The Elephant in the Room: Why do Online Public Engagement -or any civic tech? (from Granicus)

This piece from Michael Ashford at Granicus is a little more high-level than I usually run at this site – I usually put less technical, more deep-thought work at EngagingCities – but I thought this piece was both very important, and perhaps gives some insight into the thinking behind one of the larger firms on the OPEE.  And it’s crucial stuff to be thinking about.  Read the whole thing here, but think hard about the real reasons why you’re doing online public engagement — or any of the other newfangled stuff.

In the final few pages of the book, Goldsmith and Crawford write: “Above all, we think it is important that these new developments be understood as tools, not as ends in themselves. … We must not embrace the use of digital tools for its own sake.”

Finally, someone had addressed the elephant in the room.

For all the upward movement in the civic technology space – the Knight Foundation reports that from 2008 to 2012 the civic tech field grew at an annual rate of 23 percent – many of these companies have struggled to gain a foothold.

Many chalk it up to government’s unwillingness to change, or its workers’ aversion to technology, or the complex intricacies of the procurement process.

But are those the real reasons?

If you take a holistic look at the civic tech space, much of the emphasis is about putting enough pressure on government to bend to the public’s demand for technology, focusing so much on changing the citizen experience first, with little forethought given to how internal government process will need to change or adapt to support a new technology.

Too often, governments adopt technology to appease pressure rather than with an open-armed embrace. Thus, much of the civic tech space is ignored, seen as  “nice-to-have” or as a checkbox on a list – as ends, rather than tools, as Goldsmith and Crawford warn against.


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