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What is Civic Tech? Defining a Practice of Technical Pluralism

The Right to the Smart City

ISBN: 978-1-78769-140-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-139-1

Publication date: 7 June 2019


Over the last decade, engineers, designers, community organizers, and government employees have rallied around “civic tech.” What exactly does this term mean for urban technologists and “smart cities”? In formulating a definition, after describing the relationship of this term to the city, I examine how civic tech has been defined by practitioners. They have typically defined civic tech using umbrella definitions based on broad values and bucket definitions based on technologies. Although helpful, these definitions tend to obfuscate the political nature of civic tech’s practices and organizational techniques. In response, I suggest civic tech is a form of “technical pluralism” – iterative technology design and implementation among organized actors working toward predominantly administrative reforms. Because practitioners are inspired by redesigning systems of governance and redistributing power, civic tech’s most important provocations are organizational and political, rather than purely technological. Civic tech, as a form of technical pluralism, presents a route to bridging community and government in the pursuit of more equitable ways to achieve sustainable technology design in urban contexts.



Schrock, A.R. (2019), "What is Civic Tech? Defining a Practice of Technical Pluralism", Cardullo, P., Di Feliciantonio, C. and Kitchin, R. (Ed.) The Right to the Smart City, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 125-133.



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