Civic Technology: Civic > Tech

Posted on: January 8, 2017, by :
Exploring a Nepali hillside with Nepali technologists & entrepreneurs

It’s been about 2 years since I transitioned from the World Bank to my current position at Humanity United. It was not easy for me to take a break from fields I remain passionate about (international development, transparency, data, etc), but I have enjoyed learning and the deep dive into new issues (forced labor, migration, supply chains) and new regions (South Asia & the Middle East) while continuing to hone my tech chops through practical and meaningful ways.

That said, I find myself reflecting more on civic technology in 2017 than in most recent years. In part, it is a growing unease with political tides and discourse in the US. Part of this can be addressed by keeping the mentality that Joe Goldman of the Democracy Fund proposes- 9 Resolutions for Democracy in 2017. Well before the last election cycle, I have also struggled with what the next phase for civic technology should be. How would we make good on our promises to change the world? I saw the good. I saw the bad. I was equally parts of both. My friend Josh Tauberer captures many of these sentiments here: Civic Tech’s Act III is beginning. Now more than ever, Act III looms large.

Many of us who were born in the late 70s or early 80s have had a very different experience with technology. With it comes a very different set of expectations for technology. We’re old enough to remember what life was like before our current connected state but also young enough to appreciate pushing those boundaries onward- a unique place indeed.

So what does all of this mean for those of us working in civic technology?

  1. Civic > Tech: The civic in civic technology has always been important, but the civic piece has always been the key. Our calling cards may have been technology, but without a deeper investment in understanding and appreciation for the power dynamics underlying social issues, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again. When it comes to the specific issues we are committed to, there is no such thing as being a generalist.
  2. Full Hearts + Clear Eyes: The danger of elevating the civic in civic tech is that we may compromise our ability to see and act rationally. But if we periodically regulate this passion with reason, amazing things are possible. In terms of our hearts, while they may be concealed, our actions should always be open to scrutiny.
  3. Impact Before Scale: We often convince ourselves that impact doesn’t come until our tech scales, but for social issues, we can and should fight and claw for every inch of impact from the initial pilot stage. When it comes to fighting for impact, let us be impatient. No doubt making this happen is extremely difficult and will largely depend on good ‘ol time inefficient manual work and effort- but all for a worthy goal. You know what builds confidence in a moonshot more than anything else? Bringing back a little piece of the moon…

Now comes the fun part for me. Putting all of this into practice.


As always, open to your thoughts and comments.

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