What does policymaking look like in the 21st century? Now in its third year, SIPA’s Tech and Policy Initiative tries to answer that question by pursuing a variety of cutting-edge activities in the areas of cybersecurity, Internet governance, digital economy, and civic tech.
Professors and scholars like Jason Healey, Laura DeNardis, Hollie Russon Gilman, Eli Noam, and Dean Merit E. Janow are helping SIPA lead a lively—and ongoing—conversation around these issues. So is Research Fellow Hugo Zylberberg, who joined SIPA in fall 2016 to coordinate the Initiative.
The Tech and Policy Initiative launched in 2014 with critical support from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Since that time, SIPA has acted as a convener, using its position at Columbia and in New York City to engage young scholars and tenure-track professors and working to bridge the gap between policymakers, business leaders, and academics. In 2016, SIPA published its first Tech and Policy Working Paper Series, aggregating the work commissioned over the initiative’s first two years. Carnegie Corporation of New York has renewed its support for the initiative for two more years, beginning in January 2017, enabling SIPA to further consolidate and institutionalize its efforts.
“We created the Tech and Policy initiative because each of the core fields we engage at SIPA is being transformed by digital technology,” said Dean Merit E. Janow. “Our students are already seizing the policy, research and entrepreneurial opportunities created by digital technology, and we believe SIPA’s research on complex geopolitical and economic challenges must include consideration of digital policy developments around the world.”
Adding another important dimension to the Initiative, SIPA has received a grant from the Nasdaq Educational Foundation to support new initiatives in entrepreneurship and public policy. The series of initiatives funded by the grant will emphasize entrepreneurship and innovation stemming from both information and communications technology (ICT) and digital technology, along with their intersection with public policy globally. Programming began in fall 2016 and will last for three years through spring 2019.
Among major events planned for the spring semester are visits by Toomas Ilves, former president of Estonia, a collaboration with Sidewalk Labs on tech and governance, and a new series of “Uptown Cyber Dialogues,” which aim to convene cyber talent across New York City around action-oriented discussions. A major conference on the geopolitical consequences of Internet fragmentation will take place at Columbia on May 5, while another planned conference will revisit the state of the field of cyber conflict.
Interest in tech and policy topics has continued to increase at SIPA and throughout Columbia’s campus. In the last two years, SIPA has added classes that deal with cyber issues and seen the formation of student clubs such as the Digital and Cyber Group at SIPA. The School has also intensified its collaboration with the law, business, engineering and journalism schools in this area.
“Ten to fifteen years ago, no one was talking about cyber conflict. Now nearly every newspaper—not just in their technology sections but on the front page—is talking about cybersecurity on a weekly basis." said Healey, a senior research scholar at SIPA. “The field is unique because it is so fast moving… We want SIPA to be a big player and positioned as an expert in this field.”
The grant also allows SIPA to bring on research fellows like Gilman, Healey and Zylberberg.
“Tech and policy isn’t just about international security. It can be just as meaningful to students studying economic governance, trade, development or human rights,” said Zylberberg. “We want to help make those connections.”
Ginger Whitesell MPA ’17 contributed to this story.