The MIT Technology and Policy Program (TPP) has launched a new Research to Policy Engagement Initiative aimed at bridging knowledge to action on major societal challenges, and connecting policymakers, stakeholders, and researchers from diverse disciplines.
“TPP’s Research to Policy Engagement Initiative has two complementary goals,” says TPP Director Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor of both Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS). “First, it aims to help bring scientific and technical knowledge to bear to inform solutions to complex policy problems, bridging the design and conduct of research at MIT with communities of practice. Second, it will create an intellectual community of researchers who can learn, apply, and contribute to developing best practices in bridging knowledge to action on societal challenges, across experiences in different research domains.”
In addition to building community and holding events, the initiative supports the work of students and postdocs working at the intersection of technology and policy through fellowships and research assistantships. “Especially in cases like climate change, where technology already exists to solve the problem, I think the MIT community should be equipping its graduates with the rhetorical and political skills necessary to make a positive impact,” says Brandon Leshchinskiy, a TPP student supported by the initiative who is developing nonpartisan climate outreach materials for high schools.
The initiative launched with a kickoff discussion, organized by IDSS postdoc Poushali Maji and Media Lab research scientist Katlyn Turner, called “Technology, Design and Policy for Equity.” The event focused on the societal implications of the design of technology, exploring the intersections of design, policy, and social equity, and drawing examples from domains like energy technology and artificial intelligence.
“It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that can create a space for cross-disciplinary collaborations,” says Maji. “One of the aims of the initiative is to help us think through problem-solution systems more holistically, and go beyond a techno-centric approach.”
The inaugural Research to Policy Engagement Initiative event was a robust discussion with researchers from different disciplines, covering topics including the disparity between the intent and impact of technologies and associated policies, and the ways in which inequities can often drive technology adoption patterns. “One key takeaway that surfaced,” says Maji, “is that societal challenges often need simple technological solutions, but involve complex challenges in other dimensions — logistical, institutional, and cultural.”
“This first discussion drove home the importance of considering policy at the inception of research, rather than being forced to shape some kind of narrative retroactively,” says Nina Peluso, a TPP student who attended the event. “The event served as a great reminder of the many groups that confront policy issues at MIT every day.”
The discussion included a presentation from Sidhant Pai, co-founder of Protoprint, an MIT IDEAS challenge-winning social enterprise that aims to empower waste pickers in India by making 3D printer filament out of collected waste plastic.
The next Research to Policy Engagement Initiative discussion is planned for Friday, Dec. 6. Details on the initiative can be found on the TPP website.