The Civic Tech Ecosystem: What actually is included in it?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diving into the field of civic tech, and realized that the topic needed some clarification. Because it’s still a developing area, the definition of what civic tech actually is remains a bit blurry. This post will try to clear some of that up.

The first attempt was a report released in 2013 by the Knight’s Foundation, a civic tech monitoring and research group. In it, they grouped civic tech actors and organizations into two big areas: open government and community action.

Each area could be broken up into subsections, and individual actors in each subsection:

The problem with this report is that it was focused only on the broad strokes for classification. It was essentially an interactive mindmap. A great starting place, but we needed additional information.

The next notable report to be released added how those organization and actors were connected. It included two significant layers to the ecosystem map —

The organizational structure: 
Government
Individual
Non-profit
For-profit

Connections between the groups: 
Funding
Data
Employment
Collaboration

The most recent map I found focused the scope on a single city, St. Louis. It gives a much richer view of citizen needs and what solutions are out there to address them. It included areas like talent and training, housing, and activities that encourage involvement.

So with all of these maps, why are the boundaries still so blurry? Why is it still difficult to define what is included in the field? I think there are two reasons.

  1. The framing matters. Depending on the scope, different things emerge or are left out. All of these areas qualify as civic tech, but they don’t fit some clear cut category because they all address different areas of the field.
  2. New tech is emerging all the time, and existing tech is constantly being repurposed for new uses. The development of tech is so rapid, it’s almost impossible to keep track. And each new innovation might exist outside of the neat categories that the Knight’s Foundation laid out.

For now, we have to embrace the ambiguity inherent in the field.