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Webrain Reports Archive

#211 – The Emergence of Civic Tech

The concept of a smart city has been envisioned for decades, with promises of high-tech conveniences weaving their way into the everyday lives of citizens. In a 2018 report, Webrain noted that the many elements typically categorized under the umbrella of “smart city” were in reality the first steps to the ultimate goal of creating a city that rapidly responds to the actual needs and wants of its citizens. The dream of creating smart cities is still alive, with projects like Toyota’s connected Woven City scheduled to open by 2021.

In other instances, however, smart city plans have not developed as originally planned. Google’s Sidewalk Lab’s plan to transform 190 acres in Toronto has been scaled back to just 12 acres, amid concerns from citizens over data privacy and the prospect of having a corporation so entwined in their civic structure.


One issue that has been cited as a recurring problem for troubled initiatives has been when the projects have not been properly defined to reach the proper outcome. That is, smart city initiatives are not focused on providing what the citizens actually need. What is needed is an element of citizen engagement and empowerment.

As business leaders began to understand that smart city initiatives must start with people, the term civic tech has been used to describe innovations that enable citizen participation in government. In many cases, civic tech involves implementing small-scale test projects using existing technologies, rather than waiting for perfect solutions to emerge at a later time.  


For example, some cities are conducting small-scale tests of 5G, which will eventually serve as the backbone to smart city initiatives. Additionally, new technology-based solutions and protocols are being investigated to ensure the highest levels of data protection for the increasingly connected populace.

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