Digital fundamentals

How might we teach digital fundamentals to people working in—or with—public institutions?

This question led our team at Georgetown University to create a new course that examines the nexus of policy and technology from a technical and operational perspective, starting with a basic understanding of a digital product from top to bottom, and moving to how best-in-class digital products are designed and delivered. It goes beyond abstractions and theory, and focuses on concrete and practical knowledge that is immediately useful in people's day-to-day work.

We believe this content is especially critical to current government employees, and those who work with them, and we want to accelerate the distribution of this content. That's why we are sharing the course outline with you.

Like it? Great! Take it and run with it! Please just give us attribution under the Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 standard.

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so what is this...?

It's the outline of a curriculum for teaching the fundamentals of digital technology to people who may not identify as technical. At its core, it seeks to answer the question(s):

what is a digital thing + how does it come to be?

(& how/why is it different in government?)

The course was designed to be both modular and elastic, so it could be used by different instructors, in different contexts, for different lengths of timeit could be delivered in a weekend seminar, as a full semester course, or as a full degree program.

What is it NOT? It is not about social media, marketing, or the often C-suite oriented view of "digital transformation." It is explicitly focused on understanding the nuts and bolts of what digital technology is, how it is designed and delivered, and what it looks like in government.

WHY is this important?

As COVID sent the world into “lockdown” and unemployment rates sky-rocketed, websites for unemployment benefits in the United States crashed. As the public became eager for the vaccine, distribution efforts in several countries faltered due to poorly designed and implemented technology. Never has it been more clear that policy goals—even the least technical—depend on technology to accomplish their intended outcomes.

People working in and with public institutions of all kinds need to understand the fundamentals of the digital ecosystem, to (1) navigate the rapidly evolving environment more effectively, and (2) be good partners to technologists working in/with government.

Who is this [site] FOR?

Anyone seeking to teach the fundamentals of digital technology to people who may not identify as technical. This includes both (1) institutions that teach students (for-credit programs), and (2) those that are focused on continuous learning for working professionals.

Who is this [course] FOR?

While we believe that the building blocks presented in this course are universally relevant, and they could benefit anyone—from policymakers and entrepreneurs to artists and educators—Digital Fundamentals for Public Impact is particularly relevant to people working in the public sphere, or on issues that relate to/depend on the government. This might include people working in:

  • Government at any level

  • Multilateral/national organizations

  • Advocacy organizations

  • Companies and organizations working with public institutions

Where did the course come from?

Georgetown University's Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and the McCourt School for Public Policy teamed up to offer a new kind of course—one that could be flexible and useful to both students on campus and to working professionals in the field.

Emily Tavoulareas led the effort and brought together a group of exemplary practitioners to co-design and co-deliver the course. This group of instructors was a critical feature of the course, as it was entirely driven by people who have direct and current hands-on-keyboard experience with technology across sectors, and have experienced first-hand what it takes to "transform" or "modernize" government technology.


"This was a transformative experience for me."

"I’ve been in a lot of bad classes… there really wasn’t a moment wasted in this one. I think it is really unique—what you’ve created is really unique."

"[This class] decontextualized a lot of what I already knew how to do."

"This has been a crash course in where my blindspots might be."