A concise but thorough introduction to working in civic technology in the United States.

Civic design consultant Harrell observes that the civic tech movement—a “loosely integrated” shift of private-technology-industry skills into the public sector—commenced in 2008, with the “the aim of making government more responsive, more efficient, more modern, or more just.” The author understands the movement on a 50-year arc, asserting that it’s still young and maturing into its “adolescence”; confusingly, however, this timeline seems to indicate that perfect efficiency and justice will be achieved at its end. Nonetheless, Harrell furnishes a brief but impressively comprehensive overview that lucidly describes its challenges and its promise, including helpful advice for those looking to enter the public sector for the first time. She also discusses the stark cultural differences between the public and private sectors, especially regarding the swiftness of project completion, bureaucratic entanglements, and approaches to budgeting. At the heart of the book is counsel on the most effective ways to improve public services without trying to simply impose private models upon them; for example, the author cautions against a reflexive idolatry of innovation, arguing that it can be inconsistent with public goals of continuity and long-term stewardship. Harrell’s astute and accessible work will be especially valuable to newcomers, as it draws deeply on her own considerable experience as a product director, user-experience researcher, and chief of staff. However, the author’s treatment of privilege in the technology sphere feels like bland cant, and sweeping declarations such as “the motives behind the regulations are almost always good and important” display excessive idealism. Still, Harrell’s effort will be useful to many, including experienced workers who are simply looking for a synoptic distillation of civic technology’s objectives.

A well-organized and helpful primer.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-73528-650-1

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Five Seven Five Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

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