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Civic technology, or civic tech for short, is technology that enables engagement, participation or enhances the relationship between the people and government by enhancing citizen communications and public decision, improving government delivery of service, and infrastructure. It encompasses mainly information technology and includes civic applications, platforms supporting government bodies, institutions and other software that enables those goals. Civic technology has had increasing promise and importance with time. In the Information Age, digital communications have become the foundation for political and economic exchanges. As advanced technologies have become commonplace in society and available throughout the population, many local governments and officials have begun utilizing them for public outreach and feedback. Specifically, the Internet is being used more for communication between governing officials and citizens.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Civic technology in Africa
- 3 Civic technology in Asia
- 4 Civic technology in Oceania
- 5 Civic technology in Europe
- 6 Civic technology in North America
- 7 Civic technology in South America
- 8 Effects of civic technology
- 9 Future of civic technology
- 10 Civic hacking
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
A 2013 report from the Knight Foundation, an American non-profit, attempts to map different focuses within the civic technology space. It broadly categorizes civic technology projects into two categories: open government and community action.
|Open government, includes:||Community action, includes:|
|Data access and transparency||Peer-to-peer local sharing|
|Visualization and mapping||Neighborhood forums|
|Data utility||Information crowdsourcing|
|Resident feedback||Community organizing|
|Public decision making|
Within the Knight Foundation, they "care about ensuring that people have access to the news and information that they need to lead their lives in a democracy."  They seek to establish a precedent of accessibility to information and the sharing of these sources for the common benefit of the people. With this accessibility, they enable for a more transparent, open system of sharing information for the benefit of more insightful, informed users and citizens that can engage more often in political and social matters that pertain to their concerns and to their lives.
Citizens are also now given access to their representatives through social media. They are able to express their concerns directly to government officials through sites like Twitter and Facebook. There have even been past cases of online voting being a polling option for local elections, which have seen vastly increased turnouts, such as in an Arizona election in 2000 which saw a turnout double that of the previous election. It is asserted though that civic technology in government provides for a good management technique but lacks in providing fair democratic representation. Social media is also becoming a growing aspect of government, towards furthering the communication between the government and its citizenry and towards greater transparency within the governmental sectors. This innovation is facilitating a change towards a more progressive and open government, based on civic engagement and technology for the people. With social media as a communicating platform, it enables the government to provide information to the constituents and citizens on the legislative processes and what is occurring in the Congress, for the sake of the citizens' concerns with the government procedures.
The definition of what constitutes civic technology is contested to a certain extent, especially with regards to companies engaged in the sharing or access economy, such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. For example, AirBnb's ability to provide New York residents with housing during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy could be considered a form of civic technology. However, Nathaniel Heller, Managing Director of the Research for Development Institute's Governance Program contends that for-profit platforms definitively fall outside of the scope of civic technology: Heller has said that "while citizen-to-citizen sharing is indeed involved, the mission of these companies is focused on maximizing profit for their investors, not any sort of experiment in building social capital." From a goal perspective, civic technology can be understood as “the use of technology for the public good”.
Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement Team have attempted to produce a precise taxonomy of civic technology through a bottom-up approach. They inventoried the existing initiatives and classified them according to:
- their functions
- the social processes they involved
- their users and customers
- the degree of change they sought
- the depth of the technology.
Microsoft's Civic Graph is guiding the developing network of civic innovators, expanding "its visualizations of funding, data usage, collaboration and even influence"  It is a new tool that is opening up the access to track the world of civic technology towards improving the credibility and progress of this sector. This graph will enable more opportunities for access by governmental institutions and corporations to discover these innovators and use them for progressing society towards the future of technology and civic engagement. To create an informed and insightful community, there needs to be a sense of civic engagement in this community, where there is the sharing of information through civic technology platforms and applications. "Community engagement applied to public-interest technology requires that members of a community participate."  With communal participation in civic tech platforms, this enables more informed residents to convene in a more engaged, unified community that seeks to share information, politically and socially, for the benefit of its citizenry and their concerns.This work resulted in a field guide.
