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Civic tech: bringing digital to political

  • 17.04.2018

The number of digital projects encouraging communication between citizens and governments is on the rise. We take a look at the civic tech boom and its impact on civic engagement.

Democracy and technological innovations

The term “civic tech” refers to technology that enhances the relationships between citizens, public services and governments. These civic technologies are the foundations of digital projects that empower citizens and render public action more transparent and accessible.

A new public domain 

Civic tech involves highly varied projects led by associations or startups:

  1. participatory budget platforms
  2. online petitions
  3. apps to send questions to government members
  4. local troubleshooting
  5. cooperative maps
  6. social media for residents

When these projects are initiated by governments, they are termed “Govtech”, for example, platforms to co-draft laws between citizens and members of parliament.

Civic tech projects meet an essential need to develop civic participation, not only in decision making but also in exchanges with decision makers. Transparency and cooperation are at the core of civic tech. Digital services will, therefore, lead more people to take part in public life and increase collective intelligence.

The civic tech boom

The phenomenon appeared in 2008 in the United States during Barack Obama’s campaign—the term “civic tech” has been widely used there since 2013. The term made its way to France in 2015 and was deployed by the French media during the 2017 elections. Around 50 civic tech tools are currently in use in France.

Change.org, one of the most renowned civic tech tools, is an American online petition website used by 185 million people across the globe, eight million of whom are in France. Voxe, software to compare election campaigns, has signed up 4.5 million internet users since its launch. Of the €23 billion that public institutions worldwide spend on institutional IT, Civic tech already represents €5.7 billion. In the United States, investments in this sector expanded 14 times faster than investment in traditional technologies between 2013-2018.

Civic tech’s two key sectors

Some studies reveal that there are two types of civic tech—information-sharing policies (data and usage access, residents’ feedback and government decisions, etc.) and citizen-oriented actions (participative financing, collaborative projects and project organization, etc.).

Initiatives supported by BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas strongly believes in the future potential of civic tech and the role it will play in developing democracy. For Ramy Ghorayeb, a BNP Paribas North America Workshop Analyst: “Civic tech gives citizens more power and means that their ideas are heard. On the other hand, institutions can increase their understanding of their constituents and improve how they meet their needs and expectations.

BNP Paribas is currently sponsoring several innovative civic tech projects. As part of the BNP Paribas “We Are Innovation” program, the Group is assisting startup Fullmobs to develop a collaborative crowd timing solution that will enable citizens to launch their own collective-action campaigns. The Group is also working with Fluicity, a startup that designed a mobile app to link citizens and government members. The platform is dedicated to concrete topics (road traffic, pollution and road networks) and offers more direct communication as users can report a problem, give their opinion about local council projects and, of course, post their ideas. The collected data will provide government members with concrete elements to help them when making decisions.

Civic tech gives citizens more power and means that their ideas are heard. On the other hand, institutions can increase their understanding of their constituents and improve how they meet their needs and expectations.

BNP Paribas is also involved in providing equal opportunities for young people via a Make.org initiative: ideas are directly loaded onto an independent platform and are then used to implement awareness-raising campaigns and civic engagement. A public consultation, held on April 5, gathered citizens, associations, businesses, institutions and local councils to create and implement solid actions over a three-year period to encourage equal opportunities, social inclusion and success for young people.

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