The Civic Tech Graveyard is where you can visit, celebrate, and pay your respects to the projects that are no longer with us. This collection was gathered for the purposes of original research by Micah Sifry and Matt Stempeck and continues to be updated with new entrants.
One of the main objectives of the Civic Tech Field Guide is to help the field’s builders and funders learn what didn’t work, so they can make and fund things that do. Which makes this page one of the most important on this site.
Some of the projects were experiments that proved a point and weren’t meant to endure. Others were fantastic, heavily funded flame-outs that ignored lessons learned by their predecessors. As The Museum of Failure puts it, “The majority of all innovation projects fail and the museum showcases these failures to provide visitors a fascinating learning experience. Every item provides unique insight into the risky business of innovation.” Ditto.
Or, as the authors of Digital Tools for a Responsive Government put it, “The history of civic technology is littered with discarded tools. Too often, well-intentioned city governments establish tools that never gain user attention, tools that obtain attention from select communities but fail to attract a broad user base over time, and tools that do little more than create a theater of civic engagement without actually increasing government responsiveness, thereby leading to a quick demise.”
Stewarding Loss in the UK explores what the world would look like if we put as much thought, intention, and yes, funding into decelerating civil society projects as we do growing them in the first place.
- Learning from the Civic Tech Graveyard, by Micah Sifry and Matt Stempeck, originally published on Civicist
- Slides from Micah Sifry and Matt Stempeck’s presentation on the Civic Tech Graveyard, presented in Lisbon at The Impacts of Civic Tech Conference 2018
- The research found recurring patterns in the graveyard of civic tech projects:
- Fundraising success does not immediately translate to project success.
- Projects that ignore precedence and attempted to build social networks for political information and hyperlocal news are likely to fail.
- Some genres of civic tech project, like games for good, are inherently short-lived relative to others.
- Some projects are shut down so their operators can focus on other, more effective, projects in their portfolio.
- Failed yet successful: Learning from discontinued civic tech initiatives, a workshop at CHI 2023
- Postmortem Culture: Learning from Failure at Google, by John Lunney and Sue Lueder
- Responsible Waste Management in Civic Tech, by Julia Keseru at The Engine Room
- How do we help things to die?, by Cassie Robinson, Head of Digital Grant Making at The National Lottery Community Fund
- On managing failure in public administration, and postmortems, by Paolo de Rosa of the Italian Government’s Digital Transformation Team
- Avoiding Re-Inventing the Digital Wheel for Donors, by Nadia Andrada for ICT Works, which also maintains a collection of failures in international development
- Dare to talk about your civic tech mistakes — submit your failure story – Julia Keserű at the Sunlight Foundation recounts candid fail-sharing at the Code for All Summit in 2015