Trivial tech vs Civic Tech

I used to love reading blogs like Techcrunch,Mashable and the Next Web. Anything really that was covering the next big web startup. I was fascinated with tales of tech entrepreneurs starting world changing ideas in garages and dorm rooms.

I don’t really know when that changed but it did. I started to find the things that were covered trivial and uninteresting. Another photo-sharing app you say? An iPhone game that will capture the imagination of hipsters for 48 hours? How about another startup aimed at other startups? Oh and you are launching another incubator you say? Yes I’m sure it will be different from the other dozen that launched last month.

Over the years my attention has been drawn to the idea of ‘civic tech’ – not surprising given my career choices but also these civic startups are about as far from my working life as those garages in Silicon Valley 🙂

The Government Digital Service was called “the best startup in Europe we can’t invest in” by venture capitalist Saul Klein and they have had great success but they are still the exception and not the rule in the civil service.

Outside of GDS it is these civic startups where interesting things seem to be happening. Whether that is using the open data the Government is freeing up to build new tools for citizens or using modern technology and user focused design principles to offer new solutions to old problems.

Companies like MySociety, Delib, Futuregov and others have been carving out sustainable businesses in this space for a while now but recently it has started to seem like they are getting more of the attention they deserve.

I had been seriously considering changing the focus of this blog to a kind of Civic Tech(crunch) but then earlier this week I stumbled across the launch of Civic Exchange from Nesta.

With the strap line – ‘technology for better government’- it is a site that seeks to showcase the best civic tech products from around Europe (and beyond?) including case studies to make it easier for practitioners in Government and citizens to find and reuse the best solutions out there. At the moment it is early days but already has some good examples in there (though despite their ubiquitousness I am not sure you can claim WordPress and Drupal as specifically civic technologies 🙂 )

I’m hoping Civic Exchange will evolve in to something that replaces that startup news fix that those other blogs used to provide me on my morning commute but focused on things that don’t make me grimace and grind my teeth.Time will tell I guess.


4 responses to “Trivial tech vs Civic Tech”

  1. Great post. At, we’re working to help inspire and support civic entrepreneurialism because what we’re finding from talking to our community of hackers is that they simply don’t know the challenges, or that they could use their skill-set to work on solving those challenges.

    We envision helping inspire and support a larger ecosytem similar to Peace Corps or AmeriCorps in purpose, but focusing on technical skillsets, e.g., a Civic Hacker Corp.

  2. Thanks David – CivicHacks looks interesting. There seems to be a lot of interesting things happening over in the US with groups like yours and Code for America – hopefully we can all learn from each other.

  3. Hi Matt – really interesting blog and although I have to work with all sorts of restrictions within a large Whitehall dept, I know people in local govt who are doing really interesting things without many of the restrictions we have. Shifting the technology is one aspect but changing the mindset is another altogether and the politics not just within depts but also from GDS can be very disheartening – great ideas, disappointing execution and engagement style. We need a revolution in provision of services for users and citizens, stuff that works, not stuff that is seen as ‘sexy’ and we need to close the gulf between ‘IT’ and ‘digital’ because, frankly the taxpayers in this country deserve better.

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