The Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has selected Kathryn Peters as its first executive director, effective July 6.
Carolina established CITAP last summer with a $5 million gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as support from Luminate and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. CITAP is dedicated to researching and responding to the growing impact of the internet, social media, and other forms of digital information sharing on society and politics.
“We are excited to have Katy Peters join CITAP,” said Gary Marchionini, dean of the UNC School of Information and Library Science and principal researcher at CITAP. “Her insights and enthusiasm have already ignited good ideas and discussion in our team.”
Peters is a civic technologist and nonprofit entrepreneur, who co-founded Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that works to make voting a simple, seamless experience for all Americans. She has been recognized as one of Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” in the field of law and policy and as a Champion of Democracy by the National Priorities Project.
“Katy stood out in a pool of outstanding candidates,” said Alice Marwick, associate professor of communication in the College of Arts & Sciences and principal researcher at CITAP. “Her experience founding Democracy Works gives her the perfect skillset to help develop CITAP into a leading research institute. She fully understands the interplay between democracy and technology and the challenges of growing a team into a mature organization.”
Peters’ belief in better democracy has taken her from campaign organizing in Southeast Missouri to a master’s in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government to political rights monitoring in Afghanistan. Her previous experiences include positions with the National Democratic Institute and the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.
During her tenure at Democracy Works, she led the development and launch of TurboVote, an election reminder and voter registration tool that now serves more than 7 million voters in partnership with 175 colleges, several national nonprofits, and corporations that include Snap and Google.
She also led Democracy Works’ acquisition of the Voting Information Project, a national open data collaboration that publishes official state polling locations and ballot data.
Peters said the 2016 election changed how she and many other democracy advocates view technology’s relationship to voting. While technology can be a valuable tool in streamlining the voting process and improving access to information, it can also be an instrument for spreading disinformation and eroding public trust in the democratic process.
“The research that CITAP faculty are doing to understand how digital platforms shape our civic conversation gives me hope for being able to address these challenges,” she said. “The Center brings together an excellent community of scholars spanning the many fields contributing to this understanding. I’m eager to support this community and their work.”
In addition to Peters, CITAP is welcoming three new senior research professors: Tressie McMillan Cottom and Francesca Tripodi, who will join the faculty at the UNC School of Information and Library Science, and Shannon McGregor who will join the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.