The Technology & Civic Engagement Team have also produced a network visualization tool for civic technology organizations, Civic Graph.
Technology that is designed to benefit the citizenry places the governments under pressure "to change and innovate the way in which their bureaucracies relate to citizens."  E-government initiatives have been established and supported in order to strengthen the democratic values of governmental institutions, which can include Transparency, along with improving the efficiency of the legislative processes to make the government more accountable and reactive to citizens' concerns. These will further civic engagement within the political spectrum for the sake of greater Direct representation and a more democratic political system.
A worldwide organization for civic tech is the Open Government Partnership (OGP). It “is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” Created in 2011 by eight founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States), the OGP gathers every year for a summit. Countries involved are located mainly in America (North and South), Europe and South-Asia (Indonesia, Australia, South Korea). Only a few African countries are part of the OGP, though South Africa is one of the founding countries.
Technological progress is rampant throughout the nations of the world, but there are dividing efforts and adoption techniques in how rapid certain countries are progressing compared to others. How countries are able to use information pertains to how devoted nations are to integrating technology into the lives of their citizens and businesses. Local and national governments are funding tens of billions of dollars towards information technology, for the sake of improving the functions and operations of this technology to work for the people and the governments. With more governments attaining a grasp on these technologies, it is paving the way towards more progressive and democratic political systems, for the concerns of future society and for those of the citizens of these nations.
Civic technology in Africa
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Launched in Kenya in 2014, "MajiVoice" is a joint initiative by the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB- the Water Sector Regulator in Kenya) and the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program. As opposed to walk-in complaint centers, the initiative enables Kenyan citizens to report complaints with regards to water services via multiple channels of technology. The platform allows for communication between citizens and water service providers with the intention to improve service delivery in impoverished areas and user satisfaction. Users are given four options to report their water complaints. They can dial a number and report a complaint, send a text message (SMS) through their cell phone, or login to an online portal through a web browser on their phone or their laptop. One evaluation highlights the citizen engagement achieved after its implementation, from 400 complaints a month to 4000 complaints, and resolution rates from 46 percent to 94 percent
U- Report, a mobile platform introduced by UNICEF Uganda in 2011, is an initiative that runs large scale polls with Ugandan youth on a wide range of issues, ranging from safety to access to education to inflation to early marriage. The goal of the initiative was to have Ugandan youth play a role in civic engagement within the context of local issues. U-Report is still active (as of April 2018), with over 240,000 users across Uganda. Support for the initiative primarily came from the aid of the government, NGO's, youth organizations, faith based organizations, and private companies. Users sign up for the program for free by sending a text on their phone, then every week "U-Reporters" answer a question regarding a public issue. Poll results are published in public media outlets such as newspapers, radio, etc. UNICEF takes these responses and provides members of parliament (MP's) a weekly review of these results, acting as a bridge between government and Ugandan youth.
Civic technology in Asia
The vTaiwan (v for virtual) was created initially by members of the open source community and later as a collaboration with the Taiwan’s government. They use a conversation tool called pol.is that leverages machine learning to scale online discussion.
Civic technology in Oceania
In Australia, a platform and proposed political party called MiVote has a mobile app for citizens to learn about policy and cast their vote for the policies they support. MiVote politicians elected to office would then vote in support of the majority position of the people using the app.
Civic technology in Europe
In 2002 MindLab, an innovation public sector service design group was established by the Danish ministries of Business and Growth, Employment, and Children and Education. MindLab was the one of the world's first public sector design innovation labs and their work inspired the proliferation of similar labs and user-centered design methodologies deployed in many countries worldwide. The design methods used at MindLab are typically an iterative approach of rapid prototyping and testing to evolve not just their government projects, but also government organizational structure using ethnographic-inspired user research, creative ideation processes, and visualization and modeling of service prototypes. In Denmark, design within the public sector has been applied to a variety of projects including rethinking Copenhagen's waste management, improving social interactions between convicts and guards in Danish prisons, transforming services in Odense for mentally disabled adults and more.
