What Is “Civic Technology”, Anyway?

Code for South Florida’s mission as an organization is to build an ecosystem that fosters Civic Technology. Also known as “Public Interest Technology”, Civic Technology refers to the digital tools, services, and workflows that support and enhance the relationship between people and government as it relates to communications, decision-making, and service delivery. Civic Technology Projects often achieve multiple outcomes, such as improving access to information, streamlining services, and enabling government-citizen interactions.

Below is an explanation of these outcomes with some examples from Code For South Florida’s network.

Improving Access To Information

One of technology’s most important features is how it enables the quick access, display, and interpretation of data. Through collaboration with government agencies, we can make public domain information more readily available to citizens for civic engagement or individual representation.

For example, one of our flagship projects, LocalAir.org, is collecting data on air quality that would otherwise be unavailable to the city. Once the data is collected, aggregated, and published, then it becomes an asset to other agents of change like researchers and civic engagement groups who can freely use the data to advocate for better environmental protection policies, or educate locals about the uses of data.

Streamlining Services

Technology and service delivery have always been hand-in-hand. People create services that deliver on a specific promise, and technology solutions enhance these services through process automation, universal access, and massive scalability. In Civic Technology, this can often manifest as a transforming in-person, analog process for social assistance into a simple fast modern form digital service.

GetCalFresh.org, a project by our strategic national partner Code for America, enabled low-income citizens to apply for food stamps online in only 10 minutes. Also by Code For America, GetYourRefund.org enabled low-income individuals to file their taxes online with VITA organizations, a process that is customarily analog and in person, which helped citizens get well over $500,000 in their federal tax returns from the comfort of their internet-enabled devices.

Enabling Government-Citizen Interactions

Public Officials are chosen through popular elections to represent the policies their constituents agree with. However, elected officials need feedback and opinions of their constituents to continuously enact policies representatives of public opion. How can elected officials and community leaders understand the needs and wants of the public they serve and represent, and how can this be done in real-time?

Our project People Budget is tackling this question by fast-tracking the development of a participatory budgeting tool that enables citizens to deliver feedback around different budgeting projects proposed by city leaders. The “participatory budgeting” concept already exists in over 50 cities around the country in some form. The Miami Budget App in development as of the time of this writing is set to introduce a new dimension to the locally established democratic processes through the active application of Civic Technology.

How Do We Build Civic Technology?

The projects and platforms listed here are all examples of what Civic Technology can do for communities, cities, and governments. While technology solutions and software programming resources are more abundant than ever, successful implementation Civic Technology is a community effort involving technology professionals, elected officials, and every day citizens alike. Public services and the technology solutions that support them do not exist in a vacuum, and must be designed with the user’s (i.e. the citizens they serve) best interests in mind. Civic Technology ultimately provides an opportunity to reshape governance and political processes by designing and updating them for the 21st century, and paving the way toward a better South Florida that can set an example for other local governments around the country.