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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.

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Upcoming events

  • Launch event: Digital Participation Online Training, by People Powered
    October 17, 2023  7:00 am – 8:00 am
  • Funders’ Forum on Sustainable Cities Chicago
    October 17, 2023 – October 19, 2023  
  • Net Hope Global Summit 2023
    October 17, 2023 – October 19, 2023  
  • Decidim Fest 2023
    October 18, 2023 – October 20, 2023  
  • Journalist Seminar on reporting Internet shutdowns
    October 18, 2023
  • Semantic interoperability conference of the European Commission (SEMIC)
    October 18, 2023
  • Program Evaluation Series: Crafting Logic Models and Developing Indicators by InnovateUS
    October 19, 2023
  • Civic AI Unconference at Nesta
    October 20, 2023
  • Data Series: An Introduction to Data and Its Reuse by InnovateUS
    October 24, 2023

Upcoming opportunities

  • Apply: Climate Fellowship
    October 20, 2023
  • Apply: Echoing Green – Fellowship program
    November 2, 2023
  • Apply: Data Through Design 2024 Exhibition
    November 15, 2023
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Govtech Subcategories
Communicating with the people Tools and platforms that share official communications and democratic processes. Including:
  • Service alerts are governmental notifications pushed to residents, often by municipal governments notifying residents about local service issues.
Communicating with the government Digital communication channels between constituents and representatives, trying to improve the feedback loop. Including:
  • Issue reporting platforms enable residents to notify their government(s) of items in need of attention, often municipal in nature.
Service delivery Redesigning public service delivery, often from a Human Centered Design perspective rather than a government or bureaucracy perspective.
Marketplaces and clearinghouses Marketplaces for government technologies where all participants pass procurement rules.
Bureaucracy tech Tech designed to improve the general functioning of government.
Identity Standards and protocols for managing citizen or resident identity in a digital manner.
Govtech vendors  
Government trainings Online, offline, or hybrid educational experiences that help people working inside governments to learn skills, apply methods, and gain experience.
Behavioral economics programs Nudging in public policy continues to face concerns related to manipulation, paternalism, and the removal of choice. However, as Sunstein and other proponents argued, all government programs are at some level applying choice architecture and nudging. Setting defaults and program design choices more deliberately, guided by science, can improve service delivery and increase the well-being of citizens. But it is important to appreciate that critics remain. Therefore, providing transparency and accountability for behavioral interventions is essential to sustaining or building trust in government. Nudges and other interventions inspired by the behavioral sciences need to be publicly disclosed and debated, as is the case for public policies more generally. – Zeina Afif for The World Bank
Voting and elections Data and tools designed to help people vote by informing voters about registration requirements, ballot information, districts, and election dates, locations, and procedures. Including:
  • Voter registration tech seeks to help voters overcome suppression and bureaucratic hurdles to exercising their right to vote.
  • Election administration Rather than build redundant resources outside of government, election administration tech works to empower and assist the people who are already responsible for running elections.
  • Voter assistance tech seeks to help inform voters about their choices in elections and where and how they can vote.
  • Match views to votes tools help voters identify the ballot choices that best match to their own views and perspectives.
  • Help more people run for office Tools, resources, databases, and trainings to encourage a more representative group of people to run for office.
Online forums Online forums are 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. They include:
  • Civic forums are online discussion platforms built to foster civic conversation and debate.
  • Neighborhood forums promote conversation within geographically-defined communities.
Access social benefits Systems that assist individuals in identifying government or community provided benefits and services.
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