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Sustainability News

March 29, 2021

ASU’s College of Global Futures has completed a unique two-day virtual workshop for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on March 24-25 on Public Interest Technology (PIT) in international development. The live workshop, which drew attendees from numerous time zones around the world, explored synergies in the application of technology to the advancement of human wellbeing.

Professors Mary Jane Parmentier and Faheem Hussain served as co-hosts for the event, which featured presentations from scholars and researchers from Africa, Europe, Australia and the United States. Breakout presentation topics demonstrated the diversity of ideas in the field —from bridging the digital gender divide, to increasing agricultural yields through the use of sensor technology, to a lack of data regarding human trafficking.

The workshop's opening keynote was delivered live from Australia by ASU Professor Katina Michael, the program chair of the public interest technology Master’s program in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. She began her talk by defining terms in this emerging interdisciplinary field of study. "What are we talking about when we say 'public interest technology'?" she asked. "We acknowledge hundreds of years of systems thinking... and the interplay between society, technology and the environment."

On the second day of the workshop, Professor Netra Chhetri delivered a keynote titled "PIT, Grassroots Knowledge, Technology and Agriculture," and discussed the common phenomenon in which innovation and knowledge creation in public interest technology often occur out of necessity at the grassroots level. "Many people solve problems not knowing that their solutions are creative and innovative." Chhetri believes that one key to a more prosperous future is how we leverage these grassroots innovations through knowledge sharing and transfer.

Summarizing the event, Parmentier commented: "The excellent presentations that we had in this workshop really demonstrated the varied and vast nature of what we mean when we say public interest technology. But we also need to be careful with this concept because there are political, cultural, and political-cultural differences that make universal definitions illusive."

The workshop drew more than 140 attendees across four sessions over two days, and was conducted under a USAID grant called Research Technical Assistance Center (RTAC), of which ASU is one of four university partners. Because of the global interest in this event, the College of Global Futures is planning future workshops on Public Interest Technology.