As technological innovation transforms economies and societies, policymakers often lack the specialized knowledge to objectively analyze and respond to fast-moving issues and circumstances—particularly when the innovation disrupts incumbents or sparks fears and there is organized pressure limit progress or change. What should policymakers do to capitalize on new opportunities, overcome challenges, and avoid potential pitfalls? The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) exists to provide answers and point the way forward.
Founded in 2006, ITIF is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute—a think tank. Its mission is to formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress. ITIF’s goal is to provide policymakers around the world with high-quality information, analysis, and actionable recommendations they can trust. To that end, ITIF adheres to a high standard of research integrity with an internal code of ethics grounded in analytical rigor, original thinking, policy pragmatism, and independence from external direction.
Issue Focus and Policy Engagement
ITIF focuses on a host of critical issues at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy—including economic issues related to innovation, productivity, and competitiveness; technology issues in the areas of information technology and data, broadband telecommunications, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, agricultural biotechnology, and clean energy; and overarching policy tools related to public investment, regulation, taxes, and trade.
We engage in policy debates directly and indirectly by presenting policymakers and influencers with compelling data, analysis, arguments, and proposals to advance effective innovation policies and oppose counterproductive ones. Ongoing research programs and educational activities include:
- Setting the policy agenda on technology, innovation, and global competition issues by producing original research reports and analytical commentary;
- Shaping public debate by hosting events, giving speeches and presentations, providing official testimony, publishing op-eds, and serving as expert issue analysts in the news media; and
- Advising policymakers through direct interaction in Washington, D.C., and other state, national, and regional capitals around the world—as ITIF analysts in recent years have traveled to engage in policymaking forums in more than three dozen cities across five continents.
On the strength and influence of this work, the University of Pennsylvania has recognized ITIF as the think tank that has set the global standard for excellence science and technology policy think tank in the world, and as one of the top 40 U.S. think tanks overall.
Goals and Values
To paraphrase Marx, ITIF’s goal is not understand the world, but to change it—or, more precisely, to change public policy in ways that advance the progress of technological innovation. In pursuing that goal, we do not hew to a fixed set of ideas—in fact, we adamantly reject groupthink and idea tribalism. ITIF strives instead for objective and rational analysis that is guided by critical thinking a set of core values. We are open to, and indeed seek out, persuasive new information that challenges our point of view, but these goals and values determine the issues we prioritize and the analytical frameworks we use to evaluate policy questions, reach conclusions, and provide recommendations, as follows:
We seek to advance innovation. We believe innovation can almost always be a force for good. It is the major driver of human advancement and the essential means for improving societal welfare. A robust rate of innovation makes it possible to achieve many other goals—including increases in median per-capita income, improved health, transportation mobility, and a cleaner environment.
We believe economic and technology policy should focus first and foremost on significantly increasing per-capita income growth. While some policies that increase inclusiveness and opportunity can also spur innovation and should be supported, some that prioritize a fairer distribution of the fruits of innovation over innovation itself risk limiting growth to such an extent that most people are worse off than they would be otherwise.
We are champions for the public good. We believe that societal welfare is defined by more than the aggregation of narrowly defined individual rights and that policies that privilege individual self-interest and rights over the broader public interest and civic duties are often short-sighted and harmful.
We believe disruptive innovation almost always leads to economic and social progress. While we recognize that innovation often involves a process of “creative destruction,” which can threaten the established order among companies, industries, and occupations, we believe that the role of government is not to protect competitors of any type or size from change; if anything, it is to accelerate innovation. But at the same time, governments should help communities and individuals dislocated by technological advancement adapt and make successful transitions.
We have a considered faith in markets and businesses of all sizes. ITIF believes innovation is usually maximized when for-profit businesses, including large corporations, are allowed to compete with relatively few restrictions. At the same time, we believe that the process of innovation is complex. Doctrinaire approaches to policy can be politically appealing—whether they romanticize free markets and limited government on one hand, or anti-corporate populism on the other—but applying those orthodoxies is a recipe for underperforming in 21st-century innovation industries, a grouping that grows larger all the time. Maximizing innovation requires limited, but smart state action to support organizations, including for-profit businesses, while ensuring that policies are neutral regarding firm size. This includes supporting key innovation inputs (e.g., research and skills), adopting innovation in government enterprises, driving innovation in key industries of the future, and speeding the transformation of industry and technology ecosystems.
We believe in deftly tailoring laws and regulations to achieve their intended purposes in a rapidly evolving economy. While we seek to maximize innovation, it should not come at the expense of other goals and values. Just because a product or service is delivered on a new digital platform should not mean that longstanding intellectual property concerns go by the wayside. And just because an industry or firm operates digitally does not mean that regulatory requirements should diverge from those that apply to others providing similar products or services. But regulatory parity does not have to mean the exact same regulation for everyone; rather, it should mean affording the same level of protection, often through different means. Policymakers should ensure that regulatory interventions impose the least-possible costs and impediments to innovation—and be applied in a size-neutral way—while still achieving reasonable public interest goals.
We believe in deeper global integration. ITIF believes that expanded trade and cross-border investment are key drivers of increased global innovation, but only when nations allow trade and investment decisions to be made on the basis of voluntary, competitively determined business considerations. Government policies undermine global innovation and prosperity when they limit imports and investment, force foreign investment or technology transfer as a condition of market access, discriminate against foreign firms, or weaken intellectual property protection. And government actions to fight such practices, far from being “protectionist,” are in fact supporting global free trade.
