The 4 Roles of Citizens as Civic Innovators

Brookings recently released an awesome article on the role of civic engagement in government innovation. 2013 was a big year in civic innovation and at this rate, it looks like 2014 is going to hold even bigger changes in civic tech and innovation. They used a report by IBM Center for The Business of Government  which stated that, well — the times they are a’changin. People are starting to get involved in the government on all different levels and are becoming civic innovators. From software engineers to teachers, people are playing unique roles to co-create solutions with the resources provided.

Looking at the civic trends of 2013, the most popular being the facilitation of resident-driven improvement on the hyperlocal level, we see that people are willing to step up and change the way we do government. According to the IBM Center for The Business of Government, the roles of citizen co-creators fall into four main categories: explorer, ideator, designer, and diffuser.

Pulled straight from the report, it states:

  1. As explorercitizens can identify, discover, and define emerging and existing problems in public services. For example, the New York-based Datakind initiative involves citizen volunteers using their data analysis skills to mine public data in health, education, environ­ment, and more areas to identify important civic issues and problems.
  2. As ideator, citizens can conceptualize novel solutions to well-defined problems in public services. For example, initiatives such as federal government’s andOpenIDEO employ online contests and competitions to solicit innovative ideas to solve important civic problems.
  3. As designercitizens can design and/or develop implementable solutions to well-defined problems in public services. For example, as part of initiatives such as NYC Big Apps andApps for Californians, citizens have designed mobile apps to address specific issues such as public parking availability, public transport delays, and more.
  4. As diffuser, citizens can directly support or facilitate the adoption and diffusion of public service innovations and solutions among well-defined target populations. For example, physicians interacting with peers in dedicated online communities have assisted government agencies in diffusing health technology innovations.

The trends of 2013 are segueing into 2014, so expect even bigger changes in civic innovation. According to some of the leaders in the GOV 2.0 movement, here are some civic trends in forecast for 2014:

  • Regionalization of civic engagement allowing smaller communities to participate (Mark Leech, Application Development Manager, City of Albuquerque)
  • “Open data policy (law and implementation) will become more connected to traditional forms of governance, like public records and town hall meetings.” (Rebecca Williams, Policy Analyst, Sunlight Foundation)
  • A GitHub for Government. Introducing the philosophy of open source to government (Luke Fretwell, Founder of GovFresh)
  • Civic startups trying to scale civic tech in a financially sustainable way (Juan-Pablo Velez, Data Scientist and Civic Insight Organizer at Chicago Open Gov Hack Night)
  • View the whole list here.

With the resources and connections that social media provides, civic engagement is finally catching on. There was a monumental shift in the way citizens connected with elected officials when instead of letters, tweets were being sent as a method of communication. We operate in a fast-paced environment and it’s no doubt that we are on a fast-track to bridging the gap between citizen and government.


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