Build it and the government will come: The problem with Civic Tech.

Those of us who have been involved in open data and the broader open government space may believe ourselves to be too sophisticated to believe the ‘build it and they will come’ approach will work with civic tech. However, for tech-driven transparency and accountability initiatives, we demonstrate cognitive dissonance by avoiding this approach in design of the citizen-facing aspects of initiatives whilst adopting it for the government-facing side.

“Once it has scaled and hundreds of thousands are using it the government will have no choice but to….”.

Such naive thinking is not only leading to waste in resources but to the establishment of a body of evidence on the ineffectiveness of civic tech initiatives for transparency and accountability which is unfortunately not entirely true. So, if you are thinking of or actually implementing a civic tech project for transparency and accountability in sub-Saharan Africa let me help you understand your reality a little better.

First, No. The government will not exhibit great appetite for your new fangled technology/initiative just because you achieved what you thought was scale. If the US government, the World Bank and the EU have not scared African leaders with their scale and their power why do we imagine some USSD app will?

Secondly, the government has options whether we believe it or not.

Third, if you have spent any time in Africa at all, you will know that this linear thinking hardly ever delivers the cause and effect programme proponents imagine. If it did, there would be no geriatric presidents in power for three decades.

Although there isn’t just one approach in this sector, there are some simple things to do that may improve your chances of success. In one sentence; find the right partners, bring government to the table and include a marketing budget in your project. That’s the simplest one-sentence advise you can get.

Here are my other recent thoughts on why we need the right partnerships as we move towards the new Post-2015 agenda in Africa.