Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law Program on Liberation Technology Stanford University


Photo credit: Left image: Neil Patel


About the Program on Liberation Technology

The Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law seeks to understand how information technology can be used to improve governance, empower the poor, defend human rights, promote economic development, and pursue a variety of other social goods.

The past few years have seen explosive growth in the use of information technology to defend human rights, improve governance, fight corruption, deter electoral fraud, expose government wrongdoing, empower the poor, promote economic development, protect the environment, educate consumers, improve public health, and pursue a variety of other social goods. Lying at the intersection of social science, computer science, and engineering, CDDRL's Program on Liberation Technology seeks to understand how - and to what extent - various information technologies and their applications - including mobile phones, text messaging (SMS), the Internet, blogging, GPS, and other forms of digital technology - are enabling citizens to advance freedom, development, social justice, and the rule of law. The program examines technical, legal, political, and social obstacles to the wider and more effective use of these technologies, and how these obstacles can be overcome. And it will evaluate - through experiment and other empirical methods -  which technologies and applications are having the greatest success, how those successes can be replicated, and how less successful technologies and applications can be improved to deliver real economic, social and political benefit. 

Launched in 2009, the Program on Liberation Technology spent its initial years focused on the use of technology by democratic movements and its abuse by authoritarian regimes resulting in a conference (Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes) and a series of publications examining this topic. Since then the program's focus has shifted towards examining how technology could be used to promote accountability and enable citizens to fight corruption. Initiatives under this subject include a large research project in India on Combating Corruption with Mobile Phones and a series of conferences on this topic area planned in India in January 2014.

Together with in-house research, the program is also involved in teaching activities at Stanford to highlight the growing field of liberation technology to both the undergraduate and graduate communities. The Liberation Technology Seminar Series is offered during the fall and winter quarter at Stanford, which feature leading scholars and practitioners of these technologies who report on what they are learning and doing. Stanford students can take these seminars for 1-unit of credit. The seminars are also available online to a broader community and form the single largest collection of talks in the public domain in this topic area.

A course entitled "Designing Liberation Technologies" is taught at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “d. school”) during the spring quarter by Joshua Cohen and Terry Winograd. Graduate students across a range of disciplines - including computer science, engineering and the social sciences - work in interdisciplinary teams to design new ICT applications for development. The instructors partner with academics at the University of Nairobi's School of Computing and Informatics and local community organizations to propose real solutions to issues confronting residents in the urban slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Student projects may integrate technology solutions to address outstanding challenges on the ground to improve human development outcomes. Select projects have scaled-up into tangible projects through the support of small grants and instructor support.  

The Program actively employs social media tools to disseminate information related to the field of liberation technology and broadening our base of followers. A Twitter account (@Liberationtech) with upwards of 25,000 followers has become a reliable source of information, news and resources on issues related to the field of liberation technology. An active mailing list is also used to disseminate news and host interactive conversation.

Updated: Nov. 2013