Any new technology project can cause new problems, but careful design and rollout can minimize them. If you see a proposal for a new tech system, or a new algorithmic assessment is up for public comment, there are many advocacy steps you can take. But you can also do many of these same things if you don’t see any technology yet but want to find out what’s in development, or have heard of plans for benefits technology. Asking questions and intervening when a system is being designed or during the process can be very timely and effective because it is much easier to change a system that’s not already built, and because it can prevent suffering during the transition to a new system. Tools like audits and testing can reveal problems early, and showing the projected impact of a system can be incredibly persuasive. Advocacy for how a system will be implemented and protections around how it will be used can also be very effective.
Start with these resources
Below are some resources to help you investigate new technologies and to support any proactive meetings you may have with agencies planning to devise and roll out benefits technology.
Orient your research
We’ve noticed that technology problems usually only get attention once they are already impacting people. But these systems do not come out of nowhere! Look at our Lifecycle Framework to see where you might intervene in the development of these systems. You can also read our Making Sense of Technology Problems Framework to understand how different types of technology issues happen, the development process, and what technology and implementation issues look like.
Identify the plans and systems
You may not need to know everything about a public benefits tech system to end or improve it, but you do need to identify some key issues. Public records requests using the Public Records Request Guide should help you learn what benefits may be impacted, who at the state is driving the decisions, how the state decided to adopt the technology, what impact it will have on people who receive the benefits, how it might change, and what the state is telling state or federal oversight bodies about the technology.
Ask important questions
Administrative systems and algorithmic tools can have many pitfalls, from “glitches” to discriminatory logic or data. Look at our Key Questions Guide to find questions you can use to uncover potential issues in technology an agency is considering or devising. It covers questions that will help you dig into how the technology works and how it was developed and validated. These key questions can be especially useful if you have the opportunity to give public comment or meet with an agency.
Leverage public information
It may not be clear what technology is being used or is planned for public benefits, but you can use public records and meetings to help orient yourself as to where in the lifecycle any public benefits tech is in your state. Our Public Participation Advocacy Guide provides information about how to use public participation points, like legislative public hearings or agency meetings with public comment periods, to help understand and fight against harmful public benefits tech.
Learn the issue landscape
If you’re doing further research into public benefits technology in general, look at our Reading List for a ton of external resources. This list includes academic research on algorithms and bias, policy documents, news reports, domain-specific legal tools, and other guidance from advocates concerned with access to benefits.
Advocates have used litigation to gather more information about benefits tech, prevent problems, and stop harmful cuts. The Case Study Library highlights many of these cases. If you want more information about litigation advocacy, please use our contact form.
Build awareness of these issues
Preventing new problems requires proactive advocacy and participation in whatever public processes exist. We’ve written a few guides, including the Public Participation Advocacy Guide, the Media Advocacy Guide, and the Community Building Advocacy Guide. Each type of involvement is important to build awareness around these issues.
Key Questions Guide
This guide will help you start piecing together why and how benefits tech is being used and how it is impacting people. Wherever you are in the process of looking at or fighting benefits tech, you will need to gather information to advocate effectively. You can use these questions as a roadmap to shape your advocacy goals and, ultimately, to help develop a vision for more just administration of benefits.Key Questions Guide
This framework provides strategies for resolving different types of technology problems, based on our experiences.
This guide will help you think through how you can use public records requests to help find out why the state decided to implement a benefits technology system, how they implemented it, and how they are using it.
Our Lifecycle Framework explains how we think advocacy throughout the lifecycle, not just at the end when it is causing harm during operation, can reduce the harms of public benefits technology.
This guide talks about ways that people impacted by benefits technology and advocates can use the public participation process to fight harmful benefits technology.