Launching Civic Unrest

Jan 07, 2019

When you quit your job and launch your passion project, how do you begin? With a flare for the dramatic, of course:

At long last, {CIVIC:UNREST} has raised its scaly head from the ashes of an empire where it has been developing like a fire-breathing fetus in the amniotic fluid of civic technology.

Scratch that.

{CIVIC:UNREST} shakes itself from the jowls of the earth like a shining obelisk after a decade of tremors and quakes that is the civic hacktivism movement.

Geez. I’ve been reading too much N.K. Jemisin. Let’s try this again:

After 7 years in civic technology, from collaborating with volunteer groups, Code for America brigades, and local governments, to working in the private sector for “social entrepreneurship” start-ups, I’m launching {CIVIC:UNREST}:1 the place for all my musings, studies, observations, and, most importantly, questions about the civic tech movement.

That intro is much less riveting in terms of adventure and sci-fi realms, but I’m serious when I say this stuff is shaking me – and this whole “civic tech” thing keeps me in its grasp no matter how much I pursue other endeavors.2 As the years and the things I think I know increase, so do my questions: they multiply and clamber on top of one another like hamsters in a kindergarten classroom’s cage. I don’t know if I’m one of the hamsters or one of the five-year-olds poking and prodding them. I’m definitely not the teacher, although I know enough teachers by now to understand that they don’t have more answers than the rest of us – teachers are there to help us ask the right questions.

{CIVIC:UNREST} is my attempt to ask those questions.

In these pixelated pages, I will document and observe, seek clarity and, if possible, truth, and try to understand and amplify the sounds, syllables, and shapes of the civic tech movement and its communities across the globe.3

My work will be guided by the following pair of questions:

  • What is the role of technology in public infrastructure?

  • What is the role of public infrastructure in technology?

I checked Merriam-Webster for definitions, but I’m not going to use them. To be clear, by “technology” I mean things to do with computers: software, hardware, data,4 “smart” devices, etc. By “public infrastructure,” I mean policies, systems, structures, and governments that communities create and own themselves. By “policies,” I mean legislation, management, or processes. I hope my definitions aren’t too fuzzy; I will refine as needed as I learn more.

Alright – now, to get to work. Interested in following along? Check back here, or follow my lovely new Twitter handle,5 or subscribe to email updates below.

1 Yes, I’m going to write it like this until it feels too tedious to do so!
2 Such as playing the accordion. I haven’t progressed past "Row, row, row your boat."
3 Admittedly, I will likely give more attention to happenings closer to me. Lucky for you, internet, I change locations often.
4 I realize you don’t need computers for data, but come on, you know what I mean.
5 Not to be confused with this cool kid. Remember the underscore!