Surprisingly, there is no definition of “civic technology” on Wikipedia. Reinvent Albany and the, um, civic technology groups we work use the term “civic technology” to describe Information Technology (usually Internet based) that promotes more open and transparent government, makes government digital information more findable and usable by the public, encourages public participation and collaboration in civic affairs, and increases government accountability. These technologies are centered around improving communication and information flow between the public and the government, and government and the public.
The best civic technologies align the interests of the public and the government. They provide information that helps government managers make better decisions, government workers do their jobs more efficiently, and allow them to draw on public expertise and experience. The biggest consumer of government information is government. Yet government information is often as hard to find for government as it is for the public. Simple civic technologies that make government digital information easier to find saves everyone time and money. This can be as simple as an agency website that posts reports and studies, or a centralized open data portal like New York City’s.
Online, interactive maps for instance, can help government workers do their jobs more effectively, while also informing the public and promoting public participation and consensus. The NY State Liquor Authority’s map of liquor licenses allows the public, its elected representatives, and even the SLA itself, to quickly determine whether a store or restaurant has a liquor license. The New York City DOT interactive bike share map allows the public to suggest locations for public bike share stations that the public, government, and community planning boards can see and consider. The popular online map has encouraged more people to go to community board planning meetings — it’s added to civic engagement, and contributed to a quicker, and less laborious, public consensus.
If you have thoughts or comments on the definition of “civic technology” write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join us on the discussion page of Civic Technology on Wikipedia.