The Practice of Civic Tech: Tensions in the Adoption and Use of New Technologies in Community Based Organizations

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

The Practice of Civic Tech: Tensions in the Adoption and Use of New Technologies in Community Based Organizations


  • Eric Gordon Engagement Lab, Emerson College, USA
  • Rogelio Alejandro Lopez Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, USA


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Abstract:  This article reports on a qualitative study of community based organizations’ (CBOs) adoption of information communication technologies (ICT). As ICTs in the civic sector, otherwise known as civic tech, get adopted with greater regularity in large and small organizations, there is need to understand how these technologies shape and challenge the nature of civic work. Based on a nine-month ethnographic study of one organization in Boston and additional interviews with fourteen other organizations throughout the United States, the study addresses a guiding research question: how do CBOs reconcile the changing (increasingly mediated) nature of civic work as ICTs, and their effective adoption and use for civic purposes, increasingly represent forward-thinking, progress, and innovation in the civic sector?—of civic tech as a measure of “keeping up with the times.” From a sense of top-down pressures to innovate in a fast-moving civic sector, to changing bottom-up media practices among community constituents, our findings identify four tensions in the daily practice of civic tech, including: 1) function vs. representation, 2) amplification vs. transformation, 3) grassroots vs. grasstops, and 4) youth vs. adults. These four tensions, derived from a grounded theory approach, provide a conceptual picture of a civic tech landscape that is much more complicated than a suite of tools to help organizations become more efficient. The article concludes with recommendations for practitioners and researchers.

Keywords:  civic sector; civic technology; community based organizations; community organizing; information communication technologies; innovation; youth media

Published:   6 August 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v7i3.2180


© Eric Gordon, Rogelio Alejandro Lopez. 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.