Friday, October 30th | By Jenn Noinaj

There’s a collective sense of purpose and responsibility in the public interest technology field that I’ve never experienced in any other job. The public service sector is about delivering better outcomes to the public, such as improving how individuals might receive their benefits or access services that they need, and public interest technology helps do just that. The field uses design, data, and technology to help achieve those outcomes, and ultimately serve the public good.

Since this is a growing space, it’s important for us to be intentional and design ways we can positively impact this growth. Designers, product managers, and engineers come into public interest tech for the mission. People are passionate about the work. Yet, there are still opportunities for us to improve: increasing diversity numbers, championing a more inclusive culture, forging career paths for professionals with various levels of experience, and fostering knowledge-sharing between communities, to name a few.

Building upon the great work that’s already been done, including by leaders at New America and the Ford Foundation, I’m excited to join the Beeck Center as a fellow this year to find and create solutions that will help contribute to the growth of individuals, teams, and communities in the public interest tech sphere. Our team aims to deliver on outcomes that are intersectional, equitable, and rooted in context for everyone to be successful, making sure we’re inclusive and supportive of diverse talent. This field is vast, and understanding the ecosystem, the people, organizations, and structures that make up this space, will help us ensure that our work is sustainable.

headshot of Jenn Noinaj
Beeck Center Fellow Jenn Noinaj

Prior to the Beeck Center, I was at the United States Digital Service (USDS) where I worked on transforming digital services across government by building capacity in design and technology and championing a user-centric culture. I supported multiple hiring actions at various agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, partnering with human resource specialists to recruit and hire diverse candidates. My team worked on revamping job announcements and position descriptions to attract people from non-traditional backgrounds and established a new process to improve federal hiring practices, ensuring a fair and equitable process for applicants. I also helped shape USDS’ hiring practices for designers, participating in recruiting, updating our competencies to align with the latest hiring needs, and conducting resume and portfolio reviews and interviews. I’m excited to bring these experiences and my background in human-centered design to carry the Beeck Center’s Public Interest Technology Workforce project forward.

We’ll be kicking off a stream of research to delve further into the field and identify findings and opportunities for us to tackle. We’re partnering with the United States of Technologists and the Tech Talent Project to produce an onboarding guide to serve as a starting point that can be customized by teams as needed. We’re looking at ways of building up a professional association to facilitate knowledge-sharing, community building, and training for folks interested in this field. I’m also excited to help out on other projects at the Beeck Center, and am currently putting together a guide on Discovery Sprints, a method to quickly understand a problem space and identify actionable next steps. These projects will build upon all of the existing resources that the Beeck Center already has published, such as how to get started in the public interest tech field and recommendations for digital transformation in government.

How You Can Help Us Now

Our project is looking at ways we can support those who work in this field, ensuring the workforce has the skills, tools, and resources they need to deliver on outcomes to the public. In order for us to identify how to institutionalize career support resources like professional development opportunities, mentorship models, and training programs we need to understand how best to meet the needs of those currently doing the work. I’m working with the Beeck Center’s Vandhana Ravi to conduct a Public Interest Technology Workforce Survey aimed at capturing the experiences, backgrounds, and demographics of the individuals in the field. We’re hoping to hear from anyone who identifies as a public interest technologist (researchers, designers, engineers, product managers, contractors, volunteers, students, etc.) to make sure we are considering the broadest perspectives and experiences. Based on the results, our plan is to publish a demographics report with the trends and opportunities from the survey, as well as follow up with individuals to have more in-depth conversations.

If you’re a part of the Public Interest Technology field, please consider taking the survey and helping us share it far and wide with your colleagues. The survey will close at 11:59PM EST on November 30th and we will look forward to sharing the findings with you so we can all work to improve a more inclusive field.

Jenn Noinaj is a Beeck Center Fellow leading our Public Interest Technology Workforce portfolio. You can follow her on Twitter and find her on LinkedIn.

Beeck Data + Digital projects featured in Ideas That Transform series

October 13, 2020 – By Cori Zarek

Since 2014, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University has led the way with new ideas and approaches to reimagine our institutions to ensure they are designed to serve the people who need them most. 

