design justice // tech policy

matthew sun • interface, 11/8

smol note on positionality

  • grad student in CS at princeton
  • gradually have moved away from tech-centric models of innovating away social ills
  • in general, attempting to soak up knowledge from different disciplines in order to make non-reformist reforms
  • feedback welcome!


  • what is design justice?
  • what problem is design justice solving?
  • who is the audience for design justice?
  • who should be a part of the audience for design justice?
  • paths forward?

intersectional design framework

"techlash"-type issues



building collective power

design justice primer

Design justice is a framework for analysis of how design distributes benefits and burdens between various groups of people.

Design justice focuses explicitly on the ways that design reproduces and/or challenges the matrix of domination (white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, settler colonialism, and other forms of structural inequality). Design justice is also a growing community of practice that aims to ensure a more equitable distribution of design’s benefits and burdens; meaningful participation in design decisions; and recognition of community- based, Indigenous, and diasporic design traditions, knowledge, and practices.

- Sasha Constanza-Chock, Design Justice: Introduction

examples of design justice

  • Going beyond "we need more diversity in the tech industry"
  • Critiquing the "unmarked user"
  • Meaningful inclusion
  • Inspiration from disability justice

📣 who is the intended audience?

  • From my (limited) view of Twitter, the audience mostly seems to have been academics and professional Silicon Valley developers/designers
  • Invitations to read & implement design justice principles have been targeted towards companies, design firms
  • however, many scholars/pundits increasingly see governmental & regulatory action as the site where intervention must occur
    • ​(putting aside tech worker organizing for now)

who should be the intended audience?

  • Policymakers are designers
    • design means to make a mark, make a plan, or problem-solve; all human beings thus participate in design” (Constanza-Chock) 
    • In particular, think tanks, policy teams, "wonks"


what even is policy 🤔

  • vibes from majoring in public policy in undergrad
  • impressions on professional day-to-day
  • Upcoming book: "Thinking like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy"
    • Documents how the 1960's marked a shift towards "economic thinking" in public policy
    • Example: people of color organized in the 1980s to call for environmental justice, but when the EPA responded, it only could do so by turning demands into racial justice into an economic calculation of "relative risk burden borne by low-income and minority communities"

🔗 parallels between tech & policy culture



  • Computer science
  • Merit defined by semi-arbitrary coding tests, school
  • Emphasis on rationality, "objectivity," optimization
  • Individual expertise (founders, "rockstar" engineers)
  • Techno-optimist, techno-utopianist
  • Economics
  • Access defined by school, class privilege
  • 1960's: shift towards "economic reasoning", efficiency
  • Rationalist, positivist approach in evidence-based policymaking
  • Individual expertise (wonks, whiz kids)
  • Leans technocratic

🚏 now is a critical juncture!

  • Policymakers want more folks with tech expertise
    • blog post from RAND Corporation in 2016: "How the 'Wonks' of Public Policy and the 'Geeks' of Tech Can Get Together"
  • Many former tech executives are considered leading voices on how to fix Facebook/Google/etc
    • See "The Prodigal Techbro" by Maria Farrell
    • Examples
      • Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology
      • Roger McNamee, early FB investor (testified to US Congress)
      • Ross Lajeunesse (ran to become the senator of Maine)
      • Frances Haugen, other whistleblowers
    • ​If you look into their recommendations, you'll get the sense these are not going to solve the core problems with information capitalism
      • ​Ex: Harris suggests a "Let's Meet" button to replace the "Comment" button

🤔 so what is there to do?

  • If you want to go into policy, you should still read Design Justice!
  • Engage in local community organizing
  • Leverage your credentials + experience to enter positions of power, and then ensure under-represented voices are ​centered in policy conversations
  • Adopt a critical lens towards whether problems purportedly about technology are really about underlying problems with the existing social, political, or cultural order
    • ​Helps to reorient towards non-reformist reforms
  • ​Engage with policy orgs that have a history of uplifting marginalized voices​
    • Ex.: Algorithmic Justice League, AI Now, Data & Society, Mijente, Design Justice Network, The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, etc.

📚 resources & readings

  • Join Reboot! ⚡
  • Design Justice, Sasha Constanza-Chock
  • The Prodigal Tech Bro, Maria Farrell
  • From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner
  • Thinking Like An Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy, Elizabeth Popp-Berman (Forthcoming)
  • Power Without Knowledge: A Critique of Technocracy (Jeffrey Friedman)
  • Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise, Frank Fischer
  • "Can we trust the people who got us hooked on the internet to save us from it?", Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell
  • Abolish Silicon Valley, Wendy Liu
  • "Why Politics is More Fundamental Than Economics: Incentive-Compatible Mechanisms Are Not Credible," Gary Miller and Thomas Hammond
  • "Law, Liberation, and Causal Inference", Lily Hu
  • "The Technological Politics of Mechanism Design," Zoe Hitzig, Lily Hu, and Salome Viljoen
  • "Reinventing the Policy Sciences: Three Steps Back to the Future", Peter deLeon
  • "Toward inclusive tech policy design: a method for underrepresented voices to strengthen tech policy documents," Meg Young, Lassana Magassa, Batya Friedman

design justice & tech policy

By Matthew Sun

design justice & tech policy

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