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Open civic organizations

How government agencies, academia, nonprofit organizations and public sector vendors can build open, participatory models of operating.

Estimated read time: 1 minutes

By Luke Fretwell · August 2, 2023

How organizations work operationally are important, especially those that serve the public in some form.

These include:

  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Academic institutions
  • Public sector vendors
  • Civic communities of practices

Open vs. closed organizations

Closed organizations are publicly inaccessible, exclusive and offer little to no collaboration opportunities. In developer terms they’re ‘read only’. Most organizations operate in this way.

Open organizations are publicly accessible, inclusive and offer many collaboration avenues. They are given some form of ‘write’ access. While most civic organizations should operate in this way, there are still significant shortcomings on this front.

Open civic organizations

True civic organizations, or open civic organizations, are defined by how they work – openly, constructively and collaboratively with the people they serve. They follow the principles of Git government and the virtuous civic circle.

Open civic organizations are defined as:

Mission-minded people, powered by open culture, joining together, learning from one another and making better democracy.

We need open civic organizations because they:

  • Scale impact
  • Cultivate public innovation
  • Condition society for community collaboration
  • Shine light on the work of democracy

Open civic organizations are cross-sector. They include:

  • General public
  • Government
  • Industry
  • Nonprofit
  • Academia

Open civic organizations work:

  • Openly
  • Iteratively
  • Asynchronously
  • Collaboratively
  • Constructively
  • Self-organizing
  • Merit-based
  • Product minded

Open civic organization values include:

  • Joy
  • Impact
  • Humility
  • Equity
  • Diversity
  • Inclusivity
  • Community
  • Meritocracy
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Collaboration
  • Experimentation
  • Self-organization

Open civic organizations share the narrative:

  • Regularly
  • Simple, consistent format
  • Options for feedback

Core components of open civic organizations include publicly available:

  • Repository
  • URL
  • Project board
  • Team agreement
  • Code of conduct

Borrowing from Play 13 of the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, open civic organizations generally follow this checklist:

  • Offer users a mechanism to report bugs and issues, and be responsive to these reports
  • When appropriate, publish source code of projects or components online
  • When appropriate, share your development process and progress publicly

Examples of open civic organizations include California Alpha, Proudly Serving, Open Collective and most successful open source projects, to name just a few.

Shift to open civics

Many civic organizations are performative in the way they work, often leaning on their tax status or traditional designation for public service legitimacy. They accentuate more the what and who – the brand, product or end users – and less on the how.

How an organization works is the mission-driven difference between traditional, closed public sector focused institutions and open civic organizations.

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Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder and maintainer of GovFresh. More from Luke.

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