Participatory democracy

Perhaps the core premise of civic tech is that it can improve civic engagement. Whether in concert with formal governmental bodies or independent of them, civic tech promises to help citizens (in the Latin sense, of the city) engage with one another to share power in the pursuit of building just societies. These platforms invite citizens to contribute, respond to, and even co-develop public policy and projects.

Engagement tech

Digital participation platforms

Platforms and tools to facilitate gathering public input and support for local, place-based projects.

Ideation platforms

Invite citizens and residents to contribute their ideas, creativity, and perspectives to public needs, like designing public spaces or developing attractive policies.

Online Forums

Digital conversation hubs for conversations of civic import. They are often designed to facilitate constructive dialogues, but sometimes fail by attempting to creating new destinations rather than embrace existing community hubs.

  • Civic forums are online discussion platforms built to foster civic conversation and debate.
  • Neighborhood forums are digital venues that promote conversation within geographically-defined communities.
  • Social networks for politics, advocacy, campaigns, or other explicitly civic user bases or use cases.

Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting invites citizens into the deliberative process in one of the most compelling ways possible: by letting the people propose projects and allocate actual public budgets to implementing them.

Surveys & Polling

Used to gather input, measure public opinion, and establish baseline understanding of demographics and other information about residents.

Meeting tech

Tech to facilitate and improve outcomes from interpersonal meetings, whether face to face or remote.

Civic features

Embedding social good and civic engagement features into otherwise mainstream technology platforms. For example, helping users register to vote ahead of elections.

Debate tech

Tools that help map, enhance, and facilitate democratic debates.

Open innovation

Open innovation is the process of expanding the pool of innovators within an institution or organization through greater transparency, greater invitation to participate, creation or addition of low-barrier input channels, and similar mechanisms.

  • Challenges leverage competition and, often, a prize, to attract talent and spur innovation in an area of public importance.
  • Expert networks promise to connect decision-makers like government officials with subject matter experts who can contribute their knowledge toward improved outcomes.

Urban planning

Tools that seek to improve urban planning processes by digitizing them and making them more accessible to residents.

Interactive voice response (IVR)

A technology that bridges analog and digital experiences by allowing humans to interact with a computer through their voices and dialpad entries. It’s used in many ICT4D projects where smartphone and desktop devices are not yet prevalent.




Systems to document the legislative process and make it more transparent and participatory.

Constitutional tech

Civic crowdfunding

Civic crowdfunding tech facilitates distributed resource-gathering campaigns via dedicated platforms. While many civic projects make use of mainstream crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, these platforms focus explicitly on civic, urban, or social impact projects. Their business model is usually predicated on taking a portion of the funds raised on the platform.

Group decision-making

Tools and platforms that aid group decision making through deliberate design decisions to improve the likelihood of desired outcomes, such as consensus.

Resource matching and sharing

Platforms that coordinate matching of needs and resources, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Engagement Resources

Public Input and Engagement:

Group Decision Making:

Innovation Prizes:

Jennifer Godzeno and Alexa Kasdan discuss a report from the Participatory Budgeting Project about participatory democracy, which touches on many of the themes in this section. Participatory democracy is the promise (and the work) of citizen engagement that goes well beyond occasional elections.