5 Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech

Over the last several months, I’ve been researching community-driven processes for the creation of public interest technology.

What distinguishes community-driven civic tech from “civic tech” more generally is the extent to which the humans that a tool is intended to serve literally guide the lifecycle of that tool. In other words, community-driven civic technologies are built at the speed of inclusion — the pace necessary not just to create a tool but to do so with in-depth communal input and stewardship — and directly respond to the needs, ideas, and wants of those they’re intended to benefit.

In order to guide discovery and analysis of projects that follow this “build with, not for” approach, I developed a series of Criteria for People First Civic Tech to determine the degree to which tools, projects, and programs prioritize people and real world application above production. You can read more about the criteria here.

PeopleUsing this criteria, I analyzed dozens of “civic technology” projects, mostly, but not exclusively within the US. I disregarded whether or not the projects or creators identified with “civic tech,” looking instead at whether or not the “tech” in question was created to serve public good. (Our interest, after all, is to explore the “civic” in “civic tech.”)

Those projects that fit the People First Criteria were diverse in terms of the technologies developed, the benefits yielded, and the communities that were (and, in some cases, still are) in the driver’s seat. But there are a great number of similarities, too — consistent, proven strategies and tactics that other practitioners of (and investors in) civic tech can learn from.

Over the next two months we’ll dig deeper into these approaches, which I’ve rounded up below as the “5 Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech,” a series of engagement strategies listed along with common tactics for implementation, that I encountered in my research. We’ll also jump into case studies of some of the civic tech projects that have successfully implemented community-driven processes wielding these modes and hear from leading practitioners on the forefront of “bottom-up innovation.”

We know the landscape of existing community-driven work is far more expansive than we can discover on our own, so I encourage you: If you’ve got a project that fits the People First Criteria, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

5 Modes of Civic Engagement in Civic Tech

  1. Utilize Existing Social Infrastructure
    • Pay for Organizing Capacity in Existing Community Structures
    • Partner With Hyperlocal Groups With Intersecting Interests
    • Offer Context-Sensitive Incentives for Participation
  2. Utilize Existing Tech Skills & Infrastructure
    • Remix, Don’t Reinvent
    • Use One Tech to Teach Another
  3. Create Two-Way Educational Environments
    • Start with Digital/Media Skills Trainings
    • Co-Construct New Infrastructure
  4. Lead From Shared Spaces
    • Leverage Existing Knowledge Bases
    • Leverage Common Physical Spaces
  5. Distribute Power
    • Treat Volunteers as Members
    • Train Students to Become Teachers
    • White-label Your Approach
    • Be a Participant