Public Interest Tech

Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, GiveDirectly: Technological tools can solve societal problems and thus create added value. To develop such tools, there is a lack of experimental space and often a lack of funding in Switzerland. The Prototype Fund fills this gap and supports the initial development of tools that solve societal problems, but for which there is currently often neither private (e.g. lack of business model) nor government funding.

Open technologies by and for the people

By public interest tech, we mean open source technologies that solve societal problems and promote the public good. Public interest technologies can make our society fairer, more democratic, more open, more resilient, more secure, and/or more sustainable. Topics can include sustainability, diversity, open knowledge, data literacy or security, for example, in addition to participation (Civic Tech, focus of rounds 1 and 2). For inspiration feel free to check out our big brother from Germany or the Civic Tech Field Guide. Not sure if your project fits the Prototype Fund? Write us an email.

For us, “Public Interest Tech” is not only about the “What?” but also about the “How?”. Technology development should be an open, collaborative, and interdisciplinary process whose outcomes address socially relevant challenges in a human-centered and sustainable way. In detail, this means:

  • Open: Technology should not be developed in secret, but should be openly accessible as a process as well as in its outcome. On the one hand, this concerns the source code itself; on the other hand, the use of open standards and data should be emphasized, as this reduces dependencies and promotes interoperability. By publishing the source code, technology becomes more trustworthy and impactful and sustainable, as others can review it, as well as build on it and develop it further.
  • Collaborative: Competition can have advantages, but when it comes to developing technologies that significantly shape people’s daily lives and work environments, collaboration should be paramount. This includes deciding whether a particular technology is needed at all, or whether it should be used. Contrary to the proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth,” we are convinced that the involvement of many different contributors makes code better and more stable. Nevertheless, there is always a review process that ensures that only high quality contributions ultimately make it into the software.
  • Interdisciplinary: Software does not only need developers. Without designers, thematic experts or communication specialists, the best code is useless. Therefore, an interdisciplinary team should work together as early as possible in the development phase.
  • Human-centered instead of profit-oriented: Technology should serve people and help them cope with problems. It should not be designed so that users lose control of their personal data, for example. Users should be involved early and often in the iterative development of applications.
  • Socially relevant challenges: Technology should not be developed as an end in itself and should not deal with fictitious problems, but should focus on challenges that (many) people are struggling with – therefore it only makes sense that software ideas also come from society and are developed in a human-centric way.
  • Sustainable: The wheel doesn’t have to be constantly reinvented. If there is functional code for a specific purpose, it should be able to be reused and developed further to save resources and time.

The Prototype Fund is one way that can ensure that digitization takes place in the interests of society rather than merely following market logic. We can increase trust in “digitization” by using open source software to show that technology does not have to be a black box developed for the profit of a few companies. In this way, digitization can really be societally driven.