What is Civic Technology?

New Fad or New Future?

We all know the terror of having to deal with government offices. Long lines to get a driver’s license. Needing to know “someone” to get a passport. Micro-tyrant staff. And yet, we’re perfectly positioned to change the old way of doing things. To make things easier, simpler and faster. This is what civic technology is about.

Any literature on the topic you might read deeply grapples with definition of civic technology. It is simply the use of technology for improving public services. At a higher level, civic technology aims to bridge the gap between citizen and governments by enhancing communication, building smarter cities and making governments more accountable. At Pollicy, this is what we aim to do.

What are some examples of civic technology in our everyday life?

People can be averse to change. Governments can be averse to change. And governments make a challenging customer. Yet, we’re already seeing strides being made! In Uganda, the eCitizen portal was launched as a one-stop shop to enhance government service delivery to citizens and residents. You can pay your taxes to the Ugandan Revenue Authority using Mobile Money. Recently, the National Information Technology Authority took on the task of e-Immigration by developing an electronic application and processing system for visas, entry work permits and passes. What used to be a confusing, convoluted (and greasy palmed) process is slowly transitioning into an efficient, easy and cost-effective digital experience.

The private sector is also taking note. Recently, software developers Ray Besiga and Moses Mugisha at Sparkplug launched Urb, a civic engagement platform where communities can report concerns or comment on local issues to improve their neighborhoods. The aim is to create a sense of connectivity and collective action in communities. You can read more about that here!

What does civic technology mean for sub-saharan Africa?

Civic technology has been growing rapidly in countries such as the USA and UK with digital service agencies such as 18F and Government Digital Services placed within these governments, respectively. These agencies work within governments to digitally transform service delivery to citizens. Civic tech funding in the US rose by $870 million from 2013 to 2015, representing an increase of 119 percent! Several businesses have managed to raise significant amounts of funding. For example, Nextdoor, a free and private social network for neighborhoods has raised over $200 million in funding. Colab a community reporting app in Brazil raised $1.25 million in Series A funding. Civic tech funder Omidyar Network Network recently announced a new $3.5 million fund for developing for-profit and non-profit civic tech platforms (in Latin America).

Here in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re just starting out. There are few funding streams for civic technology. Few countries in Africa are part of the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that aims to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and adopt new technologies for better governance. Small movements have begun. In Nigeria, the Civic Hub has started an accelerator for young fellows to develop their ideas in the fight against bad governance.

Yet, countries in Africa have the most to gain from these advancements in how citizens interact with governments. With poor transportation infrastructure/systems, low financial resources and disengaged governing institutions, these communities will benefit immensely through improved information exchange, documentation, payment platforms, supply chains and sharing economies.

As a discipline deeply obsessed with data, we will also need to understand how to monitor and evaluate civic tech. How do we know what is working and what is not? How do we ensure that the technology we develop is responsible, secure and actually being used for social good?

We would love to hear from you if you’re currently working on civic technology anywhere in SSA. Write to us at http://pollicy.org/.

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