Power to the Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology

A powerful new blueprint for how governments and nonprofits can harness the power of digital technology to help solve the most serious problems of the twenty-first century.

As the speed and complexity of the world increases, governments and nonprofit organizations need new ways to effectively tackle the critical challenges of our time—from pandemics and global warming to social media warfare. In Power to the Public, Tara Dawson McGuinness and Hana Schank describe a revolutionary new approach—public interest technology—that has the potential to transform the way governments and nonprofits around the world solve problems. Through inspiring stories about successful projects ranging from a texting service for teenagers in crisis to a streamlined foster care system, the authors show how public interest technology can make the delivery of services to the public more effective and efficient.

At its heart, public interest technology means putting users at the center of the policymaking process, using data and metrics in a smart way, and running small experiments and pilot programs before scaling up. And while this approach may well involve the innovative use of digital technology, technology alone is no panacea—and some of the best solutions may even be decidedly low-tech.

Clear-eyed yet profoundly optimistic, Power to the Public presents a powerful blueprint for how government and nonprofits can help solve society’s most serious problems.

Afterward by

  • Anne-Marie Slaughter
  • Darren Walker

About the Authors

Tara Dawson McGuinness

Tara Dawson McGuinness founded the New Practice Lab, a research and design lab focused on family economic security. She teaches public policy at Georgetown University. Her work lies at the intersection of policy creation, implementation and citizen and community voices. McGuinness joined New America after leaving the Obama administration where she oversaw the federal teams working alongside city, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders in Detroit, Baltimore, and Flint, and many other communities. McGuinness researches how networks, technology, management and data practices can be used to tackle inequity and solve other challenges.

Hana Schank

Hana Schank is the Director of Strategy for Public Interest Technology at New America, where she works to develop the public interest technology field via research, storytelling and fostering connections. She founded and edits The Commons, a publication for people working in and around government innovation efforts.

Previously, as a part of the United States Digital Service, Schank was a director with the Department of Homeland Security, where she worked with TSA and Customs and Border Protection to improve the air travel experience. In the private sector, Schank founded and ran CollectiveUX, a user experience consultancy, for over a decade, working with startups, Fortune 500 companies, and governmental organizations to research and design human-centered products.

Praise for Power to the Public

“This wonderful book makes the best possible case for why and how we need to transform our understanding of what public problem-solving is about and how we need to reinvent government to build the capacity necessary to tackle problems at scale. . . . For all who seek to engage in this work, Power to the Public is both a manual and a manifesto.”—from the afterword by Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, and Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation

“This is a compelling and timely call to action for reshaping how governments ought to provide services to their citizens. It is also a joy to read.”—Angela O’Mahony, Pardee RAND Graduate School

Power to the Public is an exciting and compelling book that includes excellent first-hand accounts of successful uses of public interest technology.”—Dana Chisnell, Tech Executive Leadership Initiative

Upcoming Book Events

Power to the Public
April 13, 2021- Virtual
12:00- 1:00 pm ET

Hana Schank and Tara McGuinness spent several years researching and writing their book, Power to the Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology, which focuses on how best to use data, design, and technology to solve society’s most pressing and difficult problems. During this event, the authors will discuss examples of real change that have been brought by governments and nonprofits using data. They will also highlight how designing policies alongside and with the people they serve -- and focusing on how they are delivered -- are important pillars of how organizations must work to really succeed in the digital age.

The book builds on the authors’ experiences working in the U.S. Digital Service and in the White House. It also explores stories of leaders and governments using these approaches to create profound outcomes by designing with humans and focusing on how policies actually reach people. This strategy helps government make changes that affect everything from reducing suicide to ending homelessness to using data and improving access to public benefits through improved forms. This event, explained by those who spent years working in the field, will take you inside the stories and approaches of organizations that are changing the world.

Read more about the event.