Omidyar Network

Defining civic tech

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Omidyar Network’s recent report, “Engines of Change,” and the need to better label and define the movement happening around civics and government with respect to technology.

We’ve seen terms like e-gov, Gov 2.0, open government, govtech, open data and other iterations and variations over the last few years, and there always seems to be confusion over what to call the work civic hackers, public sector technologists and civic-focused entrepreneurs collectively do.

The report has been helpful (to me) in providing larger context as to why “civic tech” is appropriate to coalesce around and has convinced me to adopt it within the work I do, both here at GovFresh, but also ProudCity.

There have been numerous attempts to define this, but Omidyar’s is concise yet comprehensive:

any technology that is used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient, and effective

But more than the simple definition, this chart of the subset — “Citizen to Citizen,” “Citizen to Government,” “Government Technology” — is what provided clarity for me:


Source: Omidyar Network

I do think, however, much like we’ve seen with “green” terminology inside the environmental movement, we need to better define principles around what differentiates the genetically modified versus natural versus organic civic technology.

The next step for the civic tech movement is to better frame what’s expected of the core technologies that drive it, specifically open source and open data. While there are many companies operating under the civic tech umbrella, we’re still a far cry away from most operating under sustainable civic principles.

How many civic tech companies can say they operate with a true open ethos? Unfortunately, not that many.

Today, much of what we have is genetically modified civic technology.

After thinking more on Omidyar’s report, I’m putting the civic tech sticker on my computer (who has one?) and look forward to continuing to encourage and champion those under its umbrella to actively adopt a more sustainable approach to its growth.

Only then will the definition of civic tech have true meaning.

Omidyar releases civic tech report, specific calls to action

Engines of Change

Omidyar Network has released “Engines of Change,” a report on the state of civic technology in the context of 21st century social movements that includes specific calls to action for organizations, governments, cities, practitioners, startups and investors that can help grow and sustain its impact.

The report, done in partnership with Purpose, is based on research conducted in 2016 with data based on meet-ups, social media conversations, GitHub contributions and venture funding, and provides a framework in which to view the momentum around civic technology. It incorporates Purpose’s Movement Measurement framework, a “methodology that uses big data to analyze social change,” that encompasses six criteria (Scale and/or Growth, Grassroots Activity, Sustained Engagement, Shared Vision, Collective Action, Shared Identity).

From Omidyar Network Investment Partner Stacy Donohue:

“So why consider viewing civic tech using the lens of 21st century movements? Movements are engines of change in society that enable citizens to create new and better paths to engage with government and to seek recourse on issues that matter to millions of people. At first glance, civic tech doesn’t appear to be a movement in the purest sense of the term, but on closer inspection, it does share some fundamental characteristics. Like a movement, civic tech is mission driven, is focused on making change that benefits the public, and in most cases enables better public input into decision making. We believe that better understanding the essential components of movements, and observing the ways in which civic tech does nor does not behave like one, can yield insights on how we as a civic tech community can collectively drive the sector forward.”

Civic tech, as defined by the report, is “any technology that is used to empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient, and effective.” A subset of this includes “Citizen to Citizen,” “Citizen to Government,” “Government Technology” technologies.

Findings in a nutshell:

The main take-away from this research is a need for a coherent and clearly articulated vision and sense of shared identity for civic tech. If the sector can work together to deliver this, it will help attract more participants to the sector – the more people understand what we mean when we say civic tech, the more they may see their work and interests reflected in it and will be interested to actively “join the movement”.

Download “Engines of Change” (.pdf) and visit the website.

SeeClickFix raises $1.4 million to grow its 311 platform

SeeClickFixSeeClickFix announced today it raised an additional $1.4 million in investment to expand its 311 offering aimed at making it easier for city residents to report non-emergency issues and allow governments to quickly respond and resolve these in an open and public manner.

Previous investors Omidyar Network and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures contributed to the new round along with new investors New Elm Street Ventures, Connecticut Innovations and LaunchCapital.

According to the announcement, SeeClickFix has 25 employees with plans to double over the next year.

SeeClickFix was founded in 2008 and, in January 2011, received its first major round of funding at $1.5 million.

“Our citizen and government users have the same goal—to resolve problems and improve neighborhoods,” said SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz announcing the new investment. “This funding will allow SeeClickFix to accelerate development and adoption of the next generation of request management—improving communication and communities throughout the world.”

“The SeeClickFix platform has demonstrated significant, tangible social impact,” said Omidyar Network’s Stacy Donohue in the release. “The team has created a scalable, low-cost way to turn citizen concerns and frustration into participation and engagement while strengthening community bonds.”

Reinventing government procurement

Reinventors is hosting a live, online government procurement roundtable with key nonprofit, business and media leaders on Thursday, July 31, 2014, at 11:00 a.m. PT.

The discussion is part of “Reinvent America: Our Technology Foundation Series” led by Reinventors founder Peter Leyden.


”How can we make the way government buys technology compatible with the way good technology is now built – yet ensure the process is fair and people are accountable?”


Sign up and watch here.

More about the Reinvent America series: