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Civic Tech Forecast: 2014

Last year was a big year for civic technology and government innovation, and if last week’s Municipal Innovation discussion was any indication, 2014 promises to be even bigger. More than sixty civic innovators from both inside and outside of government gathered to hear three leading civic tech experts share their “Top Five” list of civic tech trends from 2013m, and predictions for what’s to come in 2014. From responsive web design to overcoming leadership change, guest speakers Luke Fretwell, Juan Pablo Velez, and Alissa Black covered both challenges and opportunities. And the audience had a few predictions of their own. Highlights included:

Mark Leech, Application Development Manager, City of Albuquerque: “Regionalization will allow smaller communities to participate and act as a force multiplier for them.”

Rebecca Williams, Policy Analyst, Sunlight Foundation: “Open data policy (law and implementation) will become more connected to traditional forms of governance, like public records and town hall meetings.”

Rick Dietz, IT Director, City of Bloomington, Ind.: “I think governments will need to collaborate directly more on open source development, particularly on enterprise scale software systems — not just civic apps.”

Kristina Ng, Office of Financial Empowerment, City and County of San Francisco: “I’m excited about the growing community of innovative government workers.”

Hillary Hartley, Presidential Innovation Fellow: “We’ll need to address sustainability and revenue opportunities. Consulting work can only go so far; we must figure out how to empower civic tech companies to actually make money.”

An informal poll of the audience showed that roughly 96 percent of the group was feeling optimistic about the coming year for civic innovation. What’s your civic tech forecast for 2014? Read on to hear what guest speakers Luke Fretwell, Juan Pablo Velez, and Alissa Black had to say, and then let us know how you’re feeling about 2014 by tweeting at @codeforamerica.


Luke Fretwell

Founder, GovFresh

1. Rise of Innovation Offices

After Jay Nath was hired as San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer in 2012, the idea of creating designated roles and programs devoted to innovation in government took off in 2013. This surge was not only programs devoted to spurring innovation internally, but also those which involve others in creating innovation in government, with governments from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office to the White House launching innovation fellowship programs of their own.

2. GitHub for Government

“Not just the tool, but the philosophy, has exploded in government,” says Fretwell. GitHub hired Ben Balter as government evangelist to introduce government to what open source means and how to do it; Philadelphia has used it as a tool to streamline the RFP process; and San Francisco posted its municipal code. Internationally, the United Kingdom published the code for their Gov.UK website and New Zealand has forked it to build https://beta.govt.nz — potentially saving millions of dollars.

3. Responsive Web Design

More than 30 states have embraced this practice to design once for all devices, ensuring that there’s no need to build a devoted mobile website or app.

4. Agile Approaches

Government is beginning to realize that the “waterfall” approach doesn’t work with modern technology (case in point: Healthcare.gov) and scrum and agile approaches must be adopted to ensure better results. Fretwell predicts that hiring agile skills into government will become a priority in 2014, as will introducing the concept of building in beta.

5. Community and Collaboration

This year, communities of civic hackers collaborated in deeper ways with cities and entrepreneurs: The CfA Brigade program took off, and we saw the rise of what Jason Hibbets calls the “citizen deputy CIO.” That was a huge step forward and will only continue.


Juan-Pablo Velez

Data Scientist, Civic Insight

Organizer, Chicago Open Gov Hack Night

1. The Growth of the Civic Tech Sector

The community is growing on all fronts: A new batch of CfA alumni every year, more startups and investment entering the space, a growing network of innovators inside government, and academia is introducing new research and graduate level programs in the space. In the media, civic hacking has become a mainstream term. All of this indicates that the ecosystem is maturing.

2. Data Science in Government

In Silicon Valley, predictive algorithms have transformed the ability to mine data for insights to build better products and services, and this approach is starting to trickle into the public sector too. “In Chicago, we’re using it for bike planning. New York City and Chicago both have analytics teams. I helped organize a fellowship called Data Science for Social Good last summer working with governments and we’ll do it again in 2014,” explained Velez.

3. Civic Startups

Emerging from the CfA incubator and other groups, startups are entering the market to take civic tech to scale in a financially sustainable way. While it’s difficult for less established companies to sell to government, companies like OpenCounter are gaining momentum by selling to smaller cities where the barriers are lower.

4. Overcoming Leadership Change

Several cities that have had high-profile open government initiatives — including New York City, Chicago, and Boston — are undergoing political turnover, raising questions about whether their commitment to civic innovation will be sustained through the transition. “Will the new leadership still support innovation initiatives? Or will it die out — like it did in Washington D.C. a few years ago [after gov 2.0 advocate Mayor Adrian Fenty left office]?” questions Velez. “That will tell us a lot about the extent to which civic innovation has become embedded in local government.”

5. Rethinking Procurement

“The barrier to selling to government is very high,” says Velez. “The people who get government contracts are good at getting contracts, not building technology.” To address this, many cities are experimenting with alternative procurement strategies, like Philadelphia’s FastFWD civic startup incubator. Other agencies like Gov.UK and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are hiring technologists inside government to build tech in-house, reducing the need to hire outside contractors altogether.


Alissa Black

Director of California Civic Innovation Project, New America Foundation

1. Regionalism

“As people shift towards larger, dense cities, local governments will be required to collaborate more and think about resource allocation,” says Black. This could lead to a rise in shared service delivery, and an increasingly key role played by metropolitan areas — as Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley outlined in their 2013 book The Metropolitan Revolution.

2. Community and Corporate Data

A recently released McKinsey report indicates high economic value of private sector open data, while a growing number of initiatives (such as LocalData) are focusing on making community-gathered data more open and accessible. Black predicts that municipal open data initiatives will incorporate both neighborhood-level data and private sector data with government data to create a more complete picture of a community.

3. Experimentation Moving Toward Permanence

Now that many city innovation experiments have been running for a few years and proven value, they will begin to shift from pilot stage to established program. “As more local governments incorporate experimentation into their processes, we’ll see initiatives become permanent,” says Black.

4. Participatory Processes

The City of Vallejo, Calif. was the first city to approve participatory budgeting city-wide, and that practice has now spread across the country and the globe. Black predicts that local governments will begin to expand this participatory approach to other processes beyond budgeting.

5. Shift from Consulting the Public to Empowering the Public

Black points out that there’s now less of an emphasis on ideation and crowdsourcing ideas as governments begin to think seriously about how to open up meaningful ways for citizens to participate and collaborate. Creating civic data standards and APIs are one such approach that will help empower people and communities, making government as a platform a reality.


Curious what we were thinking about 2013 this time last year? Check out our wrap up post from 2012.