We are international in our outlook. While ITIF is based in Washington, DC, our mission is to advance innovation globally. We help and support policymakers around the world to advance policies that spur innovation in their own economies while we oppose policies that seek to advance unfair, “innovation mercantilist,” zero-sum, or negative outcomes.
ITIF is led by its president and founder, Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, an internationally recognized policy scholar and widely published author whom The New Republic has named one of the “three most important thinkers about innovation,” Washingtonian Magazine has called a “Tech Titan,” and Government Technology Magazine has judged to be one of the 25 top “Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of Information Technology.” ITIF’s team of policy analysts and fellows includes recognized experts in a wide range of issues related to technology and innovation policy.
ITIF is home to the highly regarded Center for Data Innovation, which develops and promotes policy ideas to capitalize on the tremendous economic and social benefits that data-driven innovation can offer; the Center for Clean Energy Innovation, which seeks to accelerate the transition of the domestic and global energy systems to low-carbon resources; and the Schumpeter Project on Competition Policy for the Innovation Economy, which advances dynamic competition policy that elevates innovation to be a central concern for antitrust enforcement. ITIF also launched—and spearheads—the Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance, an international network of more than 30 think tanks that conduct evidence-based research into policies that can foster greater trade liberalization, curb “innovation mercantilism,” and encourage governments to play proactive roles in spurring innovation and productivity.
The common thread that runs through all of ITIF’s work is that public policy should almost always err on the side of spurring innovation instead of limiting or constraining it—and the conventional policy agendas of both the left and right are often ill-suited to the challenges and opportunities of today’s economy. ITIF believes that effective innovation policy requires policy innovation, which stems from disruptive new thinking that actively pushes back on stale thinking and faulty ideas.
The need for an expert resource such as ITIF is evidenced by the substantial impact it has in shaping tangible policy outcomes. In the last few years alone:
- The Endless Frontier Act (incorporated into the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act) adopts a regional innovation nubs program based on one ITIF proposal and establishes a foundation for energy security and innovation based on another ITIF proposal.
- President Biden’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 would create an Office of Clean Energy Demonstration, mirroring an ITIF proposal.
- President Biden’s executive order to ensure a data-driven response to COVID-19 and future high-consequence public health threats echoed ITIF’s call to establish a pandemic data task force to identify key gaps in national data infrastructure that could undermine future responses, such as a lack of standards between state IT systems.
- President Trump’s executive order ending reliance on academic degrees as qualifications for federal jobs, as ITIF recommended in a report on why it is time to disrupt higher education by separating learning from credentialing.
- The OPEN Government Data Act, signed by President Trump in 2019, reflected the Center for Data Innovation’s call for comprehensive legislation to define the publication of open data as a permanent responsibility of the U.S. government.
- President Trump issued an executive order on artificial intelligence (AI), reflecting the Center’s advocacy for more federal action to support the U.S. AI industry.
- The Connected Government Act, signed into law by President Trump, addressed ITIF’s call to make government websites more mobile friendly, as described in its report, “Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites.”
- The Trump administration revoked India’s and Turkey’s duty-free access to U.S. markets under the Generalized System of Preferences, reflecting an ITIF recommendation for countering innovation mercantilism in developing countries.
- The Consumer Review Fairness Act, signed by President Obama, protected consumers’ right to post critical product reviews online by outlawing frivolous “gag clauses.” ITIF was a leading proponent and testified in the U.S. Senate in support of the legislation.
- The Manufacturing Universities program, included in the 2016 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, with funding to pilot new approaches to engineering education, reflected ITIF recommendations and advocacy.
- The Revitalizing American Manufacturing Innovation Act, passed in the 2014 omnibus U.S. budget, stemmed from ITIF’s recommendations and advocacy.
- ITIF reports and advocacy efforts helped inspire the creation of the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Technology Transition, along with a technology commercialization fund.
- The High Court of New Delhi, India, relied heavily on ITIF research when it issued a judgment that created a new mechanism for rights holders to block access to websites involved in large-scale piracy.
- Governments from Singapore to Sweden have developed national innovation strategies based in significant part on a framework ITIF developed and promoted in its book Innovation Economics.
- Several U.S. states, including Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, also have developed innovation policies based on ITIF proposals.
“ITIF is able to play an important role in developing policy because they work on creative solutions to break through partisan gridlock. We can’t move our country forward unless we work together.”
— U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
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“Innovation and technology aren’t just the lifeblood of today’s economy, but tomorrow’s economy as well. They are the engine that will drive our nation and the world for generations to come. I commend ITIF’s commitment to those core principles.”
— Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
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“ITIF has been a leader in advocating for policies that will help jumpstart research and development, promote new investment, and encourage innovation. I appreciate ITIF’s role as a national advocate on behalf of our country’s future economic security.”
— U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
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“Technology issues increasingly are at the heart of our most consequential policy debates. ITIF provides the invaluable service of breaking through the confusion to give policymakers high-quality information, analysis, and recommendations we can trust to foster the kind of innovation that will drive economic growth and social progress.”
— U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
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“The information technology revolution remains the key driver of prosperity growth. I am pleased that ITIF has been launched to help develop the kinds of ideas and policy proposals that will ensure America remains the global technology leader.”
— U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
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“In an environment that continually generates new questions and challenges for technology policymakers, ITIF provides needed in-depth, objective analysis and thoughtful recommendations.”
— Michael Kratsios, Head of Strategy, Scale AI, and Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer
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“You can always count on ITIF for rigorous analysis of complicated questions. Its conclusions are sensible and sound, because they’re based on hard evidence.”
— Aneesh Chopra, Co-Founder, Hunch Analytics, and Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer