Investments in Civic Technology Growing, Report Finds

Private capital and foundation investments in technology to enhance citizen engagement, the livability of cities, and the effectiveness of local governments has grown significantly since 2011, a report from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation finds.

The report, The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field (30 pages, PDF on slideshare.net), found that capital investments and foundation grants in civic technology totaled more than $430 million between January 2011 and May 2013. In addition to the Knight Foundation, prominent investors include Omidyar Network and Google, while organizations attracting the most funding include Waze, a crowdsourced traffic monitoring app; Nextdoor, a platform that connects people with their neighbors; Change.org, which allows users to create petitions for social change; and the Open Data Institute, which helps governments make their data more accessible.

The report also found that since 2000, when sixteen civic tech companies were founded, the number of such enterprises grew at compounded annual rates of 21 percent from 2000 to 2004, 25 percent from 2004 to 2008, and 23 percent from 2008 to 2012. The fastest-growing area in the civic tech space since 2005 is peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing, which has experienced 36 percent annual growth since 2009.

The report, which also features an interactive map that allows users to explore investments across multiple civic tech areas, suggests that co-investments involving foundations and other types of funders is limited, and that some areas of civic tech — civic crowdfunding, public decision-making, and voting — have received far less funding than others. "Better defining the boundaries of civic tech will allow all of us to tap into its transformative power," said Mayur Patel, the Knight Foundation's vice president of strategy and assessment. "The common goal of funders in this space is to strengthen communities. Fundamental to that is seeing their own work in context, connecting and reaching more people through a unified effort that focuses on making an impact."