Using Civic Tech to Increase the Engagement of Low-Income Communities

Posted by Arthur Burris on
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Though digital technologies and social networks seem to be transforming every aspect of our lives, this transformation has yet to fully spill over to change the relationship between low-income city residents and their local governments. Over the past year, Living Cities has been working to better understand the potential for tech to advance this transformation and how we and others might accelerate it, and have been engaged in this work with many of the cities that participate in the Urban Policy Advisory Group (UPAG) that we partner with the Harvard Ash Center to convene.

An important part of our work around civic tech will be learning by doing: We are now beginning work to develop a tech solution focused on deepening the engagement of low-income people in city planning. We believe that the issue of planning is particularly ripe for civic tech innovation, as the growing number of civic apps in this space attests. Furthermore, city plans can attract public attention and, potentially, form the basis for more sustained interaction between cities and city residents.

In practice, unfortunately, cities often struggle to engage productively and systematically with their low-income residents around these plans. Many traditional mechanisms for engagement around planning (e.g., planning meetings) tend to reach small numbers of people who are not representative of low-income communities as a whole. Despite the recent growth of civic apps focused on planning, we’re still far from having a full set of tech tools that supports engagement in a truly systematic way.

We’re pleased to announce that we have selected the City and County of Louisville to host this tech solution work. Louisville is currently in the process of developing a 25-year vision plan. This plan seeks “to guide future development and investment while emphasizing growth, authenticity, preservation, sustainability, and quality of place,” and pulls together examples from the world over of potentially transformative projects and approaches for Louisville residents to consider. The city is interested in making sure that the plan is shaped by a broad cross-section of Louisville residents, including low-income millennials. Our tech work in Louisville will focus on developing a tool that will produce increased civic engagement between the city and this group.

The tech solution will be developed by OpenPlans, Living Cities’ tech partner for this initiative and a leading developer of civic tech solutions. To help ensure that the tech solution is “portable” to other similar cities, we will engage other cities in the UPAG network to help test and adapt the solution as it is being developed. In addition, one of our goals is to “open-source” this process, so expect to hear more from us at this project progresses. In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and reactions.

Click here to read the City and County of Louisville’s Press Release.