Today, the Knight Foundation, along with the data analytics firm Quid, released a fascinating analysis examining the financial investment in nonprofits and for-profit organizations that create civic technology apps and platforms through technology. If you include many of the new P2P platforms such as AirBnB and the like (which are private businesses not primarily focused on promoting civic outcomes), there has been a whopping $430 million invested in civic technology, including open government organizations. (Full disclosure, the Sunlight Foundation has received several grants from the Knight Foundation.) It is concerning that the bulk of venture capital and other non-philanthropic investment in civic technology goes toward companies whose primary goals are not to empower citizens in democratic engagement nor to foster government openness and accountability.
The big picture presented by Knight and Quid shows that there is momentum in growing an echelon of financial investors to buttress the nascent civic start-up movement. This peek behind the curtain of the philanthropic and commercial investment world is welcome transparency and very helpful analysis.
The report’s accompanying spreadsheet and interactive data visualization tool lets you explore the network of civic tech organizations and their connections to one another. It’s riveting to see the relationships between groups in the field, and particularly one of the report’s key findings showing the opportunity for greater co-investment by foundations in collaboration with other types of investors.
We expect that this report will spur more conversation and thoughtful contemplation by the funding community on the need for more, sustained investment in open government and civic technology groups. It could be a very interesting and useful conversation to talk about what’s missing from this landscape (and indeed, about some of what is included). This kind of conersation could help shape a roadmap for future investment. We look forward to version 2.0, as we are sure there will be plenty more fruitful connections to see.