An opinionated list of things you might find directly useful in your civic tech work, and where to find more connections on your own.
Finding Civic Tech People and Projects
There’s probably civic tech work going on somewhere near you—if not geographically, then definitely online. Here are some ideas to get connected to the community.
- You can find the closest volunteer civic tech group by looking up the Code for America Brigade’s chapters (https://brigade.codeforamerica.org), or by searching for “open data [yourcity]” or “civic tech [yourcity]”. It’s also a great idea to attend community meetings in your area to find out what problems the community is grappling with.
- There’s a large community on Twitter, and the hashtags #civictech and #govtech are reliable starting points. #opendata, #servicedesign, and #smartcities are broader conversations that often have civic tech content as well.
- If you’re in a city with a large government digital team, check to see whether they hold regular brown bags or potlucks for the community (many do).
- If you can afford it, go to the Code for America Summit sometime. The conference is huge and can be daunting, but offers quite a few sessions and events designed to make first-time attendees comfortable.
- Civic Hall’s Civic Tech Field Guide has an extensive, crowdsourced listing of civic tech projects globally (https://civictech.guide/).
Tools You Can Use in Your Civic Tech Work
All of these are resources you might apply directly in a project.
Tools and Standards for Digital Work
- Digital Services Playbook from the United States Digital Service, https://playbook.cio.gov/.
- The Open Data Handbook from the Open Knowledge Foundation, https://opendatahandbook.org/.
- The United States Web Design System (https://designsystem.digital.gov) is a free, open-source library of responsive, accessible website components that any government project can use.
- Plainlanguage.gov (https://plainlanguage.gov) is the federal government’s resource on plain writing for public-sector entities.
Data on the Public’s Use of the Internet
- The Pew Internet and American Life Project (https://pewinternet.org) is an indispensable regular survey of the technologies Americans use online, and the attitudes they hold about them.
- Brookings Metro’s neighborhood broadband data, published in 2020, is the most granular data I know of on internet access (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/02/05/neighborhood-broadband-data-makes-it-clear-we-need-an-agenda-to-fight-digital-poverty/).
- Find datasets published by a state or city government by going to data.[government].gov or searching for “open data [place]”. The federal version is just data.gov.
Templates for Inclusion
- Project Include’s guide for writing company codes of conduct: https://projectinclude.org/writing_cocs
- Plone, a long-running open-source project, has a short and strong code of conduct that many other organizations have adopted or adapted. I particularly appreciate its emphasis on community responsibility: https://plone.org/foundation/materials/foundation-resolutions/code-of-conduct.
- Cornell University’s checklist for accessible physical meetings is excellent if your group meets in person: https://accessibility.cornell.edu/event-planning/accessible-meeting-and-event-checklist/.
Civic Tech Companies
There are far too many for a list, so I’ll offer a few examples of companies that present themselves as part of civic tech, as a template for finding more.
- Civilla is a Detroit-based design consultancy with a focus on the public sector. These exist all over the country, and many are organized as nonprofits, B Corps, or public-benefit corporations (PBCs): https://www.civilla.com.
- DataMade is a consultancy that helps organizations build tools and applications for the public good using open data: https://datamade.us.
- Nava PBC is a consultancy founded by alumni of the HealthCare.gov rescue that focuses on digital projects for federal and state agencies. They build custom technology and maintain major sites: https://www.navapbc.com.
There are more firms focusing on this space every year. I sometimes call them “new school vendors,” and they are starting to rival government digital service teams in the number of technologists they hire.
Mutual Aid and Participation Projects
- The Human Utility is a nonprofit company that matches donors with people with punitive water bills in distressed counties, to free them from the debt and get their water turned back on. A facilitated mutual aid model: https://detroitwaterproject.org.
- Streetmix is an open-source project that is free for city planners and residents to use. (It began as a side project for a few Code for America fellows and is now independently maintained with foundation sponsorship.)To date, it has been used to create more than a hundred thousand plans, and anyone can contribute on GitHub: https://streetmix.net/.
- SeamlessDocs is a venture-funded start-up that converts paper or PDF forms into web forms and helps organizations manage the data. They are optimized to sell to governments and agencies, mostly at the municipal and state level: https://seamlessdocs.com.
- Granicus is a company that offers enterprise-scale communications solutions for local and state governments, including meeting recording, safe email messaging, and cloud storage: https://granicus.com.
- Esri is an enormous geodata solutions company that has many government customers and caters to government needs: https://granicus.com.
Further places to look:
- AngelList maintains a category for civic tech startups: https://angel.co/civic-tech-1.
- The Govtech Fund’s portfolio companies are a good starting point: http://govtechfund.com/portfolio/.
Programs to Help Small Companies as Government Vendors
Health & Human Services (HHS) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) maintain a good list of these programs. Most states consider qualification for these federal programs in their procurement as well: https://www.hhs.gov/grants/small-business-programs/programs-supporting-small-businesses/index.html.
Organizations That Work to Bring Private-Sector Technologists into Government
If you want to get a job inside government with additional support from an organization that understands the transition from the private sector, these are great places to start.
- 18F is an internal federal government digital consultancy that hires people on two- to four-year terms (https://18f.gsa.gov/).
- Code for America offers a yearlong Community Fellowship, as well as permanent staff jobs working with government partners (https://www.codeforamerica.org/).
- Coding It Forward offers a Civic Digital Fellowship for college students (https://www.codingitforward.com/).
- The General Services Administration offers a twelve-month Presidential Innovation Fellows program (https://presidentialinnovationfellows.gov/).
- TechCongress offers a Congressional Digital Services Fellowship (https://www.techcongress.io/).
- United States Digital Response is a nonprofit supporting emergency technology projects, usually for shorter terms (https://www.usdigitalresponse.org/).
- United States Digital Service is an agency of the federal government that hires people on three-month to two-year terms (https://www.usds.gov/).
More Digital Service Groups
The United States Digital Service and 18F are the federal teams, but many large cities and several states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York as of summer 2020) now have their own version. Try searching “[city or state] digital service” to see if your city or state has one. USDS, which is a White House office, has also spun out independent, agency-specific teams at Defense, VA, and HHS.
Academic and Other Institutions Concerned with Civic Tech
I include these because they are great places to look for partnership, events, and sometimes funding. Several offer fellowships or project grants.
- The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government
- The Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University
- Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities Initiative
- The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
- Center for Civic Design
- Ford Foundation
- The Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure at University of Massachusetts at Amherst (launching Fall 2020)
- Knight Foundation
- New America
- Omidyar Network
- OpenGov Partnership
- Sunlight Foundation