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.
Systems that document, distribute, and otherwise make legible the legislative process.
These platforms invite citizens to contribute, respond to, and even develop public projects. They are most often used to seek public input and support for projects based in physical places.
Surveys are used to gather input, measure public opinion, and establish baseline understanding of demographics and other information about residents.
Interactive voice response (IVR) is 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.
Tools and platforms that aid group decision making through deliberate design decisions to improve the likelihood of desired outcomes, such as consensus.
Tech to facilitate and improve outcomes from interpersonal meetings, whether face to face or remote.
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.
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.
Crowdsourcing allows a wide variety of people to contribute data to a common collection. In the civic context, it’s been used for collective research efforts, resource mapping, and microwork, among other objectives.
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.
Ideation platforms invite citizens and residents to contribute their ideas, creativity, and perspectives to public needs, like designing public spaces or developing attractive policies.
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.
Platforms that coordinate matching of needs and resources, such as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Public Input and Engagement
- 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.
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.