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A Civic Technologist's Practice Guide

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I’ve put every single thing I know about civic tech into this little book. It’s both an onboarding guide and a survival manual, and I hope it will be useful to the field. It outlines the types of projects, partnerships, and people that civic technologists encounter, and the methods we can use to make lasting change. I focus on principles and sets of questions to help technologists find the right way to do the most good, starting with finding the people already doing the work. There’s also practical advice on how to build alliances with public-sector partners, what tech (and non-tech) skill sets are most useful, and how to show up in spaces dedicated to stewardship rather than profit. And my best tips from experience on how to introduce new methods and tools, and how to connect with others in the field and work sustainably on hard problems.

In collaboration with the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and its Digital Service Collaborative supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, I’m self-publishing in paperback and e-book. I’m grateful for their support!

Kindle Edition

Published September 3, 2020

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Cyd Harrell

1 book7 followers

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5 stars
121 (59%)
4 stars
60 (29%)
3 stars
21 (10%)
2 stars
1 (<1%)
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1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Becks.
278 reviews
October 18, 2022
A must read for anyone interested in civic tech or wanting to join the work. Key strengths that stood out to me compared to other writing about civic tech:

(1) Harrell puts the importance of inclusion in this work front and center. In any other book, a chapter on D&I would be bolted on at the end of the book, full of platitudes. Harrell both thoughtfully addresses inclusion as a first priority (chapter 2!) and integrates it as a key theme in every chapter that follows.

(2) This book focuses as much on the "how" of civic tech as the "what". Too many people come to this work so full of excitement that they end up alienating the partners and stakeholders they need support from to succeed. This book shares how to make change in government through thoughtful change management and relationship building, rather than just identifying what change is needed.

(3) The whole book is so friendly and inviting! The tone of the book does a fantastic job of showing (rather than just telling) how you meet people at different levels where they are and how to invite people to be part of the change you want to make.
Profile Image for Allison Press.
22 reviews4 followers
March 21, 2021
As an early-career civic designer, this book is my shoulder angel. It’s a balanced pep talk, sobering reflection, and action plan all in one.

It will be my constant reminder of the humility and endurance required when pursuing a citizen-centered government and the immediate responsibility I have to grow this field equitably.
Profile Image for Andrea Hill.
110 reviews7 followers
September 10, 2020
To start off, Cyd Harrell is an outstanding human being who I respect tremendously.
I've followed her on Twitter for quite awhile and was excited to see her speak at the CanUX conference in November 2019, where one of her most poignant slides declared that public servants make more design decisions than the entire design industry.

I only joined the public sector about 18 months ago, and this book definitely spoke to me. I gleefully highlighted passage after passage, and tweeted them out. There are differences between the public and private sector, and Cyd did a fine job at naming and explaining them.

Although a few of her specific references to agencies in the US weren't relevant to me as a Canadian public servant, the bulk of the material holds true. I actually reached out to a non-profit I know that places digital professionals into the public service and suggested they use Cyd's book for onboarding. :-)

This is a great book for anyone curious about the civic tech or gov tech space. There is certainly an appetite for digital solutions in the public sector, but some of the private sector metrics and practices have to be adapted for the different environment. Cyd's book serves as a great guide to the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the sectors, and how to lay the foundation for success both for yourself and your initatives.
Profile Image for kat.
34 reviews12 followers
February 5, 2021
going from big tech to playing a larger role as a technologist in my city department than expected, i found myself amused by how closely certain chapters of this book resemble some of my diary entries—though presented much more cogently. it reads well for those currently in practice or hoping to transition into this field, digestible in small sections or even one sitting. given the stage of civic tech, if you desire more details of specific projects and/or methods, you may just have to contact the contributors themselves. for now, worth re-reading until municipal digital services are the norm.
Profile Image for Sahil Shah.
14 reviews2 followers
January 2, 2021
An excellent introduction to what it's like to work in the government as a software engineer. Harrell lays out a bunch of great tips for how to transition from a profit-driven tech company to a stewardship-driven institution. I do wish she spent a bit more time on the why/how for deciding which area of civic tech is right for you. She gave lots of great examples, but I would have appreciated more real case studies from existing governments.
Profile Image for Rick.
102 reviews231 followers
December 17, 2020
Cyd's guide is the most practical, empathetic, and optimistic view of the potential for technologists to join government and make a difference in the lives of others. If you've ever thought about going into government, or you were simply curious about how government works, how progress happens, and what it takes to make it happen - then you'll find this book an invaluable guide.
Profile Image for Koven Smith.
49 reviews5 followers
July 5, 2021

Maybe it’s the obvious thing to say, but I wish this book had existed when I started my career in nonprofit technology. Maybe there wasn’t a lot here that was new to me, but there was a lot here that reinforced many lessons learned the hard way, and a lot that the next crop of nonprofit technologists can learn from. Highly recommended.
37 reviews
January 26, 2021
A good, broad (but not deep) overview of the state of civic tech in the US. Certain aspects definitely seemed to allude more towards how things work at the federal level (procurement, policy, work styles), but valuable advice and insights that work across lots of areas within the field.

