From Cyd Harrell’s excellent “A Civic Technoligists Practice Guide”, via a Twitter convo, reformatted by me:

Because its goal is change, civic tech embodies an interesting split between demonstrating and operationalizing the potential of modern tech. I like to call these two branches showing what’s possible and doing what’s necessary. Many projects are a mix of the two, but they require different mindsets.

“Showing what’s possible” is about speed, prototyping, design, public feedback, and data. These are often web projects because web tools are great for those purposes.

“Doing what’s necessary,” on the other hand, is about shifting the underlying practices and systems: back-end systems, security, and procurement; hiring and team composition; even shifting budget priorities.”


But our job as civic technologists isn’t to be the hero of the stories we stumble into halfway through; it’s to understand and support the people who have already been in place doing the work, and who want to use tech to make improvements.

They line up with Code for America’s pillars of “Show what’s possible”, “Help people do it themselves” and “Build a movement” (though the latter is rather more grandiose than understand and support).

As we called these in my previous career, Direct Service, Capacity Building, and Roy Johnson (“Put some gratitude in your attitude!”).