In 2013 the online platform People’s Assembly (Rahvakogu) was launched for crowdsourcing ideas and proposals to amend Estonia’s electoral laws, political party law, and other issues related to democracy.
The most dynamic French city regarding civic tech is Paris, with many initiatives moving in the Sentier, a neighborhood known for being a tech hub. According to Le Monde, French civic tech is “already a reality” but lacks investments to scale up.
Government agencies are also leading large citizen consultation through the Conseil national du numérique (National digital council), for example with the law about the digital republic (Projet de loi pour une république numérique).
The French citizen community for civic tech is gathered in the collective Démocratie ouverte (Open democracy). The main purpose of this collective is to enhance democracy to increase citizen power, improve the way to decide collectively and update the political system. Démocratie ouverte gathers many projects focused on understanding politics, renewing institutions, participating in democracy, and public action. Several open-source, non-profit web platforms have been launched nationwide to support citizen's direct involvement: Communecter.org, Demodyne.org as well as Democracy OS France (derived from the Argentinian initiative).
The Icelandic constitutional reform, 2010–13 instituted a process for reviewing and redrafting their constitution after the 2008 financial crisis, using social media to gather feedback on twelve successive drafts.
Beginning in October 2011, a Citizens Foundation platform called Betri Reykjavik had been implemented for citizens to inform each other and vote on issues. Each month the city council formally evaluates the top proposals before issuing an official response to each participant. As of 2017, the number of proposals approved by the city council reached 769.
The first edition was in May 2016 in Turin.
The Madrid City Council has a department of Citizen Participation that facilitates a platform called Decide Madrid for registered users to discuss topics with others in the city, propose actions for the City Council, and submit ideas for how to spend a portion of the budget on projects voted on through participatory budgeting.
The City of Stockholm has a make-a-suggestion page on stockholm.se and available as an app, allowing citizens to report any ideas for improvement in the city along with a photo and GPS. After receiving a suggestion, it is sent to the appropriate office that can place a work order. During 2016, one hundred thousand requests were recored. This e-service began in September 2013.
The city government of Gothenburg has an online participatory voting system, open for every citizen to propose changes and solutions. When a proposal receives more than 200 votes, it is delivered to the relevant political committee.
In 2007 and 2008 documents from the British government explore the concept of "user-driven public services" and scenarios of highly personalized public services. The documents proposed a new view on the role of service providers and users in the development of new and highly customized public services, utilizing user involvement. This view has been explored through an initiative in the UK. Under the influence of the European Union, the possibilities of service design for the public sector are being researched, picked up, and promoted in countries such as Belgium.
Care Opinion was set up to strengthen the voice of patients in the NHS in 2005. Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) (also known as Nudge) was originally part of the UK cabinet and was founded in 2010, in order to apply nudge theory to try to improve UK government policy, services and save money. As of 2014, BIT became a decentralized, semi-privatized company with Nesta (charity), BIT employees and the UK government each owning a third of this new business. That same year a Nudge unit was added to the United States government under president Obama, referred to as the ‘US Nudge Unit,’ working within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
FixmyStreet.com is a website and app developed by mySociety, a UK based civic technology company that works to make online democracy tools for UK citizens. FixmyStreet allows citizens in the United Kingdom to report public infrastructure issues (such as potholes, broken streetlights, etc) to the proper local authority. FixmyStreet became inspiration to many countries around the world that followed suit to use civic technology to better public infrastructure. The website was funded by the Department for Constitutional Affairs Innovation fund and created by mySociety. Along with the platform itself, mySociety released FixmyStreet, a free and open-source software framework that allows users to create their own website to report street problems. mySociety has many different tools, like parliamentary monitoring ones, that work in many countries for different types of governance. When such tools are integrated into government systems, citizens can not only understand the inner workings of their now transparent government, but also have the means to "exert influence over the people in power". Newspeak House is a community space and venue focused on building a community of civic and political technology practitioners in the United Kingdom.
