Curriculum for a Course in “Using Technology for Social Good”

At a Silicon Flatirons conference last fall, it caught my ear when David Clark, Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, mentioned that students are interested in using technology for social good and we don’t yet really know what it means to teach that. Students are putting that topic on the table. So it might take a very long time, but I’m beginning to compile resources to help with that discourse. Little by little, I want to gather writings (my own and links to sources all over the web) on what it means to teach the idea of “Using Technology for Social Good.”

WHY Before WHAT: Capturing CONCERNS before SOLUTION SETS

One of the signature differences in Social Enterprises is that you ask WHY you’re doing something before you ask WHAT you’ll do. In traditional venture capital enterprises, the answer to WHY is “to make money.” The logic runs something like this: I have a fund and I need to return profit to my investors therefore I must find activities that return a profit within a given timeframe.

In the Social Impact realm, however, you have identified a set of concerns such as “an abysmally small number of women are participating in new tech startups” or “people in the world’s developing countries are getting shut out of being able to participate as full citizens in the digital economy” or “a few big players are dominating our ability to access information and create competitive products.” You notice these are broad concerns, not specific ones like: “I will create a tool that makes java development easier”.

Once you have the concerns, you begin to identify viable, small, actionable steps that move towards addressing that larger concern. You constantly stop and ask if the actions are moving you closer to addressing the concern. Your goal is to always be self-sustaining, to make money, hopefully good money to show the world it’s a win/win scenario to do this, all the while moving towards your larger goal.

Dr. Susan Heitler is a psychologist who has applied group conflict resolution theories to individual relationships. She identifies this need to put Concerns before Solution Sets. Her writings are very instrumental in formulating an overarching lens with which to view conflict resolution. I think this is a very useful place to start when considering using technology for social good. Inherently, the idea of using technology for social good is to affect group dynamics in a positive way, a way that reduces suffering and conflict in the world and increases opportunity for all.

From Conflict to Resolution:Skills and Strategies for Individuals, Couples, and Family Therapy, December 1993, by Susan M. Heitler

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