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Who Benefits From Civic Technology

August 23, 2017 by Rebecca Rumbul

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Online and digital technologies that enable citizens to hold governments to account, known as civic technologies, are proliferating at a steady rate around the world. The potential for these platforms to invigorate citizen engagement, increase transparency, and broaden public debate has been recognized not only by those in civil society, but by governments, by development agencies, and by philanthropists. There is, however, frustratingly little evidence to demonstrate the real-world impact of such platforms. Indeed, there is a paucity of robust research on any aspect of civic technology. This report seeks to take a first step towards illuminating the world of civic technology. Whilst answering important, but complex questions concerning the impacts of civic technology is mySociety’s ultimate research goal, this research sought to begin at the beginning, asking the most basic questions about who actually uses civic technology and why. Only by knowing who is using civic technology can we begin to understand what, where and how significant the impact of civic technology can possibly be. The report identifies a number of areas for further research based upon the data collected, and concludes with a discussion on the implications of the findings that should provide much food for thought to civic technologists, governments and philanthropic organizations. mySociety’s long-term mission is to understand the impacts of civic technologies. But before they can be fully examined, we need better provision of the baseline facts. This report seeks to begin at the beginning, asking the most basic questions about who actually uses civic technology and why. Gathering data from civic technology groups from around the world, it shows the variations in usage of civic tech across four core countries (US, UK, Kenya and South Africa), and records the attitudes of users towards the platforms they are using.