Some widely used Ukrainian civic tech projects are donor recruitment platform DonorUA, Ukrainian companies' data and court register monitoring service Open Data Bot, participatory budgeting platform "Громадський проект". The latter accounts for over 3 million users.
In 2017, to foster the growth of civic tech initiatives, Ukrainian NGO SocialBoost launched 1991 Civic Tech Center, a dedicated community space in country's capital, Kyiv. The space opened following a $480,000 grant from Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Civic technology in North America
As in other countries, the Canadian civic technology movement is home to several organizations. Code for Canada is a non-profit group, following somewhat the model of Code for America. Several cities or regions host civic technology groups with regular meetings (in order from West to East): Edmonton, Waterloo Region, Toronto, Ottawa and Fredericton.
The Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations sought initiatives to further openness of the government, through either increased use of technology in political institutions or efficient ways to further civic engagement. The Obama administration pursued an Open Government Initiative based on principles of transparency and civic engagement. This strategy has paved the way for increased governmental transparency within other nations to improve democratically for the citizens' benefit and allow for greater participation within politics from a citizen's perspective. During his run for president, Obama was "tied directly to the extensive use of social media by the campaign." 
According to a study conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC), an estimated $6.4 billion will be spent on civic technology in 2015 out of approximately $25.5 billion that governments in the United States will spend on external-facing technology projects. A Knight Foundation survey of the civic technology field found that the number of civic technology companies grew by roughly 23% annually between 2008 and 2013.
Civic technology is built by a variety of companies, organizations and volunteer groups. One prominent example is Code for America, a not-for-profit based in San Francisco, working toward addressing the gap between the government and citizens. College students from Harvard University created the national non-profit Coding it Forward that creates data science and technology internships for undergraduate and graduate students in United States federal agencies. Another example of a civic technology organization is the Chi Hack Night, based in Chicago. The Chi Hack Night is a weekly, volunteer-run event for building, sharing and learning about civic technology. Civic Hall is a coworking and event space in New York City for people who want to contribute to civic-minded projects using technology. And OpenGov creates software designed to enable public agencies to make data-driven decisions, improve budgeting and planning, and inform elected officials and citizens.
OneBusAway, a mobile app that displays real-time transit info, exemplifies the open data use of civic technology. It is maintained by volunteers and has the civic utility of helping people navigate their way through cities. It follows the idea that technology can be a tool for which government can act as a society-equalizer.
Arena Electoral was an online platform created by Fundación Ethos during the Mexican electoral process of 2012 to promote responsible voting. An online simulation was created by taking the four presidential candidates in that election cycle and each were given policy issues based on the Mexican national agenda that they had to come up with a solution to. Once each candidate gave their solutions, the platform published it on their website and left it to the Mexican citizens to vote for the best policy.
Civic technology in South America
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2018)
Partido de la Red (Net Party) is an Argentinean political party using the DemocracyOS open-source software with the goal of electing representatives who vote according to what citizens decides online.
Effects of civic technology
Because of the conveniences provided by civic technology, there are benefits as well as growing concern about the effects it may have on social behavior and civic engagement. New technology allows for connectivity and new communications, as well as changing how we interact with issues and contexts beyond one’s intimate sphere. Civic technology affords transparency in government with open-government data, and allows more people of diverse socioeconomic levels to be able to build and engage with civic matters in a way that was not possible prior.
The importance of face-to-face interactions has also been called to question with the increase in e-mails and social media and a decrease in traditional, in-person social interaction. Technology as a whole may be responsible for this change in social norm, but it also holds potential for turning it around with audio and video communication capabilities. More research needs to be conducted in order to determine if these are appropriate substitutes for in-person interaction, or if any substitute is even feasible.
