‘Removing Barriers’ and ‘Creating Distance’: Exploring the Logics of Efficiency and Trust in Civic Technology
Oriented around efficiency, civic technology primarily aims to remove barriers by automating and streamlining processes of government. While removing barriers is vital in many matters of governance, should it always be the aim of civic technology? In our ongoing ethnographic research to understand the work of community engagement performed by public officials in local government, we have observed how this orientation around efficiency in civic technology can inadvertently create distance in the relationships between citizens and governments. In this article, we discuss how an orientation around trust could open a space for civic technology that primarily aims to close distance in the relationships between citizens and public officials. We do so by first providing an account of how trust functions in the work of public officials performing community engagement, calling attention to where and when efficiency is at odds with the importance of relationship building between public officials and citizens. We build on ethnographic findings and a series of co-design activities with public officials to develop three strategies that operate under the logic of trust: historicizing engagement, focusing on experience, and mediating expectations. In all, by focusing on trust and the relational work of closing distance, civic technology can move towards addressing the growing crisis in confidence being faced in democracies.
© Eric Corbett, Christopher A. Le Dantec. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.