Announcing Civic Hall Labs: Tech for Public Good
Complex public challenges require unprecedented collaboration. The threats we face to our collective well-being—inequality, racism, civic atrophy, and other systemic failures—are too great to continue with a model that focuses primarily on developing and utilizing technology to create outsized returns for investors.
Designing and developing for the public interest differs from the process of designing for private profit. It requires genuinely interdisciplinary work—domain experts, communities, and technologists of all kinds have to bring diverse skillsets and knowledge to the table if we hope to realize the potential of technology for the public sphere.
Civic Hall Labs, the research and development arm of Civic Hall, was created to solve for this challenge. Our founders, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, have been working for decades to support the community of people working on tech for public good—which we call civic tech. Over the past few years, leaders in the civic tech community have become more vocal about the challenges and perils of rushing into social problems with tech: apotheosizing the developer, ignoring sustainability issues, and eschewing the knowledge of communities or the constraints that public interest organizations face. Building on those insights, Andrew and Micah conceived of a nonprofit that could address those concerns head on. Civic Hall Labs, designed as a collaborative R&D nonprofit, seeks to model a path forward with those lessons.
Launching from the vibrant community at Civic Hall, Labs will collaboratively design, build, and study digital tools for public good. Specifically, our work is structured to reimagine civic participation for the 21st century, expand the field of civic tech, and demonstrate a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to designing and building technology for the public good. Through Themed Labs, we’ll bring together sector experts, the public, funders, data scientists, researchers, designers, technologists, media makers, community groups, and entrepreneurs to explore how the use of design, data, and technology can create scalable solutions around particular public issue sets.
In our Civic Xcelerator, we’ll support non-traditional accelerator applicants in becoming civic inventors and civic entrepreneurs through part-time training in design thinking, prototyping, and startup methodology. We’ll also assist mid-stage, civic tech startups with strategy, legal, financing, UX, branding, and design challenges that can arise when developing a product for government or the general public.
We believe the challenges we face are complex and require a diversity of perspectives and expertise. And we believe meaningful change can result from a series of small, strategic wins that put technology at the service of experts and communities.
A number of forward-thinking partners and advisors have already signed on to our vision.