Civic Crowdfunding: Participatory Communities, Entrepreneurs and the Political Economy of Place

Crowdfunding, the raising of capital from a large and diverse pool of donors via online platforms, has grown exponentially in the past five years, spurred by the rise of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. While legislative attention in the US has turned to the potential to use crowdfunding as a means of raising capital for companies, less attention has been paid to the use of crowdfunding for civic projects – projects involving either directly or indirectly, the use of government funds, assets or sponsorship, which may include the development of public assets. This project analyzes the subgenre of civic crowdfunding from three perspectives. First, it provides a comprehensive quantitative overview of the subgenre of civic crowdfunding, its most common project types and its geographic distribution. Second, it describes three edge cases, projects that, while uncommon, demonstrate the current limits, aspirations and potential future path of the subgenre. Third, it analyzes the historical and intellectual paradigms within which civic crowdfunding projects and platforms are operating: whether they are best located within the historical context of community fundraising, participatory planning, entrepreneurial culture or a combination of the three. In addressing these questions, the thesis will explore the potential benefits and challenges of using crowdfunding as a means of executing community-oriented projects in the built environment, and offer proposals for how public and non-profit institutions can engage with crowdfunding to realize civic outcomes.

The full text is downloadable from the Social Science Research Network.

Rodrigo Davies

About Rodrigo Davies

Rodrigo is a civic technologist and researcher who designs, builds and analyzes tools to help communities and governments collaborate for social good. He leads the product team at Neighborly, a new platform for individuals and households to invest in their community through municipal bonds. As part of his research at MIT, Rodrigo founded the Civic Crowdfunding Research Project, a platform for social research on crowdfunding, and co-leads Build Peace, a conference that brings together peacebuilding practitioners and technologists to think about new ways to resolve conflict and rebuild communities. He has served as an adviser, product manager and practitioner on civic projects with the Mayoral offices of San Francisco and Boston, the United Nations Development Program and the UK-based crowdfunding platform Spacehive. Rodrigo has been invited to speak about civic technology, design and crowdfunding by SXSW Interactive (Austin, TX), Personal Democracy Forum (NYC), the Library of Congress and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Thesis: Civic Crowdfunding: Participatory Communities, Entrepreneurs and the Political Economy of Place