Civic tech and listening for social change

The civic technology movement just got a big boost - a $45 million fund focused on technologies that help people engage with their governments and government agencies be more responsive to their people launched today.

The Making All Voices Count Fund (MAVC) is a partnership between Omidyar Network, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and Sweden, through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). 

I also just came across this useful report on Civic Technology from #openplans as part of the Living Cities initiative. It breaks civic technologies down into three categories: 

  • "Improving quality of and accountability in public service delivery – Help city residents more effectively access and track responsiveness of public service delivery, facilitate resident engagement with government around service delivery issues, and streamline resident access to public services.
  • Facilitating resident-driven improvements to neighborhood quality-of-life – Enlist city residents to provide new data to support or inform government efforts, to organize community-based efforts based on that data, or to participate in the development of strategies and policies to address these issues more effectively.
  • Deepening participation in public decision-making – Developing more effective ways to collect meaningful resident input, especially from low-income people, and bring low-income people more deeply into public decision-making processes."
These are helpful categories although they're very broad.  They focus on the interactions between residents and governments - as does the MAVC funding. I'm also interested in resident-to-resident versions of these technologies - where we're using them to connect to each other in pursuit of a shared goal. These include disaster response efforts like #hurricanehackers and #occupysandy, apps that let you share info on farmers markets, apps that faciliate produce or tool exchanges between neighbors.

Last night I attended a meeting hosted by the Knight Foundation that brought together a small group of Silicon Valley companies, nonprofits, city officials, techies, and activists interested in building the connections between residents and our governments. Knight's been hosting similar meetings in other cities, following on its TechForEngagement summit last year. It is all part of a small, growing, exciting movement happening all over the world. It ties in nicely to my post earlier this week about MySociety - the UK nonprofit that "tweeted for trustees."

The civic technology field is fascinating to me precisely because it's more than technology - it's about people:government, it's people:people, it's people:people:goverment and people:communityorganization:people.

It's all part of an emerging digital civil society.


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