The Promise of Civic Technology

by Scott London

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the promises of civic tech. Forbes magazine dubbed it the next big thing and the Knight Foundation says there is now a groundswell of interest in the field. New technologies can help us increase public participation, improve transparency, strengthen local communities, and even give people a real voice in the policymaking process. At least that’s the hope.

Civic TechI see civic tech as an exciting frontier. But, as I pointed out in a conversation with PlaceSpeak, we’re not quite there yet. Much of the technology is still under development. There are thorny questions that still need to be sorted out. For example, how do we move beyond an “input” and “feedback” model of public participation? How can we give people an authentic voice in setting directions for public policy? How do we make sure decision-making processes are open and inclusive?

“The new technologies are of great value to citizens for obvious reasons,” I noted in the Q&A. “Connecting with leaders online is far more convenient than having to attend public meetings, wait your turn to be heard, and then, in the two minutes or so that you’re given to speak, state your opinion for the record. Technology offers a better way to raise issues, voice concerns and push for accountability from local officials.”

Online platforms also benefit decision-makers. They give them the ability to inform the public about key issues or solicit feedback on pending decisions. But why stop there? As I told PlaceSpeak, “the new technologies allow people and their leaders to do more than simply ‘connect’ with one another. They open up pathways for thoughtful two-way conversation. That gives public officials more exposure to the community, engages people who might not otherwise be part of the decision-making process, and allows the public to be involved in addressing difficult issues that experts and advocates alone can’t solve.”

To read the complete interview, go to: In Conversation with Scott London