Solving Public Problems With Technology

In early September we started teaching the semester-long course “Solving Public Problems with Technology.”  You can view the course syllabus here – and its curated readings and videos, including original materials created for the program by:

  • Alph Bingham, Founder of Innocentive talking about how to frame a problem
  • Giff Constable, CEO of NEO Software discussing how to identify and interview users when doing human-centered design
  • Terry Winograd, professor of computer science and co-founder of the d.School, Stanford University reflects on the differences between designing private and public goods
  • Eduardo Staszowski, professor of design, Parsons takes us on a guided tour of one his own public design projects
  • Andrew Cramer, lead designer for the Case Commons platform that revolutionizes information sharing to improve the lives of children in foster care, explains how his team went about designing the tool.

Soon we’ll have up videos from Brian Behlendorf, Co-Founder of Apache and open source leader, Clay Johnson, former head of Sunlight Labs, Presidential Innovation Fellow and CEO of the Department of Better Technology and Mike Bracken, head of UK Digital Government Services.

By “flipping the classroom” and making all these excellent mini-lectures freely available on the web, we can use time in class to work together on projects. That’s what truly exciting and unique this term and what represents a departure from earlier incarnations of the course (previously called Gov 3.0).

Public Problems is a hands-on learning and mentoring program designed to help civic tech innovators create actionable solutions to public interest problems.

Yes, the course teaches the latest innovations in an open and participatory problem-solving including the application of open data, crowdsourcing, expert networks, expert systems, challenges, and prizes. Yes, the course teaches project management, research and presentation skills designed to help people develop a project from idea to implementation. But, more important, the program creates a community of practice by bringing together grad students across schools and disciplines with professionals from local and national government offices, to support each other in the development of effective projects in the public interest.

The goal? To catalyze the development of new projects that use citizen engagement to tackle problems and improve people’s lives.

The program is unique in that it is a networked, open course taught across 3 campuses: Arizona State, MIT and NYU. In addition, Stanford d.School and Yale Law School are offering independent study credit for students who wish to enroll online from their department. Students across schools are organized into online coaching and discussion sections with each other.

Participants include:

  • A team of seven from the a municipal management organization working on municipal open data
  • A team of two from a civil society group in Washington working on a digital divide project
  • A team of six from a municipal government working on minority male engagement issues relating to both policing and libraries
  • Municipal officials from cities in every region of the United States focusing on data driven governance
  • The legislative director for a Congressman working on digital innovations for Congress
  • The managing director for research of an NGO working on political accountability
  • The head of the municipal innovation labs of a city in Latin America and a country in Europe with their staffs
  • A consortium of students and government officials working on heat risk mortality and cooling center risk reduction and another group on designing a citizen participation in the development of a local transportation tax

They are purpose-driven learners from various walks of life.

We have no monopoly on the “right” answers. Rather, the course is here to facilitate peer-to-peer learning where we teach and learn from one another.  To that end, we asked everyone to fill out this form and tell us about their experiences, skills, interests and credentials and made all of this information available to all participants to help people find teammates and those with similar interests and complementary skills and to engender the conversations and collaboration that we hope will lead to more successful social change.

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