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Data 4 All

Data Advocacy: Policy, Advocacy, and Education with Alex Curtis

Tue Feb 13 2024
data advocacytech policytechnology legislationtech educationdata privacyinnovation


The podcast episode explores data advocacy, tech policy, and the importance of understanding the impacts of technology legislation. It covers topics such as local tech policy advocacy, building relationships with policymakers, advocating for tech education, and the challenges of data privacy legislation. The episode emphasizes the need for collaboration, innovation, and education to create a better future in the tech industry.


Tech Policy Advocacy

Advocacy efforts are crucial in shaping tech policy and ensuring fair access to technology and innovation.

Importance of Tech Education

Tech education plays a vital role in preparing individuals for careers in emerging technologies and improving overall quality of life.

Data Privacy Challenges

Data privacy legislation presents challenges for businesses, but incremental changes and collaboration can lead to better policies and protection for consumers.

Innovation and Tech Awareness

Inspiring innovation and increasing tech awareness are essential for creating a better future and fostering economic growth.


  1. Data Advocacy and Tech Policy
  2. Tech Policy and Advocacy Journey
  3. Local Tech Policy Advocacy
  4. Advocacy Committee and Events
  5. Advocacy in Washington DC
  6. Building Relationships and Understanding
  7. Advocacy at the Local Level
  8. Tech Education and Workforce Development
  9. Advocating for Tech Education
  10. Innovation, Education, and Tech Careers
  11. Tech Policy and Legislation
  12. Data Privacy and Future Advocacy
  13. Tech Policy and Data Privacy
  14. Innovation, Education, and Tech Awareness

Data Advocacy and Tech Policy

00:02 - 07:30

  • The podcast episode is about data advocacy, specifically focusing on how tech, data, and AI are perceived and managed by the government and community.
  • Alex Curtis, an expert on data advocacy from the National Technology Council, is a guest on the podcast.
  • Alex shares his story of starting to work on tech policy at a young age as an intern on Capitol Hill.
  • During his internship, Alex had the opportunity to serve constituents and also worked on creating the Senator's first website using HTML.
  • He was involved in tech policy discussions during significant events like the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the rise of Napster.
  • Alex explains how he helped senators and policymakers understand the impacts of technology legislation and why it's important to have a deep understanding of what they are writing about.

Tech Policy and Advocacy Journey

07:01 - 14:19

  • The speaker discusses their experience working on tech policy during the early days of the iPhone and app development.
  • They mention being part of a generation that straddles both pre-technology and technology eras.
  • The conversation shifts to current discussions around data and AI, which resemble those from the early 2000s.
  • The speaker shares their background, growing up in Ohio, attending college in North Carolina, and law school in Akron.
  • They worked on Capitol Hill for a public interest group focused on tech policy, advocating for consumers, creators, and startups.
  • The importance of tech policy is highlighted by the example of YouTube's existence due to laws enabling user-generated content and easy access to a growing audience.
  • The speaker emphasizes the fight for open innovation and fair internet access.
  • Personal anecdotes are shared about watching sports games together and moving to Nashville for new opportunities.
  • In Nashville, they worked on a project helping creatives leverage technology platforms to find audiences and understand why policy matters to them.
  • Working with musicians helped them become advocates who could explain how certain laws made it easier for them to find an audience and do business.

Local Tech Policy Advocacy

13:50 - 21:21

  • Taking people from Nashville to advocate for themselves and impact copyright laws
  • The internet has changed opportunities for many people, but existing gatekeepers resist change
  • Mechanical licenses are outdated but still used in the music industry
  • The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) helps manage rights and payments for artists
  • Technology has greatly impacted music creation and content distribution
  • The National Technology Council saw a need for tech policy discussions locally
  • The organization lacked a policy focus, which was a missed opportunity
  • State policy issues were prioritized over federal policy issues
  • Building an advocacy committee required education and methodical planning
  • Events were organized to educate members about different tech policy issues.

Advocacy Committee and Events

20:55 - 27:44

  • The organization initially focused on education and hosting events to educate members about different issues.
  • They invited policy makers to these events to associate themselves with policy work.
  • By analyzing the attendees of each event, they identified people who cared about specific policy topics.
  • They used this information to send targeted messages and invitations to those individuals.
  • They started an advocacy committee at the NTC and held events to bring policy makers together.
  • Their main issue was workforce development in the tech industry.
  • The speaker got involved with the NTC in 2015 after working on a mayoral campaign.
  • Advocacy took time to gain traction as the tech scene was primarily focused on healthcare tech initially.
  • Data storytelling played a role in getting people interested in advocacy by connecting their interests with policy issues.
  • They started doing roadshows and hill days, eventually expanding their advocacy efforts to DC.
  • Over time, they gained recognition and influence through their advocacy work.

