For nearly 10 years local and state governments, nonprofit organizations and businesses have begun using their resources to create better transparency in government information, connect and engage citizens, launch community forums and events, and raise funds for public services and spaces. This movement has since been named civic technology.
One of the biggest parts of civic tech is using technology to improve government infrastructure and increase access to information. This both empowers citizens and increases the use of resources that already exists but aren't used to their full potential. Likewise, civic tech helps citizens share resources and equipment around the community in the form of bike-sharing, public computer labs, community hackathons, and data portals.
Nonprofits and for-profits alike are now forming entire organizations around civic tech, opening up access to information and tools for the greater good. However, there are ways for any company to incorporate civic tech into the business model and increase the positive impact on the community. Here are a few ways to make that happen.
Create a professional networking or business training group in your community. Connect professionals in lower-income areas, those with disabilities or Baby Boomers. There are many people in the professional world without consistent access to social or professional networks and it limits their job growth and access to information. Use your network to bring in speakers, provide or rent a space and connect these individuals to create a stronger community.
"The emergence of a broader and maturing civic tech community has provided previously marginalized populations like people with disabilities and younger citizens from socio-economically and resource poor areas the opportunity to engage in learning, establish a professional and community network, and envision a career path in the exciting field of tech," said Patrick Maher, Director of Civic Engagement at SPR Consulting.
Offer open houses or training in technology after hours. Open your doors to members of the community who do not have access to computers or the internet. Offer trainings in typing and software or assist with online job applications. These trainings can be self-guided and staffed by very few people. The equipment is already there, untouched for many hours of the evening and weekend. Put it to use for others.
Use well-established networks to promote community events or crowdfund the cost of repairing or using public spaces. Startups and businesses have a network of vendors, customers and fans ready to act. Whether you're supporting a specific organization's efforts or simply spreading the word of events and campaigns across the community, you can use the channels already in place to pass the word.
Partner with or invest in an established organization to provide technology support, equipment, volunteer time or money. There's no reason to start your own program if there's one in place that's already working. Donate refurbished equipment and accessories, or offer much needed financial, volunteer and tech support.
"Civic tech is less of a field, more of a movement. It is a movement of people with technology skills. It is a movement of people who recognize that technology holds a unique place in serving the enduring aims of a modern democracy. It is a movement of people who believe deeply in the power of technology to tackle the seemingly intractable challenges of urban environments," said Adam Hecktman, Microsoft's Director of Technology & Civic Innovation for Chicago.
Whatever your capabilities and interests, there are many ways to get involved in civic tech and there are innumerable benefits to doing so. There is so much to be done to increase access to tech, information and public networks. Join the movement and make it part of your business this year.