Tools, Not Tech

The textbook definition of “technology” is all about “tools”. Not computers, not command lines, but, to quote  Wikipedia: “the collection of techniques, methods or processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation.”

“Civic technologies” are the tools we create to improve public life. To help each other. To make our governments and our communities safe, joyful, equitable places to live out our lives.

Over the course of the Experimental Modes project, I’ve been exploring how different people create civic technology with their communities—the social strategies and tactics wielded to build tech at the speed of inclusion and make sure the civic problem-solving process is truly collaborative. But what nuts and bolts go into making this work…work?

At our convening of practitioners earlier this month, as part of a larger discussion of “civic tech”, we went around the room and shared two types of technologies (tools!) we use to do what we do.

Shifting our understanding of “tech” helps us focus on people. When we stop trying to force specific types of tech solutions and start listening to people for opportunities to take action, we put ourselves in a stronger position for problem-solving. We open up creativity, both in terms of who gets to be creative and how we see what tools are available to us. Some of the best civic tools are the ones we already have in hand, and their “civic” utility is unlocked just by wielding them differently.

As you read through the tool round-up below, ask yourself: what tech do you take for granted that’s a part of your civic work?

(What follows are a slightly cleaned up version of the live notes taken during our conversations. You can read the original, unedited documentation of this conversation here.)

Experimental Modes convening attendees using laptops, pens, food, and phones for their work. Photo by Daniel O'Neil.

Experimental Modes convening attendees using laptops, pens, food, and phones for their work. Photo by Daniel O’Neil.

Two technologies we use in our work

Name Tech 1 Tech 2
Laurenellen Email Cell phone
Maritza Email Laptop
Sonja Cell phones Video Camera
Whitney Headphones Websites
Sanjay Radio Google Docs
Allan Drills Email
Danielle Laptop Phone
Demond Google docs Phone
Jennifer Post-it Notes Whiteboard
Laura SMS Community feedback boxes
Tiana Blogger Slack
Jeremy Whiteboards Pizza
Stefanie Social media Email
Greta Google Hangouts (love+hate) Routers
Geoff Group chat Collaborative source code wrangling system
Asiaha SMS Emails
Marisa Pen + paper Adobe Illustrator
Meagan Flip charts Markers
Diana Zines/printing press White boards
Adam Story circles IM
DXO Slack Google chat