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Stimulating Innovative Civic Engagement

Jack Ratterree
April 2020

How can the design of a citizen’s interactions with civic technology lead to innovations in civic engagement?

No matter where we live or who we are, we are all a part of a larger social fabric. It is a morally responsible person’s duty to promote the well-being of their community because, to some degree, any social issues are also their own. To be civically engaged is to identify and address issues of public concern whether urban or rural, political or non-political, or as an individual or a collective. But for most citizens, developing the knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to take action and address these issues is daunting. With technology slowly being more incorporated into the operations of cities, the opportunity to be civically engaged has never been easier. Processes that used to take months can be completed instantaneously from home with a smartphone. In the grand scheme of things, technology in this domain is very new, so the focus must shift to look forward. The strategy, system, or method a citizen uses now to take civic action will vastly innovate our governance.

Civic Action to Innovation Framework

How to Read the Framework

Actions can be small-scale, such as thinking about something differently, or large-scale, such as organizing a rally.

Innovation is a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method.

Different kinds of actions lead to different kinds of innovation. Depending on where an action falls on the Y and X-axis, you can determine what qualities of innovation it might spark. This form of framework was inspired by the Design Mode Map by Ezio Manzini (2015).

The Y-axis, pulled from The Continuum of Civic Engagement (Adler & Goggin, 2005), refers to how many people are involved in the action. The most individual of actions could be personal thoughts while, as you move upward on the axis, the most collective action could be running for office.

The X-axis is a scale of how sanctioned, and thus participated in, by the government the action is.

After mapping a certain action onto these axes, you can determine what kind of innovation may result from it on a civic scale. These qualities are inspired by Satell’s (2017) Innovation Matrix.

Transformative— Innovations lead by a passionate group driven to upset current civic models or elements. Example: civil rights marches or the moratorium to end the war in Vietnam.

Sustaining— Innovations that seek to improve current/implemented civic models or elements. Example: citizens joining city council or running for a defined public office.

Disruptive— [Smaller/simpler/cheaper/more efficient]-type innovations to civic models or elements more responsive to changing environments because they’re unconstrained by red tape with the potential to subvert current civic models or elements. Example: Uber replacing city taxi services.

Adaptive— Personal innovation that responds to the changing civic/political landscape while staying within that civic/political landscape. Example: not voting for someone or engaged political discussion with friends.

Sourced Frameworks

Design Mode Map
Ezio Manzini created the Design Mode Map (2015) to illustrate the “various ways of putting designing capacity into action” (p. 40). He argued that everyone was capable of designing and that this map would help decipher what role they filled, their motivations, and their capabilities.

Innovation Matrix
The Innovation Matrix developed by Greg Satell (2017) helps to qualify innovation. Depending on whether the problem space and domain are defined when approaching a particular issue, the matrix can determine to what sort of innovation one would arrive. This visualization is primarily used within the field of technology.

Continuum of Civic Engagement
The Continuum of Civic Engagement (Adler & Goggin, 2005) charts different examples of civic engagement across an axis. Leftward examples are actions that are completed by an individual in a private setting. Rightward examples are enacted by a collective in a public setting. These examples are further defined on the continuum as community activities (upper) and political activities (lower).︎


Adler, R. P., & Goggin, J. (2005). What Do We Mean By “Civic Engagement”? Journal of Transformative Education, 3(3), 236–253.

Manzini, E. (2015). "Design, when everybody designs: an introduction to design for social innovation". Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Satell, G. (2017). Mapping innovation: a playbook for navigating a disruptive age. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.