the disputes with data and algorithm bias stem from these issues and from the simple reality that individuals tasked with developing these solutions may have viewpoints or value systems that are not representative of the populations of interest. The result can be that inequities, both current and historic, are exacerbated rather than reduced. A PIT definition that is explicit about equity confronts this challenge head on.

In closing, we reiterate the argument for a “big tent” PIT field that is inclusive, with a primary focus on people, and that is composed of individuals committed to designing, implementing, and advocating for tech-enabled solutions with the goal of advancing the common good in an equitable manner.

Jing Liu

By | Voices of Our Researchers

Dr. Jing Liu, Managing Director of the Michigan Institute for Data Science, joins Innovators to discuss the Burgeoning and Expanding Field of Data Science.