Articles by

Christie George

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    Christie George is director of New Media Ventures, a national network of angel investors who support media and tech startups. Below, she writes about Knight Foundation’s recent analysis of the civic tech field. Photo credit: Flickr user zabdiel. We are at an unquestionably exciting moment for the field of civic innovation. Knight’s recently updated report, “The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field,” helps define and organize the emerging civic technology space.  There is power in naming, and by taking a big tent approach, the report allows all of us—entrepreneurs, investors and foundations—to see where we fit in a larger context and to test our own assumptions about what the sector is (and is not). A few observations about the report and its corresponding conclusions about the civic tech sector: Three key takeaways 1. A great first step. The Knight report is a helpful entry point to anyone looking to become involved in the field. Unlike traditional landscape analyses, this one is dynamic, inviting practitioners to expand the study with their own data. Much has been written about what was included under the study’s definition of civic technology. The peer-to-peer cluster, with its sizable investment rounds, has come under particular scrutiny for not being sufficiently focused on civic engagement as a primary activity to be included in this analysis. But as important as what is included in the analysis, is what may be left out. I particularly appreciate how proactive the Knight team has been in soliciting feedback, and I would encourage readers to take them up on filling in those gaps.  2. The field is young, and impact takes time. Knight has invested more than $25 million in civic technology since 2010; and this expanded analysis only covers organizations that received funding between January 2011 and December 2013. While tech startups can scale quickly, it takes time for companies to find their footing, especially groups in such new spaces. Many of these organizations are still searching for their business models, much less their impact. 3. Foundations are critical. The report notes how peripheral foundations have been, rarely co-investing with the most active individuals and institutions in the civic tech space. My takeaway from the report is how critical foundation support has been to areas like voting and public decision-making that don’t typically attract commercial investors. Many civic investment opportunities may not have traditional growth models or exit potential, and foundation funding can provide essential risk capital to get civic innovation efforts off the ground.