It seems like every day there’s a civic hackathon going on in some city in the United States. The ‘all hands on deck’ method that has become such a part of the open data/civic-meets-tech movement is starting to reach critical mass because of a subset of developers and entrepreneurs that have realized that creating tools to solve civic issues can not only be a positive social venture, but also one laden in financial opportunity. Startups like Nation Builder and iCitizen have taken it upon themselves to find ways to create democratic change through for-profit ventures.
Civic for-profit businesses have been around for decades. Pioneers such as GovDelivery and VoteSmart have used advanced technology to empower both our government and the people, for over a dozen years. They paved the road for what is now shaping up to be one of the most intriguing industries in the modern era: civic technology.
What’s making civic technology truly interesting is the new way in which big data is becoming a greater part of governance. With the increased availability of municipal data, the need to analyze and utilize this information for the benefit of the public has become a priority.
But the rise and importance of big data isn’t the only reason civic technology is taking off at a blazing pace. The reality is, it’s been a long time coming. Digitizing our democracy has been a goal 15 years in the making. Many entrepreneurs have taken a crack at it, and a few have been able to stick around for the long haul. And when you think about it, it makes sense--big email, social media, and real-time mass communication all have the foundational makings of a more digitized democracy where analytics, mobile outreach, and real-time engagement could increase and improve public participation… we just haven’t been able to figure it out yet. Why it hasn’t happened at the prolific rate once predicted a dozen years ago is up for debate, but what isn’t is the fact that the tide is changing.
The era of new and exciting civic technology business led by social entrepreneurs determined to utilize open data, mobile technology, and a growing desire for tools to reduce the widespread frustration of a seemingly broken democratic system, seems to be upon us. The elected officials, candidates, cities, counties, and organizations that decide to embrace this new era and the technology tools that come with it will have a decided advantage and appeal. Only time will tell if this civic technology era will truly “fix” our democracy, but undoubtedly, it’s going to help.