Civic tech’s mission of enhancing people’s interaction with governments has made great strides in the past few years. It is moving past the experimental startup phase and into the realm of everyday use, though it still has a long way to go before reaching its goal of broad, society-wide application. Despite having ground to cover, civic tech possesses great potential to promote citizenship, literacy, and resource access.
The 2016 election saw a surge in political interest across America. Citizens showed a desire and aptitude for engagement in the political process through voting, protests, and social media expression and debate. In the coming years, civic tech faces the challenge of tapping into this energy, though the potential for civic tech to succeed certainly exists, according to The Rita Allen Foundation. Organizations and high-net-worth individuals have poured money into initiatives for strengthening democracy, opening an opportunity for civic tech to gain ground. The challenge for civic tech, notes the foundation, is in scaling their business models. Over the past decade, many civic tech startups have developed promising applications.
These applications have resulted in prototypes, pilots, and products but not full-fledged organizations. To have a greater impact on citizenship engagement in the future, civic tech needs to create sustainable models. New research points to civic tech startups success at identifying viable revenue streams sufficient to create sustained business models. Executing on those business models is the next step.
Literacy and resource access
In a Data-Smart City Solutions article, Stephen Goldsmith noted that civic tech suffers from an inclusion problem. Its applications are developed by homogenous groups of developers and target people like them. Civic tech has become a field built for the young, urban, and affluent, people with high technical literacy. Despite this, Goldsmith sees civic tech’s potential to lead the way in creating more inclusive, diverse cities.
Goldsmith notes the increasing trend of inequality in America’s big cities. Much of this inequality is driven by economic factors related to the high wages of tech jobs that dominate many metro areas. These high wages translate into a higher cost of living, creating increased inequality.
Civic tech can help reverse the trend of economic inequality through applications that better detect structural inequalities and amplify underprivileged voices. For this to succeed, resources must be allocated to all people. Efforts to achieve this are already underway in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, which are working to train students and adults in civic tech and spread its use across diverse communities.
Civic tech remains in its infancy, but its potential to increase engagement and solve problems like inequality is clear. As civic tech startups mature and discover sustainable business models, their influence will grow.