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.
Digital participation platforms
Platforms and tools to facilitate gathering public input and support for local, place-based projects.
Invite citizens and residents to contribute their ideas, creativity, and perspectives to public needs, like designing public spaces or developing attractive policies.
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 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.
Used to gather input, measure public opinion, and establish baseline understanding of demographics and other information about residents.
Tech to facilitate and improve outcomes from interpersonal meetings, whether face to face or remote.
Embedding social good and civic engagement features into otherwise mainstream technology platforms. For example, helping users register to vote ahead of elections.
Tools that help map, enhance, and facilitate democratic debates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Public Input and Engagement:
- Guide to Digital Participation Platforms: When to Use Them, How to Choose & Tips for Maximum Results. By Matt Stempeck, with People Powered, published February 2022.
- Next-Generation Engagement Platforms, and How They Are Useful Right Now – Part I, Matt Stempeck’s profile of some of the top open source public engagement platforms (2020)
- Next-Generation Engagement Platforms And The Current Moment – Part II, Matt Stempeck’s deep dive into some of the top private sector public engagement platforms (2020)
- Who Is Community Engagement For?: The Endless Loop of Democratic Transparency, by Caroline W. Lee. A sharp critique of academia’s engagement programs that can be applied to other domains.
- Citizens’ assemblies: are they the future of democracy? by Eva Talmadge in The Guardian.
Group Decision Making:
- Seeds for Change guide to consensus-based decision making, including benefits, drawbacks, when to use it, and when not to.
- Facilitation tools for meetings and workshops.
- University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence guide to (analog) Group Decision Making.
- Wikipedia has articles about the long history of attempted Decision Support Systems and online deliberation.
- A primer on Grand Innovation Prizes – The Mercatus Center (2020)
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.