Tech and Social Responsibilities


Question: How should tech companies, particularly startups, consider their role around social responsibilities? 

Background: Our client, Google Area 120, is Google's in-house startup incubator. To support the incubator's 5 year-plan, we were tasked to enlighten on what social issues and social responsibilities might be most feasible, desirable, and viable for tech firms to take on relative to the roles of individuals and public sector.  This project ran from March to May 2022. 

Methods: Two focus groups, 10 semi-structured Interviews. 


Key Considerations: 

Key Contributions: Main manager for the public sector interviews in recruitment, conducting the interviews, analysis, and synthesis; designed two of the four focus group activities; co-moderated focus groups; and developed the recommendations. 

Deep Dive

The Problem

Businesses, including tech firms, are increasingly asked to act responsibly to participate in addressing numerous planetary perils from social injustice to climate change. Emerging research shows that brand equity (and profit) can be built by proactive social responsibility, rather than reactive:

What social responsibilities might be most feasible, desirable, and viable for tech firms to assume, as compared to individual or public agencies to address? 

"To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society." - Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest investment firm.


Semi-Structured Interviews

6 Gen Z Participants:  3 Liberals and 3 Conservatives

4 Public Sector Employees: a teacher, a librarian, a social worker, and a City Councilmember.

Focus Groups

Two Liberal-based Gen Z focus groups: 5-7 participants with 60 minutes each. 

Example activity: participants attribute who should be responsible for listed social issues. 


Sample of our affinity mapping process:  tying together final findings for each of the research questions across the methods. Used to identify and narrow in on key findings. 

Participant's Top Social Issues

1) The top issues mentioned were broad and systemically imbedded injustices. 

2) Top issues participants care about were ones that they have been directly exposed to.

Relationship between Tech Company and Social Responsibility 

1) Participant frame responsibility as purpose driven: they don't think it's tech's responsibility as their only purpose is to make money

2) But participants still envision futures where tech companies can be trusted to create long-term impacts. 

3) And distance themselves from tech companies that do not seem to care enough, or worsening the social issues.

Views on the Identity of the Tech Company

1) Participants prefer companies who aspire themselves to high ideals to trust the products they build.

2) Participants view tech companies as well-resourced entities, and some hope they could support other organizations who are working on social issues on the ground.

What likely will not change in the next 5 years

Participants' anger and exasperation with the aforementioned social issues - racism, inequities, climate change, etc. 

Participants' impatience with companies that signal they prioritize money above values.

Changing social issues involve changing people's behaviors that propagates the issue, as well as influencing people's perception of the issues to shift in a direction that reflects established values. 


Participants want to know the companies they associate with as per their desire to intentionally construct their identity. This is a phenomenon the Gen Z psychographic seems to reflect. 

Improving major social issues involve changing people's behavior that directly feeds into the issue.

Improving social issues also involve influencing more people, particularly key participants with personal backgrounds, to understand and care about the issues.

Participants want a future 

Where they are proud of the tech companies they choose, where they don't have to compromise or negotiate their values/identity with the products they choose; and

Where tech companies are a part of the solution and not afraid to make waves for social good; and

Where tech companies can support other forces on the ground working to improve people's lives; and

Where tech companies can own up to both its power and shortcomings in addressing social change.

Key Considerations 

How might we support communication between companies and participants to transform their relationship in a way that builds trust, accountability, and transparency?

How can we humanize communications with entities help participants identify with companies of their interest?

How might tech companies timely provide effective support for organizations on the ground dealing with social issues?

How can tech companies be more connected with social justice efforts on the ground, e.g. nonprofits and community leaders? How might we transform these connections into opportunities for everyone involved? 

How might tech companies change their critical metrics in a way that also considers their strategic impact on social issues?

How can that critical measure include hidden sentiments of participants, whether they feel aligned with the company or that they have been compromising their values?

Reflections and Reflexivity 

Future Research

Other Works