Tech Policy Starter Guide
What I've learnt so far from the Cambridge master's programme and several excellent people
So, you're interested in tech policy? Perhaps you work in tech, government, consulting, investment, or you're just interested in what I (somewhat biasedly) believe to be one of the most pressing and fascinating set of problems to solve over the coming decades.
The objective of this post is to share the approach taken by Cambridge University when teaching the MPhil in tech policy (which I am currently on), some of the key content taught, and highlight the people who have shaped my thinking recently. I have summarised the first term of the course and condensed my notes from the two foundational modules which covered the basics of policy models and how to understand them using economics. The notes can be found here and hopefully make the content considered core when teaching tech policy more accessible.
So far, the course has contextualised ideas I had previously learnt from current figures and their work such as Mariana Mazzucato's The Entrepreneurial State and Mission Economy, Azeem Azhar's Exponential or the UK’s approach to ARIA (Advanced Research and Invention Agency). The historical roots are demonstrated excellently in what seem to be canonical 20th century works of Schumpeter , Vannevar Bush and Donald Stokes.
Perhaps predictably, a key realisation from the course is the complexity of defining tech policy issues and then implementing them. This initially led to mild despair but was followed by focussing in on the specific areas in which I can provide value and that seem likely to fulfil me.
My Focus and Motivations
I have started by exploring what is required to create an ecosystem that facilitates founders to incorporate responsible and 'public purpose' values into early stage tech companies. StateUp have brought together some excellent people to write about this (with VC's role as a recurring theme). It is still early days for this area but the possibilities for work or research are fascinating. So far the themes which interest me most are:
collecting data on what founders find difficult about realising these ideas
defining common successful approaches and then sharing this with founders (either as a general resource or specific advice)
continuing to develop rigorous definitions of responsible and public purpose tech which can be used for further academic research
To give additional context, my underlying motivations have remained constant since I wrote my last post but have become more refined. Broadly, I am driven by the inequality in both experience of tech (ratio of benefit/detriment effect of tech usage) and the wealth generated by it (if concentration of wealth continues how can it be acknowledged by the state such that those with increased wealth and power work towards public goals).
One of the great aspects of the past year and my increasing focus on this area is how many fascinating, insightful, and generous people there are working on a diverse set of problems. I have been fortunate to be able to develop ideas with some excellent individuals who have shaped my thinking and I would recommend following if you like what I've discussed and want some more (higher quality) content. So here is a list of people shaping and discussing tech policy who I want to thank and urge you to check out:
Tanya Filer at StateUp (Substack here): developing Public Purpose Tech (PPT) - technology that addresses big public needs, and the public policies, organisations, cultures, investments and business models around it and bridging the gap between policy & digital tech.
Matt Clifford at Entrepreneur First (and his truly excellent newsletter and podcast): co-founder and CEO of EF, incredible ability to bring clarity in complex situations with deeply interesting and often unexpected newsletter topics
Sarah Drinkwater and Emma Leiken at (or previously at) Omidyar Network: a pair of some of the most thoughtful and driven people I have come across in this space. The ethical explorer is a must for founders or execs of tech companies.
Wil Benton at Metta: "Facilitating transformative innovation as a force for good with startups, industry, governments". Really holistic approach and a great example of the impact which can be achieved with consideration and ambition as drivers.
Chris Marquis at Cambridge Business School: new professor and author of 'Better Business' - a book on the implications of B Corps (which is part of the reading for the course and I must admit am only just starting to read).
And finally, thank you for reading this post of course! I am always open to your thoughts, feedback, and introductions so please do not hesitate to reach out.
If you have really liked what you have read and want to continue supporting a student (me) to produce this material, I am very grateful for any subscriptions and coffees (or alternative) you want to buy me here.