Rodrigo Davies

Thoughts on Neighborly, civic crowdfunding and the future of community development

New civic crowdfunding platform Zenfunder targets public-private partnerships, starting with a San Jose councillor

08 Mar 2013

Another day, another civic crowdfunding site launch. The civic crowdfunding space has moved from nascent bordering on theoretical a year ago to a rapidly expanding marketplace of competing ideas and models. San Francisco-based Zenfunder is the latest newcomer, and is a sister company of the enterprise mobile civic engagement platform CitySourced.

Zenfunder's strategy is to focus on public-private partnerships, where local government input is necessary to implement a project. That avoids the problem of individuals funding projects that don't have the necessary approvals or permits. The site makes the different stages of the workflow explicit with a progress bar that tracks the project from proposal, to the identification of requirements, to city approval, to funding, building and completion. Integrating iterative workflows can be very helpful in trying to crowdsource ideas from the public - Latvia has a great workflow for refining citizen e-petitions into policy proposals, for example.

There's a clear linkage with CitySourced, too: a resident reports a problem such as a dangerous crossing, and then suggests a proposal for improving the site using crowdfunded investment. At the moment it's not easy to navigate to the new crowdfunding campaigns, but Kirk points out two projects from San Jose, California, that follow that report problem-fund solution model: both are proposals for blinking crosswalk signals, one near De Vargas Elementary School and the other near the Calabazas library. Unlike typical civic crowdfunding campaigns, these were both started by a city councillor, Republican Pete Constant, who is hoping to raise $12,000 per campaign.

I'll be among those trying to begin the job of analysing civic crowdfunding at SXSW, which kicks off today. If you're in Austin, stop by our session on Tuesday at 11am, with Citizinvestor's Jordan Raynor, Story Bellows of Philadelphia's New Urban Mechanics Team and Eric Engelman. Besides talking about Spacehive's experiences in UK civic crowdfunding, I'll also discuss my research project looking at the field as a whole, which I'll be developing at