Quick Note: Using the Rhetoric of Civic Tech

There’s a recurrent obsession with self-naming and differentiation in international thinking  about how technology can facilitate some kind of betterness (nice overviews here and here).

Part of this is likely about fashion, funding and social prominence, but there’s also legitimate concerns about how our labels impact “the field”’s popular salience or ability to learn.

For me, the greatest annoyance has always been finding the right term when writing stuff, a label that’s inclusive (“open government” excludes private sector campaigns), precise (“tech for social good” isn’t) and concise (“technology for transparency and accountability initiatives” doesn’t roll of the tongue or keyboard, and the acronym, well, acronyms often make me want to cry).

I’m settling on “civic tech” for this blog, because it’s so easy to read, pretty much everyone knows what it means, and it balances nicely between inclusivity and precision. Though honestly, mostly because it’s so easy to write.

And at the risk of seeming to post at obsessively at Emily Shaw, it’s worth noting her recent collection of definitions for civic tech. I missed the chance to contribute, but for the record, I’ll use the following:

Any technology (inclusive of networks and systems), that facilitates or obstructs political process, often but not always involving relationships between individuals and governments.

Also worth noting recent brouhaha re the assertion that the civic tech movement should be shelved. I think that assertion is silly if it’s an argument about tools, I think it’s important if it’s a critique of community insulation.


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