Civic crowdfunding is inevitable because it’s so consonant with other forms of internet-based organization. There’s widespread acceptance of the idea that software developers can build high-quality software, motivated not purely by financial gain (though there’s certainly a role for commercial enterprises within the open source ecosystem.) Wikipedia demonstrates that volunteers can produce a high quality reference work. The campaigns against SOPA/PIPA and the Susan G. Komen Foundation show that activists, loosely linked through the internet, can achieve social change. Civic crowdfunding leverages many of the same mechanisms: rapid and lightweight group formation, coordination of efforts, enlightened self interest.
Here are some thoughts on how we could embrace civic crowdfunding and avoid the downsides:
- Avoid rhetoric that posits crowdfunding as a remedy for government inaction and failure.
- Crowdfund projects that leverage existing government opportunities.
- Use crowdfunding to brainstorm and innovate, and let governments implement.
- Look for projects that create community capital through volunteering.
- Don’t let governments dump unfunded projects into civic crowdsourcing. Instead, let’s look for ways that people excited about civic crowdfunding can lobby and ensure that city, state and federal funding for transportation, public spaces and the arts isn’t cut any further. Civic crowdfunding should be about making public goods and services more awesome, not shifting responsibility onto the backs of internet-connected donors.