A new category is joining our annual website rankings this year: Civic Technology/Civic Tech. Hundreds of online tools and websites are deployed to enable public participation and community action and empower citizens through open access to data and information. Governments are also relying more than ever on online tools to deliver public services and communicate with their constituents. And with the rise of the smart city movement, urban planning, policy, and development are becoming increasingly dependent on data and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) based solutions.
This week we are happy to support Open Government Week, an initiative of the Open Government Partnership to make governments more open and citizens more involved in the democratic process. And for this ranking, we searched for the most relevant and useful civic tech platforms for urban planners and city builders; and have selected a list of the top five most visited websites in four categories: open data, crowdsourcing, community engagement and public service. As with our other rankings, we are using Alexa Analytics scores to rank the selected websites.
Open Government Data
Open government data platforms are part of many governments efforts around the world to achieve transparency and facilitate accountability. Making data open and accessible also encourages public participation, supports research and the development of tools, and solutions that optimize government operations and urban development.
In the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau portal remains the oldest and primary data source for urban planning professionals and researchers. But more and more data sets, just as useful, from local governments and entities are currently available through Data.gov. For those of us interested in international development, the website also links to the data portals of 53 countries and 165 regions. Below, we share five of the most popular English language open government data portals around the world:
- European Union Open Data / http://data.europa.eu / @EU_opendata
- Open Government Canada / https://open.canada.ca/en / @OpenGovCan
- New South Wales Government Data / https://data.nsw.gov.au
- Open Government Data Platform India / https://data.gov.in / @DataPortalIndia
- data.gov.uk / https://data.gov.uk / @DataGovUK
Community Engagement and Empowerment
One of the most important roles of civic tech is to empower communities with information, facilitate communication, and connect citizens to policy and decision makers. In planning, public participation has proved to be of utmost importance for both communities and developers. Numerous tools are now available to make public consultations for development projects and plans more engaging, interactive and inclusive than ever. Here, we’ve listed three widely used websites that connect citizens to their city officials and politicians plus two public engagement platforms that provide access to ongoing and past projects, accessible to all users:
- WhatDoTheyKnow / https://www.whatdotheyknow.com / @WhatDoTheyKnow
- WriteToThem / https://www.writetothem.com / @mySociety
- resistbot / https://resist.bot / @resistbot
- Neighborland / https://neighborland.com / @Neighborland
- coUrbainze / https://courbanize.com / @coUrbanize
Public Services and Open Tools
More local governments are turning to their citizens to be informed about maintenance issues in public spaces that might have escaped the attention of city staff. Issues range from potholes and illegal dumping to code enforcement and public records. These tools help cities optimize their operations and allow a more efficient allocation of their resources. Simultaneously, they provide citizens with prompt follow-up on their requests and act as a direct communication tool with the city department and staff in charge.
Open tools, however, are built by community members to exchange information, document their surroundings and enhance their understanding of environmental and planning issues. Often, communities of users are created around these tools, who come together to think, develop solutions and start projects. For the nifty planners and citizens who happen to have some programming skills, there are several open source projects on github addressing planning, civic engagement, and environment.
Below, we selected three public service tools used by cities in the U.S., the U.K. and India and two open tools:
- PublicStuff / http://www.publicstuff.com / @Accela
- FixMyStreet / https://www.fixmystreet.com / @fixmystreet
- Ichangemycity / https://www.ichangemycity.com / @IChangeMyCity
- Streetmix / https://streetmix.net / @streetmix
- Wiki Watershed / https://wikiwatershed.org / @WikiWatershed
Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding
Another important role of civic tech is to facilitate bottom-up and grassroots initiatives. The rise of platforms that allow citizens to directly finance real estate, community and public projects in their neighborhoods is encouraging more people to invest in their community’s development. The sense of ownership and empowerment ignited by having “skin in the game” can’t be ignored. It creates communities that are more connected and engaged in improving their environment. Similarly, platforms that facilitate gathering feedback and ideas help cities screen their plans and reorder their priorities in terms of investment and development. Below are five online tools that serve these purposes:
- Fundrise / https://fundrise.com / @fundrise
- Ioby / https://www.ioby.org / @ioby
- Neighborly / https://neighborly.com / @Neighborly
- All Our Ideas / http://allourideas.org/ / @allourideas
- Spacehive / https://www.spacehive.com / @Spacehive
We hope that you found some useful websites and resources in this first edition of the Top 20 Civic Tech Websites. To follow their updates, we’ve made this handy Twitter list.
This ranking is by no means exhaustive. We very much welcome your contributions and suggestions. Leave us a word in the comments section below, tell us which website is joining your favorites folder, and share the online resources that have been the most useful to you as a citizen or as a professional. We’ll make sure to have them in the running for 2019's ranking.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.