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Field Scan of Civic Technology

Civic technology ‘“ the use of digital technologies and social media for service provision, civic engagement, and data analysis ‘“ has the potential to transform cities and the lives of their low income residents. Under commission from Living Cities, OpenPlans interviewed 25 people with expertise in cities, issues facing low income people, and technology.

This Field Scan presents a synthesis of these interviews ‘“ in effect, a snapshot of the civic tech field.

The ‘˜ecosystem’ of civic tech involves people, data, and tools working together to create positive social change. Within a city, data is produced by the city and people, and fed into different analytical tools. The insights gained are used by the city and other groups to drive policy, local action and advocacy. Between cities, lessons and tools are shared to enable re-use and progressive enhancement of tools and methods.

Technical standards help stimulate the ecosystem, because they help drive compatibility. For example, a tool that follows the Open311 standard to show charts of 311 reports can be used in any city with a 311 system producing standards-compliant output. A collection of many small tools that are standards-based can be used by communities in different locations to address particular issues. Cities can also benefit, taking a tool developed in one location and deploy it locally, without needing to build something new.

Long term, the ecosystem of civic tech should mature to include more successful businesses, and more competition between businesses. A healthy civic tech ecosystem can incorporate the approaches of community-centered technology design into the way that cities function.

Over fifty examples of civic tech tools were given during the interviews, falling primarily into three broad categories:

  • Improving quality of and accountability in public service delivery ‘“ Help city residents more effectively access and track responsiveness of public service delivery, facilitate resident engagement with government around service delivery issues, and streamline resident access to public services
  • Facilitating resident-driven improvements to neighborhood quality-of-life ‘“ Enlist city residents to provide new data to support or inform government efforts, to organize community-based efforts based on that data, or to participate in the development of strategies and policies to address these issues more effectively, and
  • Deepening participation in public decision-making ‘“ Developing more effective ways to collect meaningful resident input, especially from low-income people, and bring low income people more deeply into public decision-making processes.

The document is not intended as an authoritative portrait of the field, and additional research and exploration are needed to better understand these issues and potential solutions. But this scan should serve as a useful starting point for those seeking to understand the current state of practice in this field.

Download the Report (PDF, 882KB)