Why #CivicTech Needs to Think Small
Today is the last day to vote for Code for America’s Brigade Program Advisory Council. As CFA thinks about how to change their regional partnership program, I chose to put myself on the ballot as a co-organizer of Code for Maine in order to remind folks that Civic Tech exists outside of major cities, and that networks of small cities in more rural regions have an important role to play in the future of civic tech and civic innovation.
The factoid that more than half the world now lives in cities is overblown. We’re all urban now inasmuch as we are connected to each other. Yet even by 2040, despite the growth of mega cities around the world, a large portion of the worlds population will still live in cities with under 100,000 people. When the Code for America brigade program was starting, several cities launched “Code for X” groups. Code for Maine was to my knowledge the first group that took a state-wide approach, with other regional groups like Code for Western Mass. eventually forming. The funding environment for civic tech is still new, but we knew that many large foundations thinking about their impact still have an aversion to funding civic tech in small cities. By framing our movement regionally, Code for Maine hopes to show the value of investing in grassroots civic tech across a network of small places.
As a storyteller for Code for Maine, I’ve met mayors, elementary school geniuses, pig farmers, and had the chance to see how diverse civic hackers and their philosophies of civic tech can be. Code for America’s brigades have always worked well at the city scale, but as a state-wide brigade, we’re keen to show the potential for impact in smaller cities and regions outside major metropolitan areas where civic engagement is strong, traditional participatory democratic practices still exist, and experiments with new tools and platforms are easier to launch with local support.
If elected to the advisory council, I want to network with brigades and organizations that have a similar geography to ours and create a caucus of sorts for small cities and towns, to ensure that the brigade system continues to support the scale of our work, and unlocks the enormous R&D and growth potential of cultivating diverse civic tech traditions in small communities across the country. Whether or not I’m elected to this council, I hope to continue exploring the potential of rural community tech. I’ll be at Code for America’s Summit in Oakland on November 1st and look forward to connecting with others who work in small cities, rural regions, or the periphery of larger cities.
Small places = big change!
Ordinary places = extraordinary potential!