Preece & Shneiderman discuss the important social aspect of civic technology with a discussion of the "reader-to-leader framework", which follows that users inform readers, who inform communicators, who then inform collaborators, before finally reaching leaders. This chain of communication allows for the interests of the masses to be communicated to the implementers.
Regarding elections and online polling, there is the potential for voters to make less informed decisions because of the ease of voting. Although many more voters will turn out, they may only be doing so because it is easy and may not be consciously making a decision based on their own synthesized opinion. It's suggested that if online voting becomes more common, so should constituent-led discussions regarding the issues or candidates being polled.
Effects on socioeconomics
With advanced technologies coming at higher costs and with an increased reliance on civic technologies may leave low-income families in the dark if they cannot afford the platforms for civic technology, such as computers and tablets. This causes an increase in the gap between lower and middle/high socioeconomic class families.
Knowledge of how to use computers is equally important when considering factors of accessing civic technology applications online, and is also generally lower in low-income households. Public Schools have taken the lead in ensuring proper technology access and education in the classroom to better prepare children for the high-tech world, but there is still a clear difference between online contributions from those with and without experience on the internet.
Future of civic technology
As the field of civic technology advances further through the coming years it seems as though apps and handheld devices will become a key focus for development as more companies and municipalities reach out to developers to help with specific issues. Apps are being used in conjunction with hand held devices to make life easier. Tasks such as communication, data tracking, and safety are just a few of the topics app developers and communities have tried to make easier. The cheapest way for citizens to get help and information is through neighbors and others around them. By linking people through apps and websites that harbor conversation and promote civil service cities have found an inexpensive way to provide services to its people.
As civic technology is "just a piece of the $25.5 billion that government spends on external information technology (IT)," it is not difficult to see how this sector will grow from here on out towards fostering more innovation in the public and private sectors and towards furthering civic engagement within these sectors and with these platforms of technology.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2016)
Civic hacking is a technological approach to solving civic problems, often involving the use of government data to make governments more accountable. Civic hackers can be programmers, designers, data scientists, good communicators, civic organizers, entrepreneurs and government employees. Some civic hackers are employed by nonprofits, such as Code for America and projects such as mySociety work at the intersection of civic technology and hacktivism. Some work for innovative for-profit companies, such as the geospatial software provider Azavea in Philadelphia. Others are civic hackers only by night.
Code for America
Code for America is a non-partisan, non-political 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2009 to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors in their effective use of technology and design. The organization believes that for the U.S. government to truly serve the people in the 21st century, it must do three things:
- Be good at digital. Digital skills must be embedded at all levels of government, and owned by the people responsible for delivering programs and services to the public.
- Ensure policy and implementation work together, and are centered around the needs of the people. Linear processes, moving from policy, to implementation to stasis, must transform into iterative cycles where policy and implementation are informed by each other and are focused on people's needs.
- Be a platform for civic engagement and participation. Government must learn to incorporate productive contributions from the public, so that everyone can help make government work.
mySociety is an e-democracy project of the UK-based registered charity named UK Citizens Online Democracy. It began as a UK-focused organisation with the aim of making online democracy tools for UK citizens.
Princeton Group Hackings
Princeton University Professor Andrew Appel set out to prove how easy it was to hack into a voting machine. He and a graduate student, Alex Halderman, purchased a voting machine, and Halderman picked the lock in 7 seconds. They removed the 4 ROM chips and replaced them with modified versions of their own: a version of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter. It took less than 7 minutes to complete the process.
Appel wrote a testimony for the Congress House Subcommittee on Information Technology hearing on “Cybersecurity: Ensuring the Integrity of the Ballot Box”, suggesting to for Congress to eliminate touchscreen voting machines after the election of 2016, and that it require all elections be subject to sensible auditing after every election to ensure that the systems are functioning properly and to prove to the American people that their votes are counted as cast.
- Comparison chart of civic technology platforms
- Civic Technology Companies
- Digital citizen
- Open government
- Service design
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