What Can Civic Tech Learn From Social Movements?

Stacy Donohue at Omidyar Network: “…In order to spur creative thinking about how the civic tech sector could be accelerated and expanded, we looked to Purpose, a public benefit corporation that works with NGOs, philanthropies, and brands on movement building strategies. We wanted to explore what we might learn from taking the work that Purpose has done mapping the progress of of 21st century social movements and applying its methodology to civic tech.

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 or does not behave like one, can yield insights on how we as a civic tech community can collectively drive the sector forward….

report Engines of Change: What Civic Tech Can Learn From Social Movements….provides a lot of rich insight and detail which we invite everyone to explore.  Meanwhile, we have summarized five key findings:

  1. Grassroots activity is expanding across the US – Activity is no longer centralized around San Francisco and New York; it’s rapidly growing and spreading across the US – in fact, there was an 81% increase in the number of cities hosting civic tech MeetUps from 2013 to 2015, and 45 of 50 states had at least one MeetUp on civic tech in 2015.
  2. Talk is turning to action – We are walking the talk. One way we can see this is that growth in civic tech Twitter discussion is highly correlated with the growth in GitHub contributions to civic tech projects and related Meetup events. Between 2013-2015, over 8,500 people contributed code to GitHub civic tech projects and there were over 76,000 MeetUps for civic tech events. 
  3. There is an engaged core, but it is very small in number – As with most social movements, civic tech has a definite core of highly engaged evangelists, advocates and entrepreneurs that are driving conversations, activity, and events and this is growing. The number of Meetup groups holding multiple events a quarter grew by 136% between 2013 to 2015. And likewise there was a 60% growth in Engaged Tweeters in during this time period.  However, this level of activity is dwarfed by other movements such as climate action.
  4. Civic tech is growing but still lacking scale – There are many positive indications of growth in civic tech; for example, the combination of nonprofit and for-profit funding to the sector increased by almost 120% over the period.  But while growth compares favorably to other movements, again the scale just isn’t there.
  5. Common themes, but no shared vision or identity – Purpose examined the extent to which civic tech exhibits and articulates a shared vision or identity around which members of a movement can rally. What they found is that many fewer people are discussing the same shared set of themes. Two themes – Open Data and Government Transparency – are resonating and gaining traction across the sector and could therefore form the basis of common identity for civic tech.

While each of these insights is important in its own right and requires action to move the sector forward, the main thing that strikes us is the need for a coherent and clearly articulated vision and sense of shared identity for civic tech…

Read the full report: Engines of Change: What Civic Tech Can Learn From Social Movements

Explore the data tool here….(More)”