Advocacy in Washington DC

27:14 - 34:06

  • The speaker discusses their involvement in advocacy and going to DC with a National Association of Tech Councils called Techna.
  • They explain how they wanted to change the focus from being advocates for the tech industry to helping local members advocate for themselves.
  • The speaker shares their experience of bringing experts to the hill and providing education on how to have meetings and follow up.
  • They emphasize the importance of bringing the actual people doing the work as advocates, as they have more credibility and understanding of the nuances.
  • The program evolved from a quick fly-in to adding time for education and context about living and working in DC.
  • The speaker mentions that 15 people went on the trip last year, but there were only four after COVID hit.
  • They highlight the impact of having a diverse group representing different companies during meetings with senators, which leads to closer attention and potential visits to their facilities.
  • The speaker expresses appreciation for staffers in DC who actually run things and mentions ongoing collaborations resulting from previous meetings.
  • They enjoy listening and helping people tell their stories during these meetings, emphasizing the value of being prepared but authentic.

Building Relationships and Understanding

33:36 - 40:41

  • Building relationships and understanding with policymakers is crucial for effective advocacy.
  • Listening to policymakers helps identify gaps in their understanding and allows for clarification or further explanation.
  • Advocacy at the federal level focuses on building understanding and relationships rather than advocating for specific policies.
  • The National Technology Council has become a model for other tech councils by establishing itself as a resource for policymakers.
  • Educating legislators about AI and technology issues is important before rushing into writing legislation.
  • Local legislators may approach organizations like the National Technology Council for input on AI legislation, providing an opportunity to share expertise and advocate for responsible policies.
  • It is important to be cautious when making decisions about qualifying AI legally, as there is still much uncertainty about its potential harm or benefits.
  • Different levels of government (federal, state, local) have different areas of jurisdiction and require different approaches in advocacy efforts.
  • At the local level, advocacy may involve discussions about broadband deployment and competition among internet service providers (ISPs).
  • Advocacy at the local level requires representing industry interests while managing conflicts among members with differing viewpoints.

Advocacy at the Local Level

40:18 - 47:13

  • Running an association involves managing conflicts arising from different viewpoints and interests.
  • Working with a large city council that resembles a legislature requires effective communication and advocacy for industry interests.
  • Engaging in local meetings and advocating for competition can have a positive impact on the cost of broadband.
  • Access to basic and high-speed broadband is crucial for participation in commerce, education, and job opportunities.
  • The legal status of internet as a right is a point of contention, but public broadband initiatives face opposition.
  • Dealing with opposition involves finding allies who care about the issue and helping them become better advocates.
  • The goal of increasing tech awareness and jobs necessitates improving tech availability for everyone in the community.
  • Approaching the issue of internet access requires considering various models, including capitalist approaches or city-led initiatives.
  • Decisions on whether to advocate for something depend on the specific issue at hand.
  • Tech education is generally less contentious, making it easier to garner support, although convincing stakeholders about funding may still be necessary.

Tech Education and Workforce Development

46:57 - 53:40

  • Tech education is important and requires finding passionate advocates across the state.
  • Regional organizations, like the one mentioned, play a role in advocating for tech education.
  • Collaboration with national groups, such as, can be beneficial in promoting computer science education.
  • The podcast discusses a specific initiative involving Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and other areas of Tennessee to improve education.
  • Workforce development organizations focus on growing local industries and providing opportunities for residents.
  • Data is crucial in understanding job market trends and identifying skills needed for employment.
  • Comparative data shows that more needs to be done in terms of talent development in the region.
  • Relying solely on transplants is not sustainable; local talent needs to be cultivated.
  • Increasing student enrollment in IT classes is essential for producing more graduates in the field.
  • Students may perceive tech as intimidating or scary, especially if they are from underrepresented groups.
  • Gender and racial disparities exist within the tech industry and need to be addressed.
  • Teachers also face challenges in teaching tech-related subjects due to qualifications and professional development limitations.

Advocating for Tech Education

53:12 - 1:00:05

  • Many individuals and organizations across the state are advocating for increased access to technology education and professional development for teachers.
  • The lack of resources and vocational status of computer science education in Tennessee schools has hindered students' ability to pursue tech careers.
  • Advocacy efforts extend beyond passing laws, with a focus on educating people about the importance of tech and providing opportunities outside of school, such as summer camps and field trips.
  • Exposing students to real-world tech environments is crucial for them to understand the potential career paths available to them.
  • It is important to show students that there are various roles within the tech industry beyond coding, and that these jobs offer higher salaries and better opportunities for advancement.
  • Increasing access to tech jobs can have a positive impact on housing affordability, education, and overall quality of life by providing individuals with more resources.
  • Exposing students to innovation and new technologies can inspire them to pursue careers in tech.

