2012-01-03

Co.Exist

The Civic Commons Marketplace: An App Store For Civic Tech

Apps for making cities function smoother are proliferating. Now there is a place where you can find them all—from allowing citizens to adopt local fire hydrants to helping governments streamline their budget process.

Cities are starting to use technology in exciting new ways. The app SeeClickFix, for example, lets citizens report small problems like potholes to government agencies via their smartphones. But the emergence of civic software has created a new challenge: How do cities—not usually known for being fast moving or cutting edge—discover these technologies and decide which ones to implement?

“There’s very little transparency in the government technology marketplace,” says Nick Grossman, executive director of Civic Commons, a nonprofit organization that’s helping the public sector navigate the tech world. “As a result, software buying and building decisions often happen without the benefit of knowing what’s been built elsewhere, how much it costs, and how well it’s working.”

Civic Commons is trying to solve that problem with its new Civic Commons Marketplace. The Marketplace is sort of like an app store and database for civic tech, where governments can search for software, compare alternatives, and share the technologies they’re already using. Grossman likens the Marketplace to a “CrunchBase for civic tech.”

Launched recently, the Civic Commons Marketplace already lists dozens of applications, both commercial and open source, including Budget Vision, which provides governments with tools for creating and sharing budgets; Adopt-a-Hydrant, which lets citizen volunteers keep fire hydrants easily accessible; and DistrictBuilder, a program for creating and editing redistricting plans. One can also use the Marketplace to see which cities are using which technologies. DistrictBuilder, for example, is currently being used in seven cities, including Philadelphia and Detroit.

If this develops into a robust and widely used resource, it could spur the adoption of valuable technology for the public good. It could also save taxpayers real cash. State and local agencies are projected to spend $61.5 billion per year on information technology by 2015. The Civic Commons Marketplace could play a large role in ensuring that money is well spent

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