Award is part of $3 million “Network Challenge” to grow the field of public interest technology.


Christopher Berry

Christopher Berry, the William J. and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and Nicole P. Marwell, Associate Professor at University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, have received a grant from the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) to support the development of a new course and book prospectus, aimed at addressing the new governance challenges posed by the 21st Century data explosion. 

The project will help to establish the conceptual foundations for how government and its partners – businesses, nonprofits and advocacy groups – can better understand and deploy the vast amount of data and technology at their disposal in pursuit of the public good. 

“For students seeking careers in the many public or private sector organizations concerned with advancing the public welfare, a strong understanding of these and related issues is critical,” explained Marwell. “Our approach to the project will integrate social science with data science to pose questions and solve problems relevant to concrete issues of policy making and implementation.”

Nicole Marwell

The grant was 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.  

“As the project progresses, we hope to identify opportunities for collaboration with our fellow network members, and envision that our course can potentially be scaled to other schools,” Berry added.

One of the original members of PIT-UN, the University of Chicago has been a pioneer in the growing field of public interest technology, and one of the first to offer a degree at the intersection of public policy and computation. Harris’ thriving Master of Science program in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MS-CAPP), of which Professor Berry was a founder, provides the skills and analytical savvy to bring modern technology to bear on the societal problems that matter most.

SSA’s world-renowned Master’s Program in Social Work and Social Welfare will continue to lead and define the field through its cutting-edge research of social welfare policy and practice issues. This project will contribute to ensuring that SSA’s current students, as well as graduates of its new Master’s Program in Social Sector Leadership and Nonprofit Management, understand how new technologies and data systems are shaping human service policy, practice, and outcomes in domains as diverse as child protection, homelessness, criminal justice, and income support.

The Public Interest Technology University Network (PITUN),which was convened earlier this year by the Ford Foundation, New America, and the Hewlett Foundation,is a partnership of 21 colleges and universities dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology, as well as growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists and digitally fluent policy leaders. The “Network Challenge” is funded through the generous support ofthe Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, Siegel Family Endowment, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and Raikes Foundation.

Public interest technology combines digital innovation and public policy. Already, universities across the United States have created joint degrees, exchange programs, and cross-disciplinary initiatives to begin to develop a robust pipeline of future technologists and leaders seeking to pursue careers in the growing field.