About ITIF: A Champion for Innovation
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 that has been recognized repeatedly as the world’s leading think tank for science and technology policy. Its supporters include corporations, charitable foundations, and individual contributors, and it has earned a 2023 Platinum Seal of Transparency with Candid.
ITIF’s 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 editorial independence.
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 in science and technology policy, and as one of the top 40 U.S. think tanks overall.
Goals and Values
ITIF advances public policies that accelerate technological innovation and opposes policies that retard it. In pursuing that mission, we do not hew to a fixed set of ideas—in fact, we adamantly reject groupthink. ITIF strives instead for objective and rational analysis that is guided by critical thinking and a set of core values. We are open to, and indeed seek out, persuasive new information that challenges our point of view, but our 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 is almost always a force for good. It is the principal driver of human advancement and the essential means for improving societal welfare. A robust rate of innovation makes possible many other goals—including increases in median per-capita income, improved health, transportation mobility, and a cleaner environment.
We believe the purpose of economic and technology policy is to boost per-capita income for society. The best way to achieve that goal is to focus first and foremost on growing the economy by accelerating innovation, not redistributing the pie or constraining innovation at society’s expense.
We are champions for the public good. We believe that societal welfare is defined by more than the aggregation of narrowly defined individual rights. Policies that privilege individual self-interests over the broader public interest and civic duties—whether it is on behalf of consumers, workers, business owners or shareholders—are almost always harmful to the greater good.
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, occupations, and regions 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 and economic growth 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 do not favor or discriminate against certain firms based on their 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 selectively deepening 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, innovation, and economic welfare.
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 five policy centers:
- The highly regarded Center for Data Innovation 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 seeks to accelerate the transition of the domestic and global energy systems to low-carbon resources.
- The Schumpeter Project on Competition Policy for the Innovation Economy advances dynamic competition policy that elevates innovation to be a central concern for antitrust enforcement.
- The Center for Life Sciences Innovation advocates for accelerating biopharmaceutical innovation by recognizing that the public and private sectors both have essential roles to play.
- The Hamilton Center on Industrial Strategy promotes a practical approach to competitiveness policy that enables U.S. technology leadership in global markets.
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 CHIPS and Science Act adopts a regional innovation hubs 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 ended 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 Engineering Education 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 Transitions, 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.