Innovation, Education, and Tech Careers

59:40 - 1:06:54

  • Innovation is important because it inspires and motivates people, especially children, to pursue careers and break cycles.
  • Advocacy involves more than just speaking out; it can also involve creating programs and courses that change people's lives.
  • Organizations like the Nashville Technology Council work on the hard work of helping individuals find education and job opportunities in the tech industry.
  • There is a need to change traditional ways of hiring and recognize new ways that people can enter the workforce, including non-traditional methods like learning from YouTube.
  • Education plays a crucial role in preparing individuals for jobs in emerging technologies like AI.
  • The implementation of computer science education as a requirement in schools has been advocated for over four years, with funding allocated for teacher training and curriculum development.
  • Starting from the graduating class of 2028, computer science will be fully guaranteed as part of their education.
  • The introduction of computer science education requires changes in teaching methods and vocabulary used to introduce technology concepts at an early age.
  • Industry collaboration is necessary to ensure that educational specifications align with industry needs.

Tech Policy and Legislation

1:06:24 - 1:13:17

  • The transcript discusses the successful passing of a bill and the subsequent work of bringing industry and education together to review proposed specifications.
  • Industry members had a rare opportunity to impact K through 12 education.
  • Advocacy takes time, trust, and important relationships.
  • Companies in Nashville played a role in advocating for high school and middle school education.
  • The governor introduced a requirement for every high school, which was unexpected.
  • Advocacy goes beyond passing bills; it involves introducing higher education to companies and helping them get the talent they need.
  • Future advocacy topics may become more contentious and challenging.
  • Data privacy legislation was passed, with concerns about compliance costs for companies.
  • The argument was made that data privacy is important considering how habits changed during COVID, especially for small businesses using online ordering systems.
  • Some businesses may be caught unawares by data privacy laws, creating barriers to doing business in a state.

Data Privacy and Future Advocacy

1:12:51 - 1:19:48

  • Passing computer science legislation is important to make the area a better place and encourage entrepreneurship.
  • Policymakers may not fully understand the impact of passing certain legislation on big businesses, while smaller businesses may not have considered the implications.
  • New legislation has been introduced to protect music rights and artists' voices, raising questions about creating new legal rights and addressing ethical concerns related to AI.
  • Government focus should be on intellectual property and copyright infringement in relation to AI technology.
  • There have been successful efforts to prevent the passage of bills that could harm companies and individuals.
  • GDPR has not been a significant burden for tech companies, but there is a need for federal rules on data privacy to avoid a patchwork of state laws.
  • The current political gridlock in Congress makes it difficult to pass federal legislation on data privacy, leading states to take action independently.
  • Tennessee was one of the first states to enact data privacy laws, with more states following suit.
  • The enacted data privacy law in Tennessee provides breathing room for companies to develop their policies and gives Congress time for national action.

Tech Policy and Data Privacy

1:19:40 - 1:26:40

  • Implementation of certain technologies has led to fewer businesses being worried about compliance.
  • Big companies that implement these technologies can serve as examples for smaller businesses.
  • Service providers may offer solutions that help small businesses comply with regulations regardless of their location, potentially lowering costs.
  • Incremental changes and collaboration can lead to better policies and protection for consumers.
  • The language of voice legislation focuses more on creating new rights in photos, videos, and audio rather than AI.
  • The legislation aims to protect personal identity and prevent misuse of personal images or identities.
  • The conversation around obtaining permission before taking pictures is important, especially in public spaces or events where multiple people are present in the background.
  • Personal courtesy is currently the norm, but fines and processes may be introduced in the future to enforce image rights.
  • Future discussions may involve GDPR-like regulations for personal use and state copyright in personas.
  • Education and reskilling will be emphasized in programming over the next year to help individuals level up their careers and understanding of various topics.
  • Increasing innovation awareness and excitement among people is a goal, including showcasing AI capabilities but also inspiring wonder beyond just AI.

Innovation, Education, and Tech Awareness

1:26:19 - 1:29:25

  • There is a need for more discussion and excitement about innovation in the state and region.
  • Inspiring people rather than making them fearful of the unknown future is important.
  • Education about AI is crucial as many tech professionals admit to not knowing much about it.
  • The creation of spaces for learning and community building is commendable.
  • Nashville is seen as a model city for technology, with Sandy Hoff and Alex being key contributors to its growth.
  • The example of not giving up is appreciated.
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