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Redefining Civic Engagement through Digital Organizing & Tech
By Olivia Zhang
Civic engagement is difficult to define simply because it encompasses so much, from voting to raising awareness on social media to making a website. The meaning of civic engagement has shifted through technology like social media, apps, websites, and more. According to a report about digital civic engagement, 43 to 64% of 9 to 17-year-olds search for news online (Cho et al., 3), and young people also use digital spaces to discuss problems with others (11). Digital spaces expanded the opportunities for where and how young people can be involved in activism.
At the intersection of civic engagement, digital organizing, and technology lies the world of civic tech—the use of technology to educate, engage, and connect people with each other and the government to enhance civic life (Knight Foundation). Like civic engagement, it is difficult to limit civic tech to just one definition. According to Code for All, civic tech can broadly refer to technology made to leave a positive impact on society.
What I love about civic tech and digital organizing is that these spaces are intersectional and can be applied in various ways. We can build tools to help students register to vote, share resources, spread awareness about important issues and how to take action, and much more.
Within digital engagement, it is crucial for youth to have equitable access to technology, civic education, and inclusive and honest spaces online (Cho et al., 16). As Grace O’Hara from Code for Australia expressed, “People are 99% of civic tech.” Civic tech is rooted in connections, collaborations, and thoughtful solutions. It is crucial to design and develop solutions to social problems in collaboration with the community and the people who use these tools (Code for All). A civic tech project starts with finding areas where we can make a meaningful, positive impact. I appreciate how Code for All describes civic tech as a bridge: It is not the entire solution, but it helps us get there. Civic tech isn’t just for people who code—it’s a way for us to design equitable solutions through a collaborative and transparent process.