Government · Civic Tech

GovTech vs Civic Tech?


November 6th, 2015

What’s the difference between govtech & civic tech? Or is there really even a difference?

Marc Rowen

November 6th, 2015

Just my opinion, but I have always thought of them as separate, but overlapping. At the same time, I've observed a lot of people in both spaces use the terms interchangeably. And both areas cover a lot. So, in reality, it might not matter too much if there is, or should be, a difference. Some additional context will almost always be warranted in a discussion or evaluation.

For what it's worth, I think of them broadly this way:
  1. Govtech is anything that helps government organizations operate better.
  2. Civic tech is anything that helps citizens, in the context of government engagement.

Priya Prakash Designer-Founder, D4SC-Changify

November 7th, 2015

I see them as quite separate depending on the country and business model.

We have civic crowdfunding platforms like SpaceHive in UK which engage which citizens who want to improve spaces in their city by helping them crowd fund their project. They do work with mayors and businesses but their business model is not B2G but B2C and B2B where B is either large brands or businesses who want to invest in cities or areas to help seed various regeneration activities or mobilise local communities.

Our latest pilot Changify#smarterstreets works directly with service providers who maintain contracts with cities to collaborate with citizens (in this case road-users) to improve infrastructure (roads and highways) in real-time along with sensor data. This has much potential to re-define how we can co-create citizen centric smart cities, working together with iOT and moving away from centralised systems to bringing together both bottom-up and top down data.

The word 'citizen' and 'civic' also needs context. Citizens don't always need government to 'exist'. But Government do need citizens.

If we can empower citizens to tap on each other to crowdsource, solve and fund civic initiatives, we will see a shift in the power of how Gov Tech works with civic led projects, especially in times of austerity and spending cuts. In the US, Neighbourland, Yimby etc have brought together communities to work with various city and urban stakeholders to create different kinds of projects. There might be new ways to visualise where one's taxes go in govt spending /budgets and to create this data-transparency there might be new business models on citizen owned data.

Civic tech unfortunately assumes its paying customer has to be Govt or a grant funder like Knight Foundation/Omidiyaar etc. So many times it inherits much of the business model problems of Govt Tech. Selling to government is not the only business model in town, we need to to see where is the value being generated in the eco-system and who is paying who and for what.
Check this Knight foundation reporton civic tech for example.

Personally I find the more interesting business models being increasingly helping/facilitating C2C biz models to take off- and I don't mean just Airbnb or Uber/circular/so-called sharing economy but models whether that is micro-finance from Grameen or to in SF - pioneering initiatives like Josephine food delivery.

We need to find ways in which civic tech startups can decouple 'citizen' and 'civic' from solving the problems created by Govt - i.e. due to their organisational and cultural issues - when there are many more opportunities to enable citizens and communities working together with businesses in a win-win way. That would be real business model innovation for civic tech. Time to choose the right problem to solve.

Civic tech also needs to move away from the idea of an entity called Government and become more focussed about 'Governance' - i.e. how to facilitate and get stuff done within communities, cities, countries without having to deal with legacy data, issues and platforms. In UK we have the ODI - Open Data Institute started by Tim Berners Lee which is backing/seeding startups that use open data to solve civic and other data challenges - e.g. CityMapper.

Good inspirational ref read from the Atlantic is how this food delivery startup in the Bay area is redefining how NOT to be the Uber of Food delivery but go beyond it. Yes, the funding they have attracted to date is lower than the Uber for Food ... but the tide is shifting.

Logan Kleier

November 6th, 2015

There's no difference in my opinion.

My major concern with this market space is that there is minimal to no reward in the government sector for taking a risk and innovating.

In other words, the rewards for taking a calculated gamble are near zero which means that almost any downside to taking that gamble outweighs the rewards.

If you follow the challenges associated with various governments setting up "innovation funds," you'll see that it's very hard to get government divisions/departments to try a new approach with a startup in this sector.

Better performance metrics and possibly a good bonus structure for managers who make govtech companies much more viable. The incentive structure for taking risk has to change and the only way I can think is to get better at quantifying what you're trying to achieve and financially incentivizing people to get those goals. Once you do that, you'll see those manager seeking out more govtech companies to help them accomplish their goals.

Robert H Lee

November 6th, 2015

We discuss this topic somewhat at

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

November 7th, 2015

There is usually a distinction in "civic tech" from some other forms of governance technology in that civic tech solutions usually apply to problems in the municipal space.  one comparison i'd consider valid is saying there is an equivalent "g2c" model as civic tech and "g2g" as something else.

Thomas Sutrina Inventor at Retired Pursue Personal interrests and family

November 7th, 2015

Liza Taylor Communication Specialist at Keyideas Infotech

November 9th, 2015

Govt-Tech means a tech project that is being developed and executed by Govt Tech employees only. Govt tech is common in govt-undertaken projects. For instance, public transport, railways and electricity; these can be classified as govt-tech projects in some countries.
Whereas Civic-Tech implies the work is being conceived and planned by members from the govt bodies and as well as civilians belonging to different private organizations, coming together and work for this particular project. Civic-Tech projects are beneficial not just for the government but for the entire civilians residing in a particular area. Civic-Tech is more broad because it is inclusive and needs cooperation from both the parties.