Harrell describes civic tech as a 50-year project entering its teenage years. Let's hope these guiding principles prove prescient in another decade or two.
36 reviews
January 27, 2021
simple but so effective.

harrell does a really good job of illuminating why the private sector technology workers dislike the government sector and laying out proper solutions/ways that the two parties could engage. I would've liked a more in-depth book that had longer research because this read like a manifesto or quick medium article type-guide.
Profile Image for Kiki.
33 reviews
November 11, 2022
This book has a lot of insight and advice for tech people who want to work with public administration. At times, it reads more like a lengthy blog post than an actual book, and a big portion of the information is obviously tailored to the US government. We definitely need a similar work (maybe an adapted translation?) in German!
Author 1 book4 followers
January 5, 2021
In-person discussions with Cyd Harrell have always been insightful, so at a slim 167 pages, I thought this book would be a quick and informative read. After the first few pages, I had to stop, go grab a highlighter and start again with a fresh mug of coffee. After every few pages of careful reading, I found myself needing to stop and mentally chew over what I just learned. Then eagerly dive back in again later that day to learn something else. I know it sounds odd to describe it as a real page-turner, but... it is!

The book is well structured, with great topics. The writing is incredibly clear and concise. The signal-to-noise ratio is fantastic. I've now read this book cover to cover. Twice. And jumped back/forth to re-read specific parts a few more times. Just about every page now has some highlighted text.

The book covers a wide range of topics including: logistics of migrating technically complex legacy systems, fostering allies, privilege and diversity, open data, mental self-care and burnout under prolonged stress. This is a powerful, powerful book. My only regret is that this didn't exist before my first tour in government in US Digital Service in 2016.

If you are working in, or considering working in, large scale projects--in government or any other large mission-critical environment--you need to read this.
Profile Image for Angelica.
8 reviews9 followers
January 1, 2021
Cyd Harrell's 'Practice Guide' is essential reading for anyone working in, planning to enter, or considering a stint in civic tech. Whether you aim to join at the municipal, state, or federal level, as a short-term appointee or a career change-maker, this book has guidance for how to approach the civic challenges you hope to solve. I'm a bit biased as a long-time fan of Cyd, but I'm so thrilled that this book is available to the civic tech community and those aspiring to it.

Harrell addresses the topics you might expect (project types, teams, essential skills, allies), as well as critical ones that don't find their way into Medium retrospectives – like privilege, sustainability/self-care. She also tackles the intersection of digital services and policy as well as tech versus government ways of working.

'A Civic Technologist's Practice Guide' is highly-readable and highly recommended.
3 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2020
If you’re in civic tech, you *must* read this book. Harrell describes background schema and context of gov transformation work, offers practical advice for many areas of the work, and identifies what’s next. I’ve referred to my notes from the book for guidance on my project work at least a few times each week.
Profile Image for Divy.
14 reviews3 followers
October 28, 2022
A great and broad introduction to tech in government. Love the bits on savior complex, making sure you aren't planning to work on something that already exists, being allies, recognizing privilege, etc. Especially found a lot of the introduction to government funding useful and informative to myself. I will for sure look over this again.
1 review2 followers
May 1, 2021
Although this book is primarily about US civic technology the parallels to the UK are significant. If you’re engaged in or interested in working in tech for government or third sector, this is essential reading.
November 16, 2020
As an experienced UX designer that is relatively new to civic technology, I found A Civic Technologist's Practice Guide to be a very valuable read.

The book is full of practical wisdom based on lived experience. From advice on building meaningful professional partnerships focused on stewardship to navigating policy as a technologist, I’m finding many relevant examples in this book that I can apply directly to my work.

By driving home the point that working in civic tech is hard and meaningful, I was inspired to roll up my sleeves and get to work!
1 review1 follower
November 22, 2020
I loved reading this book. Cyd articulated many things that I’ve noticed about working in government that I’ve had trouble putting words to (and many things I hadn’t realized)! I’ve recommended this book to several colleagues and will definitely be revisiting a few of the chapters.
Profile Image for Paulina.
9 reviews1 follower
December 21, 2020
As an 8 years civic tech practicioner, it was a breath of fresh air to read a lot of civic tech conandrums, challenges and progress written in one place.

This is a must read for everyone who is working in tech, civic tech or any type of engineering field.
Profile Image for Lucas Gelfond.
55 reviews5 followers
May 30, 2021
trying to actually read the stuff I start! this book began pretty dryly (“vegetables” book to be better at my job) but ended up being pretty interesting. Cyd Harrell seems like one of the people best equipped to writing this book and I do feel like I got a good amount out of it
Profile Image for Lauren.
92 reviews
March 9, 2022
The analogy of “running a leg of a 50 year relay” has been powerful. I was struck by how the book mentioned the necessity of product as a discipline in government but had little else to say on the topic.
Profile Image for Janson.
68 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2021
Chock-full of insights and many links to further reading.
Profile Image for Nicole Wheeler.
29 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2022
A great read for anyone moving from a traditional tech company to a governmental or even non-profit role.
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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