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Planning Departments Using Civic Tech

Civic Tech Survey of Planning Departments

Gauging Civic Tech in Planning Departments

Planetizen has released a survey that shows how the use of civic tech is growing in planning departments.  Over 600 cities of all sizes were included in the research.

Highlights include:

An expanding industry:

  • The number of civic technology companies grew by roughly 23% annually between 2008 and 2013 (Knight Foundation).
  • The U.S. government is estimated to spend over $6 billion per year on civic tech. Much of this activity is happening in states and cities to manage local services, like planning.

Online Communication: 

The survey found near-complete adoption of web communication. Use of  social media and mobile access continues to grow in importance.

  • 99% of the cities had a dedicated website for their planning department (only 2 did not).
  • 59% of city planning department websites use responsive design to accommodate mobile users. Mobile internet use now exceeds desktop use and many low-income groups may use a mobile device as their only internet access.
  • 53% of city planning departments update their website at least monthly.
  • 14% of planning departments have dedicated social media. Social media is even more commonly used in larger cities, where 32% of planning departments use it.
  • 85% of city planning departments use their web sites to publish their zoning code.

Growing use of tools:

  • 47%of cities offer an online GIS tool to search properties.
  • Planning use of online GIS increased by 7 points since 2015.  But adoption is still slower in smaller cities:  Only 38% of small cities offer online GIS tools, compared to over 50%of medium-sized cities and almost 70%of large cities. Regionally, GIS is more commonly used in the West and South than in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • 35 percent of the cities surveyed offer online permitting capacity.
  • While 65 percent of cities still do not support online permitting, the increase such services was significant.  Between 2015 and 2017, online permitting grew from only 21% of cities to 35%.
  • Online permitting is being adopted first and fastest in larger cities (with populations greater than 200,000).

The study’s authors offer a few conclusions and recommendations from the data for both cities and civic tech innovators:

  • Web sites need to continue to implement responsive design.
  • Planning departments should plan and budget for increasing use of electronic formats when they publish zoning codes, planning documents and more.
  • Adoption of online permitting systems and GIS sites will continue to increase and spread to smaller cities.
  • Cities should consider designating a civic tech advocate on their teams to help implement new technologies within their agencies.

City Department Benchmarking Survey
Civic Tech Ready for Investment
Knight Foundation Civic Tech Research


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