Challenges and Successes to Scaling and Sustaining Civictech and Govtech Initiatives

  • Diana Kurth

With technology’s rapid adoption, new threats and opportunities have emerged, transforming how democracies – and democracy advancement organizations like the International Republican Institute (IRI) – must operate. Understanding the intersection of technology and democracy is critical for IRI’s work, as technology has transformed how citizens expect to engage, how elections take place, and what threats democratic actors face. While technological advancement can certainly threaten democracy, it can also be leveraged for good.  

IRI’s Technology and Democracy team’s civic and government technology programs focus on advancing the use of digital technologies to strengthen civic participation, transparency, inclusion, and efficiency of governments. Through this line of work, our team supports democratic actors who are already using technology to advance democratic principles – primarily civictech and govtech practitioners – and encourages governments and other democratic actors to understand and be open to technology’s ability to improve democracy globally.   

In the last year, IRI launched a round of funding to support seven civic and government technology efforts to embrace and demonstrate technology’s power to improve governance. Over the past year of support to those efforts, IRI has worked to better understand the challenges and successes not just to launching civictech and govtech initiatives, but to sustaining and scaling them. Time and again, initial successes of civictech and govtech initiatives prove difficult to sustain. IRI has capitalized on its unique role as a global partner, including as a convener of an expansive civictech/govtech network, to understand why and what can be done about it.  

After conducting extensive research and interviews with over 50 civictech and govtech practitioners, IRI’s Technology and Democracy team is excited to launch “Sustaining and Scaling Civic and Government Technology: A White Paper on Challenges, Best Practices and Recommendations” to better understand these issues. The white paper features a robust analysis of lessons learned on key challenges, best practices, and recommendations for funders, practitioners, and governments to more successfully sustain and scale initiatives in the long term.  

Here we present a summary of our key findings on challenges, best practices, and recommendations. This serves as a snapshot of our work, so we encourage you to access the paper here to find more detailed explanations of our findings.  

Core Challenges

In 100% of IRI’s interviews, practitioners referenced challenges imposed by inadequate or restrictive funding models, and nearly all interviewees noted the challenge of achieving and sustaining government buy-in for their initiatives. Additional challenges included bureaucratic barriers, such as limitations on the tool’s integration into existing decision-making processes and lengthy procurement processes, as well as challenges with skill requisition and retention, and barriers to long term user uptake and growth. 

Best Practices

A range of best practices to foster the scaling and sustainment of civic and govtech initiatives were shared by interviewees. Some of these include diversifying funding and income sources, finding champions across seniority levels in local or national governments to build buy-in, and building partnerships with diverse stakeholders to overcome limitations to skill acquisition and user growth.  

Key Recommendations

The paper encompasses key recommendations grouped intentionally for funders, civic and govtech practitioners, and governments to consider. Some of our recommendations include suggesting funders provide organizational rather than project-specific support, encouraging civic and govtech practitioners to establish interpersonal relationships with funders as a pathway to secure more stable support, and recommending governments commit support to digital initiatives across seniority levels and departments for longer-lasting impact.  

The findings summarized here offer insight into the most common challenges and best practices civic and govtech practitioners face globally. By understanding these challenges and best practices and considering our key recommendations, the digital democracy ecosystem can support civic and govtech initiatives to be more successful in the long-term. We encourage you to read our broader findings and recommendations in our paper and to reach out to with any questions.  

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