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Building Infrastructure to Empower the Civic Technology Movement

The civic tech movement is trying to invent the future.  It’s a future where every person can contribute to the decisions that affect them, where public services are delivered dynamically, and where collective intelligence fits in the palm of your hand.

But the civic tech movement suffers from inefficiency. Too many smart, well-intentioned people underachieve their potential real-world impact because they don't have access to the people and resources they need to launch their projects successfully.

DemocracyLab is solving this problem by building an online hub for civic innovation that uses marketplace dynamics to allocate effort, resources, and attention.  Our initial product seeks to optimize the connection between skilled volunteers and technology-for-good projects. Later offerings will focus on the needs of donors, citizens, and institutions. The result of our work will be an increase in participation, collaboration and transparency within the civic tech movement, and the evolution of new civic innovations capable of addressing many of society’s significant challenges. 

                                                                  

Fast Forward, a tech nonprofit accelerator, recently released a report describing the chicken and egg problem plaguing tech nonprofits, stating “Many foundations will not fund a nonprofit without signs of proven impact. Tech nonprofits are unique. They must build their product before they can prove impact, and they cannot build the tech product without funding.”

We humbly disagree, and believe this cycle of ineffectiveness can be broken. An efficient team of volunteers can build tech products without funding. It's what DemocracyLab has done, and what we've designed our platform to help others achieve.     

DemocracyLab interviewed twenty-four civic technology stakeholders last year about challenges and opportunities in the sector. This research indicated that the first significant barrier to success for civic tech projects is the inefficiency of the connection between tech-for-good projects and skilled volunteers.

  • Project leaders complain that the cost of onboarding a new volunteer often exceeds the benefits of their involvement.
  • Volunteers say that it's difficult to find projects that match their skills and interests, and that many civic tech projects are not organized well enough to allow them to contribute effectively.

Our platform has been designed to solve these problems by making it easy for volunteers to find projects that match their skills and interests, and by nudging projects to become more organized, collaborative and transparent.

We believe that by optimizing the connection between volunteers and projects, we will help more civic tech projects launch, demonstrate impact, attract funding and achieve scale. One civic innovation at a time, we can make a difference and change the world for the better.

The diagram below describes our long-term product vision, connecting civic technology stakeholders worldwide.

DemocracyLab is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our platform uses the MIT Open Source License.

Our Theory of Change describes how we believe we'll achieve impact in the world.

This article in GeekWire published August 10, 2018 describes our work well.

Contact us at hello@democracylab.org or on Twitter @DemocracyLab.