Related Fields

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1. Foundational layers of civic tech

We consider these categories necessary pre-requisites for effective civic tech. Without digital literacy and access, meaningful representation, trust and safety, or civic literacy, civic tech will not succeed. So while not every project in this section is explicitly ‘civic tech’, they are vital foundational layers to the field.

  1. Connectivity – If people cannot easily connect to digital tools in an equitable manner, civic tech will fail to address existing power imbalances in society.
  2. Circumvention – Circumvention tech helps people evade censorship that blocks access to information and communication.
  3. Digital literacy – The ability to navigate technology and complicated digital contexts is an increasingly necessary skillset for citizens. Digitization of government, online advocacy campaigns, and other civic tech efforts will hit hard limits if the constituency or electorate isn’t comfortable using technology.
  4. Civic literacy – An education in civics itself, independent of tech, is a necessary precursor to effectively designing and building civic tech. Too many founders jump into democracy and government contexts with a favorite tech solution despite near-total ignorance of those sectors, their histories, or their inner workings. The projects here address traditional civic literacy education, often with a more modern and digital approach.
  5. Diversity & inclusion – If civic tech is not built by and for a representative portion of society, it cannot hope to legitimately serve the public’s needs. The tech industry’s own failure to recruit and retain a diverse workforce is a big red flag for applying tech to universal applications like government.
    1. Linguistic representation – Working to ensure indigenous and native languages are represented online and survive the transition to digital.
  6. Digital security and privacy – People will not (and should not) use tech that’s untrustworthy. Too many tech projects, including civic tech projects, have abused user privacy and/or failed users in providing a secure user experience. Anyone advocating for increasing digitization of government, social benefits, or public conversation should invest in strong digital security and privacy-respecting approach from the onset and on an ongoing basis, as this area evolves rapidly.
  7. Assistive and Accessible Tech – The web and other technologies should be accessible to all people. The ability to use technology regardless of disability or status is a fundamental precursor to that technology serving civic goals.


2. Related tech for public good

There’s a rich ecosystem of related and overlapping fields with civic tech, including those that predate civic tech. People define the field with broader or more narrow scopes in mind, so here we track related work areas.

  1. Environment and sustainability – Created to make a city, community, home or person more environmentally friendly. See also Climate.
  2. Mobility – Projects to digitize and make more accessible the means of getting around, usually with an eye toward reducing traffic and reliance on cars.
  3. Citizen science– Citizen science is the practice where regular people can get involved in the scientific process, usually through improved access to cheaper hardware, like sensors, cameras, and computers, and through methods like open innovation and crowdsourcing. See also: sensors.
  4. Legal tech – Tech to democratize legal understanding, resources, and access to expertise, and to improve the user experience of legal institutions.
  5. Nonprofit tech – Tech and meta-organizations that support the mission of non-profits and charities. Includes mainstream productivity software (like LibreOffice) as well as non-profit-specific tech (like donation management software).
  6. Disaster response and humanitarian tech – There’s a long tradition of volunteer technologists rallying to aid communities in the aftermath of a disaster or humanitarian crisis. Many of the problems and solutions, such as managing skilled volunteers remotely, apply to other domains in the Civic Tech Field Guide. See also: Participatory Aid.
  7. Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) – Information & Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) is the practice of applying what we now simply call ‘tech’ to developing contexts. Examples include projects like One Laptop Per Child and SMS surveys to reach people in rural areas. ICT4D too often relies on outside intervention from well-meaning but non-local actors, and has been criticized as focusing on shiny new tech when longstanding underlying issues pose a graver threat to human development.
  8. Digital Public Infrastructure – A renewed effort to build out truly public digital spaces, akin to the role of public media in TV and radio.

3. Ethical tech

While the first generations of tech-for-good work took a Solutionist approach to addressing existing problems with new technology, scholars and activists are driving growing awareness of the problems with technology itself. By exposing the negative consequences, intended or otherwise, of tech, these communities draw attention to issues with tech-centric approaches. Not all of the projects here adopt an ethics lens in their work, but we use it here for simplicity’s sake.

  1. Platform coops – The cooperative organizational model has been around for centuries. Platform coops offer an alternative to extractive gig-economy labor platforms by providing workers with equity in the platform and/or decision-making power.
  2. Externalities of tech – Technologists’ and others applying tech to critical societal areas, from hospital data to policing to public engagement, risk introducing novel negative externalities in their attempts to ‘change the world’. More and more people are paying attention to the negative externalities that tech itself brings to our lives.
  3. Decentralization – The decentralization movement aims to limit the increasing centralization of the internet and digital resources into a small number of powerful platform companies. In doing so, they hope to promote free expression and resilience.
  4. Algorithmic transparency – These projects open “black box” algorithms up to expert and/or public audit by sharing inputs, rules, and other components of how the system makes its decisions.