Finding Your Fellowship in Civic Tech
A guide to civic tech fellowships for those searching.
With Kaivan Shroff and Angel Quicksey
Thanks to the community’s daily contributions, the Civic Tech Field Guide has become an increasingly valuable resource for anyone trying to navigate our field. We’re taking some time this summer to unpack and explore some of the topics covered in greater depth. Today, we offer a guide to the civic tech fellowships currently available.
Many leading research institutions, nonprofits, and corporations have launched fellowship programs as a way to support civic tech practitioners and attract new talent. Fellowships are generally short-term opportunities ranging from several months to a year. The programs typically aim to offer participants a mix of training and career development, while in turn expanding the host organization’s presence in a given area. Fellowships produce a range of outputs, from research to products to stronger community networks.
Civic tech organizations tend to champion openness, diversity, and inclusion, and their fellowship programs are designed to reflect those values. Fellowship stipends that cover living costs and compensate participants for their time can be an important factor for potential fellows. Higher stipends can increase the likelihood that socio-economically diverse candidates apply and can afford to forgo full-time employment while working with the group. Programs that offer the most generous stipends often package research funding and fellowship support together. For example, fellows at the Shuttleworth Foundation, which focuses on “social change using openness,” offers up to $250,000 in funding, while the Cummings Foundation, which focuses tech and data-driven solutions to inequality and climate change, offers up to $100,000. Additionally, programs like Ford-Mozilla’s Open Web Fellowship even offer to sponsor visas. This helps increase the likelihood that their selected fellows will reflect truly global backgrounds.
There are two broad categories of civic tech fellowships. One set of programs supports researchers and funds practitioners in the space to pursue their own, independent, projects. Another set of opportunities offers more directed, teams-driven, practical engagement with local governments and non-profits. Opportunities provided by research-driven institutions like Data & Society and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society ask applicants to submit detailed project proposals for either their research or field work, then offer a range of grants and funding to fellows. Meanwhile, programs like Microsoft’s Civic Tech fellowship look to build mixed-skillset teams when selecting fellows, often creating small working groups made up for both tech and policy-oriented participants. Community and industry-engagement focused opportunities emphasize career development, networking, and amplifying the organization’s presence in the space. These fellowships often have participants collaborate on a number of different civic tech related projects, often across a broad spectrum of issues, instead of individual research projects.
While fellowships are excellent for experimentation in a new field, the ultimate goal is to have the work of civic tech lead to improved outcomes for society. A number of fellowships will help place fellows in government agencies at various levels. Generally, this practice began at the federal level and has since inspired state and city-level iterations. These types of programs were an early model of how to integrate modern technology and design thinking into the public sector. For example, Code For America embeds cross-functional teams of three into local government departments to develop digital tools that help cities deliver public services. Similarly, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program pairs technologists within federal government agencies. The program aims to bring start-up level intensity and rapid iteration to the federal bureaucracy.
Given the wide range of requirements, funding opportunities, program lengths and class sizes offered by different fellowship programs, finding the civic tech fellowship that is right for you can be challenging!
Not to worry – below is our full list of civic tech fellowship opportunities, including program details and example projects. Please let us know about any that we’ve missed, or better yet, add them directly to the civic tech fellowships portion of the Field Guide.
Kaivan Shroff is a fellow with Microsoft’s Civic Tech team in New York City. He holds an MBA from Yale University and a BA in Political Science from Brown University. In his free time he works as a digital organizer in the progressive political space. Connect with him on Twitter @KaivanShroff.