SNAPSHOT FROM CIVIC HALL IN NEW YORK. CREDIT: MICAH L. SIFRY.
the Rise of civic tech foR social gooD BY Micah l. sifRy, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CIVIC HALL
wo years ago, I visited Auschwitz, accompanied by my business partner Andrew Rasiej. We had just ﬁnished producing the ﬁrst Central Europe incarnation of Personal Democracy Forum (PDF), our long-running conference on the intersection of technology and politics that we founded in 2004 in New York. Walking through the death camp was an intense and sobering experience for both of us: I’m Jewish, and many of my relatives were killed or suﬀered greatly during the Holocaust. Andrew’s parents, who are Polish, were exiled during the war and his grandfather was a casualty in the Katyn forest massacre. 12
NTEN: CHANGE | MARCH 2015
Later, our conversation in the long taxi ride back to our hotel turned, perhaps inevitably, to our common enterprise and its future. In the previous ten years, we had watched as the Internet grew from something that many people derisively thought of as a “fad” to a huge new force reshaping everyone’s lives. PDF, which started as a one-day event mainly gathering a few hundred ecampaign activists, had blossomed into an annual two-day festival of more than a thousand people focused on using tech not only to change politics, but to reinvent government and enrich civic life. We’d connected and woven together literally
thousands of changemakers worldwide. We wondered: now what? How best to serve the growing ecosystem of people, projects, organizations, and networks focused on using technology for social good? We decided that the only way to answer that question was to ask that very community to tell us what it needed. Thus we dove into ﬁguring out the emerging world of civic tech, talking to hundreds of people including government IT leaders, civic hackers, entrepreneurs, data mavens, journalists, and futurists. Here’s what we learned. Civic tech is at a ripe moment, where interest from diﬀerent sectors of society and government is rising, but its impact on the lives of ordinary people remains nascent. Four trends are converging to power the ﬁeld. First, the spread of connection technologies into more hands is giving the people who have always
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