A Blueprint for Co-Creating Technology Products with Your Community

ARTICLE | Jan 24, 2019
by David Rauch, Data Analyst, City of Raleigh Municipal Government, NC
Speaking in Plain Language
Edmonton Mayor, Don Iveson, presenting at Beta City at the startup incubator, Startup Edmonton in 2018.

Part of the nextERA Voice series

What I learned from four years as a co-lead for Canada’s longest-running civic technology meetup and the five-page template your community can use to bring community tech skills into your organization — in a way that won’t keep your lawyers up at night.

A Platform Built on Principles of Transparency and Rigor

While working in municipal innovation and simultaneously co-leading a civic technology meetup, I created a holistic approach for co-creating technology solutions with the community that protected the City from risks around security, transparency in procurement, project prioritization, and more. The document attached is a blueprint for addressing many of the issues I faced when trying to bring the community into creating services alongside government. It features a platform which a jurisdiction can use to identify, deliver, and maintain technology projects with true community collaboration. The document answers questions which previously made many City staffers nervous (including myself) related to intellectual property, choosing projects, explaining the benefits of civic technology, payments, etc.

Below are six lessons I learned which should help improve the success of any civic technology product:

Lessons Learned

  • The most important thing you can do is involve the people who are going to be using the solution early and often. Focus groups, conversations, and interactive demos with future users and administrators is the key to success. If you can, pay them a little for their time.
  • To reiterate: only work on projects where there is a sponsor who is going to use the product afterward. If someone proposes an idea vaguely “people” will like, you should think twice. Nonprofits and community members have a good sense of what they need, so develop with them throughout.
  • Post-secondary students are an incredible resource. You can easily get to know computer science or electrical engineering professors who are dying for course projects which may actually be used in real life.
  • If you don’t have staff capacity to maintain the code created by the community, try bringing on a local tech firm to maintain the code. This ensures that the site won’t disappear if your volunteer graduates or gets tired. It is more than a little awkward to pay a firm to maintain code crafted for free or a modest fee, but it is important to ensure the knowledge of the program resides in more than one person’s head.
  • Sourcing issues and solutions are the hardest part, in my opinion. Ideally, you would have someone on staff or in the community doing this who knows the capacity and skills of the community and the needs of the government. Even with someone with a view of the landscape, for every 10 ideas that would address a real issue in the community, anticipate only one or two to find a match in the community.
  • The media love stories about civic tech. It disrupts the narrative of money-obsessed techies and self-absorbed young people, and that’s newsworthy. Pitch stories, and focus on the volunteer and their motivation. The stories will likely be the first things to come up when prospective employers look up your volunteers on Google, and that’s a good thing.

The Document

Click here to see many years of experience creating and managing community-created tech projects condensed into a series of principles and actions you could use in your community. Feel free to contact me at davidwrauch [at] gmail.com if you have any questions.

David Rauch, formerly with the City of Edmonton, is now a technology analyst with City of Raleigh’s Land Management Program. Connect with David below:

LinkedIN - /david-rauch-32440276/

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