We know we can track our package or pizza delivery every step of the way, but not an application for unemployment insurance. The technology exists, it’s just not accessible to everyone—and of course public services are far more complicated than packages and pizzas. We’ve looked at many of these systems to understand the tools and practices needed to make them better so we can work with institutions to implement change. Our Data + Digital portfolio now features nearly 30 fellows, students, and staff, and has organized around three main pillars to reimagine and rebuild trust in our institutions: Public Interest Technology Field Building, Data for Impact, and Infrastructure for Opportunity.

In the coming weeks, we’re partnering with our collaborators to feature some of this work as part of the Beeck Center’s Ideas That Transform series—we hope you’ll join us to hear more about what we’ve been up to.

see the schedule button

Public Interest Technology Field Building

The past decade has seen the founding and rise of what our friends at the Ford Foundation and New America have identified as public interest technology—using the tools and practices of modern design, data, and technology to work toward better outcomes in society. As the field matures, we’ve been thinking a lot about  how to raise its profile for greater credibility, to support public interest technology workers through skills building and mentorship opportunities, and how to cultivate community among those of us doing this work. Here are a couple events where you can learn more about our Public Interest Tech Field Building work.

  • Book club: The Beeck Center’s Taylor Campbell talks with public interest tech leader Cyd Harrell on lessons from Cyd’s new book, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide, on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 1pm ET. Taylor and Cyd will focus on ways that curious, passionate people who work in private-sector tech can become civic technologists and use their careers to make a different kind of impact. Register
  • Managing change: Transitions are a way of life in government—whether there’s a change in management, new policies to carry out, or even a new administration—and we’re bringing together colleagues who have navigated a number of government transitions with a focus on continued support for data and tech through those changes. Join us on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 1pm ET for this conversation. Register

Data for Impact

The Beeck Center has long known that data can drive economic prosperity, more effective policies, and help us measure what matters. In projects pressing for data-driven approaches at all levels of government and throughout communities, Beeck fellows have led the way to make the case for data as a priority and to train teams to best use data to carry out their work. Chief Data Officers in government have a critical role helping governments prioritize data as a way to achieve their policy goals, and since September 2019, the Beeck Center has been leading states in this work as the home of the State Chief Data Officers Network. We’ll feature their work in an event next week.

  • Data-driven recovery: Join Tyler Kleykamp and Katya Abazajian on Monday, Oct. 19 at 12:15pm ET for a conversation about how neighborhood data can support state and local economic recovery from this pandemic in an event held in partnership with Smart Cities Week. Register

Infrastructure for Opportunity

When our systems use leading-edge practices and tools, they’re better equipped to serve people and to make it easier for the workers administering them. From reimagining foster care licensing, to scaling tools to make it easier for families to apply for social safety net benefits, to developing open source software for high-priority policy needs like unemployment insurance and paid family leave, our fellows and partners are rebuilding the infrastructure we need for greater opportunity and better outcomes. Learn more about some of this work in these upcoming events.

  • Follow the money: Government technology policies and projects often come with big budgets and relatively little oversight—and, unsurprisingly, most fail. Beeck fellows Robin Carnahan and Waldo Jaquith spent four years at 18F pushing for better ways to budget for and oversee government tech projects to make them less risky and documented it in the recently released De-Risking Guide for government technology. Join them on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 3pm ET for lessons that other government teams can adopt to avoid costly projects that don’t deliver. Register
  • Fostering better outcomes: Child welfare programs across the country help some of our country’s most vulnerable children and do so with limited resources. Non-governmental organizations such as Foster America and Think of Us work with partners, parents, and children to support and reimagine what’s possible. Beeck fellow Emily Tavoulareas has partnered with New America fellow Marina Nitze, these organizations, and public servants across the country to co-create the Child Welfare Playbook that captures tested best practices in a manner that is easy for others to adopt and replicate. Emily will facilitate a conversation with child welfare leaders on the results of recent field research examining how to improve life outcomes for youth of the foster system. Join us on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. ET. Register

Through all of our efforts, we aim to work in the open and document what we find so others can learn from it and scale what works. We also work collaboratively with others—these efforts rely on entire ecosystems to be successful and we aim to convene and coordinate networks and communities of practice to work together for greater impact. Finally, we know this work is never done, so we invite you to pull up a chair and hear what we’ve been up to through this series and we look forward to adding more chairs at the table so we can do this important work together.

Cori Zarek is the Director of the Data + Digital portfolio at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation. Follow her at @corizarek.