Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech

Sources for civic tech research


Since I’ll no longer try for regular and comprehensive research roundups, I’d like to share a few of sources I’ve found for new civic tech research.

A couple of notes, before digging in:

  • The below are sources for research, evidence and methods guidance. There are lots of other great sources for civic tech news more broadly.
  • I’ve understood “civic tech” pretty broadly to include everything from e-gov to participatory budgeting, to online protest coordination or government social media use. That scatters relevant content across a variety of fields and disciplines, so I cast a pretty wide net when trying to keep up with what’s new. If your interests are as broad as mine, it’s hard to imagine keeping up to date without such a wide net.
  • For academic work, google scholar alerts are my main source. I also get stuff from RSS feeds and Twitter, most of which is less academic and more obviously useful. It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of people curating civic tech research content. But almost never explicitly as such. Instead, I find myself looking at civic tech curators who occasionally share research stuff, and research curators who occasionally share civic tech stuff. It’s all a bit messy.

Here’s some of the sources I’ve relied on for the last couple of years, with notes on hat makes them useful.

Google Scholar

This is my main fix for academic work, and I’m continually impressed by how much shows up. The results are plentiful, and easy to skim. If anything, the biggest time suck comes from chasing paywall workarounds, or trying to get in touch with the authors whose work look amazing but aren’t yet out (dissertations and conference papers).

Also, when considering terms, note that you get a lot more when you search in the body, not just in title, but using multiple terms, in-title searches capture 95% of what I find in body searches.

Search terms:

  • “open gov*” and “civic tech*”: lot’s of great stuff
  • “Public interest tech*” : hasn’t quite picked up speed yet
  • Accountability / Transparency: tech focus is rare, lots of useful stuff from public administration, development studies, etc. A fair amount of private sector stuff to wade through.
  • Activism and “ Digital Activis*”: the former is a broad and steady flow of interesting, but less relevant research, the latter is a slow but high value trickle.
  • “Responsive gov*”: less useful. Lot’s of studies on responsiveness to and through elections. See Narud & Esaiasson 2013 for the field critique of this tendency.
  • Feedback loops: a rare gems often buried in a surprising amount of medical research.

Research that sometimes features civic tech

I go directly to handful of journals to scan for academic research that my google search alerts might. I’ve found the following to be most relevant. It’s easy to set up notifications.

Otherwise, the LSE Impact blog regularly has content that is relevant (if peripheral) especially regarding ethics and methods.

There’s also a handful of academic centers that have a pretty steady stream of relevant content, including Stanford Law’s Center for Internet and Society, digital HKS, and Berkman Klein. There’s a lot of other research centers that are great, but don’t have a lot of relevant content (Data & Society etc).

For serious methods discussion, the economics blogosphere is the place to be. There’s dozens of great sites. I track the Bank’s Development Impact Blog, and IPA’s weekly links (on Chris Blattman’s site) most closely. Andrew Gelman’s blog only very very rarely has anything topically relevant, but if you care about quant methods, it’s almost always a good read.

Civic tech sources that sometimes features research

GovLab’s Digest is the most immediately relevant and well-curated source I know of for civic tech evidence. It comes out weekly, is easy to skim, and has a nice mix of research, commentary, news, and practical tools.

Sunlight’s Today in Open Gov, the Civicist from Civic Hall, and TAI weekly are by far the most demanding lists in my feed. There’s so much to read and research rarely pops up. But so much of it is good that I still read every single bit. Power 3.0 has good stuff on info and civic space in an authoritarian context, but tech-focus is a rare.

CitizenLab (the Belgian start up, not the canadian research center) just suggested 8 Civic Tech Newsletters to Keep up With (all of which are good) and puts out  their own Civic Tech Reads of the Week.

I also keep an eye on a few peripheral fields, I keep an eye on. Platformland occasionally updates a useful reading list on government platforms. Public interest technology seems to be an ascendant meme, and Bruce Schneier maintains a list of resources, but it seems to generate more programs that evidence.  I also find it worth watching the firehose that is GovTech. Most of the content is highly specific with a US focus, and there’s lots of it, but it’s easy to skim and has occasional gems.

Lastly, and often most importantly, there’s a handful of people on twitter regularly tweeting out useful research from the civictechnosphere. Most notably, I keep an eye on the inimitable @participatory and @RebeccaRumbul. 


So that’s what I track, I’m sure there’s lots of stuff missing from this list, and I’d love to hear what others use. Let me know in a tweet or email.

Add Comment

Methodical Snark critical reflections on how we measure and assess civic tech