February 20, 2015

Civic Technology Helps Build a 21st Century Government

CIVIC TECHNOLOGY IS changing communities for the better. Over the past decade, the number of civic tech companies has grown at a rapid rate, bringing with it a slew of new applications and platforms that streamline government and make it more accessible to the public.

Quoting the Knight Foundation, one of the biggest sponsors of civic tech projects, "Civic leaders, organizations, funders and citizens increasingly recognize the power of technology to connect people, improve cities, and make governments more effective."

Civic tech spurs people to participate in public good development, enhancing citizen communications, improving government infrastructure or generally making national and local governments more effective. It encompasses civic applications, platforms supporting government bodies and institutions and other software enabling those goals.

The Knight Foundation's 2013 study and its 2014 update suggest that new civic tech falls under two categories: open government and community action. Civic tech in each category seeks to make data more accessible to citizens and allow them to share civic-minded solutions. Here are six reasons for the emergence of civic tech platforms and how civic tech is helping changing communities for the better:

1. Citizens want more information about their government.

In San Mateo County Socrata is helping the county to provide information to citizens in a more efficient and accessible way. In addition, Code for America helps jurisdictions create custom apps that target specific areas of community need like locating free food sources.

2. Citizens want to be more involved with how government operates.

TurboVote and TrusttheVote allow more citizens to get involved in the electoral process. The platforms allow citizens to track elections, register to vote, view ballots before going to the polls and fill out the paperwork that keeps busy people from the polls.

3. Citizens want to interact with their government, but hate all of the red tape.

In San Mateo County SeeClickFix allows citizens empower to provide feedback on public services and report things like crime, downed power lines, potholes and illegal dumping.

4. Citizens want to share their knowledge, but have nowhere to put it.

Information crowdsourcing tools like Waze make it easier for citizens to share their knowledge with their community.

5. Citizens are passionate about a project, but need to find funding to complete it.

Civic crowdfunding platforms like Kiva and Lenddo provide platorms for passionate citizens to connect with people who can help fund their projects.

6. Citizens want to change or support something, but don't know where to go.

Community organizing has been used for decades to get people who care about an issue, candidate or problem all in the same place to focus their energy on action. Civic technology is streamlining that process. Organizations and platforms like Causes and EngagementHQ allow citizens to connect with other citizens around issues they care about and officials to connect with those group.

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