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Why Civic Good Is Hard to Generate When You’re a Tech Startup

This month, LinkedIn added a “volunteer marketplace” feature to its platform, one that will allow users to seek volunteer opportunities that fit their skillsets. Mashable noted that more than 600,000 people had expressed interest in these types of opportunities, and that 3 million users have added volunteer experience and causes to their profile in the past 3 years. This trend is part of an ongoing shift in which tech is being paired with civic opportunities to affect civic improvement.

Inc. noted last month that investors have given about $431 million to technology startups with a civic bent since 2011. The article defines a civic tech company as one that “helps people better interact with their government, partake in democracy and promote an open and transparent governing body.”

Perhaps one reason why the civic technology trend has been slower to catch on than other sectors is because civic-focused initiatives are generally intertwined with the government and intensive regulatory conditions. Inc. reported that several civic-tech startups have goals like “improv[ing] citizens’ lives through crowdfunding mechanisms, neighborhood forums, peer-to-peer sharing, and more.” Startups with aims like this will have heavy lifting to do when it comes to operations, government relationships and user engagement, so the prospect may be intimidating for some.

Reports show that there is lots of room for much-needed improvement in this sector. A 30-page study by the Knight Foundation reported that foundations “haven’t been great about co-investing in deals,” and that tools for democracy and startups building software platforms to assist civic engagement are underfunded. Reportedly, peer-to-peer sharing sites have received the most private venture capital thus far.

Nonetheless, these types of companies are on the rise, an encouraging sign for humanists and communities alike. Examples include TurboVote, which purports to make voting easy by sending text and e-mail reminders, and SeeClickFix, which allows community residents to report non-emergency neighborhood issues through its platform. Entrepreneurs would do well to execute a plan to provide community feedback to the government, organize public initiatives, and increase community transparency.

Liz Elfman is a writer, editor, and content strategist who tweets @lizelfman.  

Liz Elfman

Liz Elfman is a writer, editor, and content strategist.