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Using Technology Innovation Frameworks to Make a Social Impact

In recent years, more and more entrepreneurs have launched businesses or initiatives designed to make a positive social impact as customers demand that brands better align with their values. The new interdisciplinary New Technology for Social Impact Certificate, offered by Open Campus at The New School, equips these emerging leaders with the skills they need to use the power of technology to develop sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems. 

Below is a conversation with Ashwin Gopi, instructor of the Technology Innovation Frameworks course in this online certificate, to delve more about what technology innovation frameworks are, why they matter, and how they can be used in social responsibility initiatives in new and existing organizations.

What is a technology innovation framework?

It’s a way of looking at how we change what we do.

Wait, back up. It’s what? Break it down.

Well, I think that technology is just what we do, encoded either in our behavior, or by changing the world around us.

So my smartphone is… 

Human behavior encoded into our environment

But it’s not just that, right? Us changing our environment?

No it’s not, because technology changes us, too. And we change each other using it, and then we change it again. It’s all iterative and on-going.

What about the physical nature of technology then? It’s not just behavior?

Oh yeah, technology totally has a material nature, just like how it has a social nature. That’s why it’s very important to study technology as it is used, because what we do with technology is more important than how we feel and how we think about technology. It is equally important to explore the material design and choices made by people in creating technology, and the assumptions and shared meanings that go into its use.

Okay, what is innovation then?

A change in behavior.

What about change in technology?

Sure, that matters, but what is more important to consider is the effect it will have on human lives, on our behavior and cognition, and how we in turn shape it. Studying innovation isn’t about studying business decisions and changes in form. It’s about looking at the impact it has.

And how do you measure that impact?

You’ll have to take the class to find out.

Okay, what about the “framework” part though? What’s the deal with that?

A framework is really just an extended metaphor. It’s looking at things a certain way. A lot of people have looked at technology innovation, and come up with different ways to discover patterns. That’s what this class is about, teaching these metaphors so students can use them as tools to help them make decisions in their work.

What kind of students should take the class?

Any kind, really. We all work with technology, and many times it is our responsibility to introduce change into a group of people. What’s the best approach to even begin that process? You don’t have to be the creator of the next killer app, a world-changing social entrepreneur, or the CTO of a tech company to deal with the issues of technology innovation. It is an emergent social reality that we all need to deal with in a systematic way, or just like any other task, it gets away from us.

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Ashwin Gopi, instructor of the Technology Innovation Frameworks course

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What topics are you going to cover in the class?

The first week, I want to quickly go over the different kinds of change, how it happens, where it comes from and so forth. This will be a useful platform to start analyzing innovation. The second week, we’ll dive deeper into other classifications based on characteristics of innovation. This will help students begin to understand the kind of situation they have on their hands. The third week, we’ll talk about the success and failure of design: why do some survive and some fail? How can we design technology to fit human needs and behavior better? During the fourth week, we’ll talk about what happens once you’ve designed technology. When and how do you launch? Finally, we’ll discuss what to do after you launch. How do you measure and grow impact, and why does it matter?

So the course is driven by exploring questions.

That and readings, analytical assignments, discussions, collaborating on their projects and so on, the typical online course stuff. I try to keep it fresh by fostering discourse and collaboration between students, but give individual time to those who find it useful. But yes, mainly questions.

But I know the right questions to ask. That’s all you have on your hands – a bunch of choices that affect you and others. This class is about the kind of decisions you have to make, and how to get the best information to help you make them.

Open Campus is The New School’s destination for continuing and professional education. Learn more about the New Technology for Social Impact online certificate.

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