In the world of digital democracy, you see these terms being thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean? Well, civic tech is, by definition, tech that is designed with the public in mind, giving them easier access to public services. Gov tech is tech that is designed to manage a public organisation’s internal and administrative processes. Given that they should be two sides of the same coin, it’s remarkable how few services are designed for both ends – which can have far-reaching consequences.
Having worked within a local authority before, I know first-hand how inefficient it can be. For example, there was the system that was designed to make it easier for council tenants to book repairs online, but its automated back end turned out to be faulty and booked them under the wrong category – meaning that someone’s whole job for a couple of months was going through the appointments and manually correcting them. Then there was the form on the council’s website that residents could fill in online to report street issues, but that asked for too much detailed information, which residents didn’t always have. They then turned to apps like FixMyStreet or Love Clean Streets, which make it easier to report issues than than doing so through the council’s website – but aren’t compatible with the council’s process, so for each report received, an administrator had to enter the whole thing into the council’s web form anyway.
These painful inefficiencies all add up and time, of course, is money – money that could be better spent elsewhere.
This is why understanding the relationship between Gov Tech and Civic Tech is so important. As Colin Wales says in his excellent article on digital transformation in government, there’s not much point in providing great user interfaces if they ‘aren’t married with the right back office systems…[as] they are not enough to deliver real value to citizens or the level of savings required to balance the books and avoid degradation of services.’ So when an authority approaches its digital transformation, it should be careful to consider this relationship.
Essex County Council is a great example of this done well. In an interview I did with him in May, Jason Kitcat, the Executive Director for Corporate Development at the time, told me about his unique approach to modernising the county council. ‘What we’re doing – it’s not a digital transformation, because that would imply a once-and-done thing,’ he said. ‘It’s business-as-usual for the 21st century – it’s continuous change and adaptation.’ It wasn’t just about procuring tech solutions – it involved a change in attitudes and ways of working across the whole council with the aim of delivering a better, more robust service for their citizens. It’s a huge undertaking and completing such a massive overhaul can be costly – but for the reasons I mentioned above, it absolutely saves money in the long run.
So how does this all relate to Delib? Well, we like to think of ourselves as placed firmly at the intersection between civic and gov tech. Our tools are made specifically to bridge the divide between the two. Our engagement platforms bring citizens closer to the democratic decisions that affect them – and simplify the analysis and execution for the decision-maker, too. We make it simple to create and publish a consultation, simulation, or challenge, and we make it simple to respond to one. Our built-in analysis tools speed up the feedback process, and we ensure that when feedback is posted it’s easy to find. Both parties are saving time – which, as I’ve mentioned, equals money – and effort. It’s a win-win. And that, quite frankly, is how it should be.
If you’d like to learn more about Citizen Space, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.