Is Crowdfunding Participatory Citizenship or a Sign of Institutions in Decline? | MIT Center for Civic Media
Rodrigo is a civic technologist and researcher who designs, builds and analyzes tools to help communities and governments collaborate for social good. He leads the product team at Neighborly, a new platform for individuals and households to invest in their community through municipal bonds.
Rodrigo co-founded Build Up, an award-winning social enterprise working on technology-supported methods for resolving conflict and developing communities, and published the first large-scale study of civic crowdfunding while a masters student at MIT and a Research Assistant at the Center. He is currently on leave from a PhD at Stanford University, and has previously served as an adviser and product manager to the Mayoral offices of San Francisco and Boston, the United Nations Development Program and the UK-based crowdfunding platform Spacehive.
Is Crowdfunding Participatory Citizenship or a Sign of Institutions in Decline?
Civic crowdfunding is the beginning of a new type of participatory democracy for communities."
"Civic crowdfunding is a triumph of individualism over the collective good."
"Civic crowdfunding is the result of a crisis in government."
These three divergent intepretations are among the most common responses to civic crowdfunding. I hear them in one form or another almost every time I give a talk on the topic. Despite their differences, these interpretations are also, for the moment, coexisting quite happily. Platforms and the people who use them don't show much need to agree on what civic crowdfunding is for, or what kind of future its rise might foreshadow.
So which one of them most accurately describes what's actually going on among the people funding civic projects? Earlier this week I presented a paper at the academic conference Place, (Dis)place and Citizenship at Wayne State University, Detroit, unpacking the framings that we might use to interpret civic crowdfunding and looking closely at recent projects to find out which most closely resembles the dominant discourse around civic crowdfunding.
Here's how I described the three possible framings of civic crowdfunding:
To develop those framings, I analyzed the project pages of 274 campaigns collected from Citizinvestor, IOBY, Neighborly and Spacehive, finding common themes in the language project owners were using. You can hear the full discussion and presentation below, but here's an overview of what I found in the data:
I didn't reach a firm conclusion on which of the three framings is most dominant, but the theme of community agency is common enough to be taken seriously, and there is an undercurrent of institutional decline in a significant minority of projects. But it's clear that crowdfunding is far from unidirectional. What that means is that a lot more qualitative inquiry into how people are using civic crowdfunding and why is necessary to understand its potential and implications for the future.
This is an early discussion, and is based on a small subset of the projects I've been looking at for my thesis, which will be completed in May. I'm looking forward to sharing a lot more from that resarch here soon.