Software Engineering in Civic Tech: A Case Study

Figure: The basic iterative loop used in Code for Ireland's software development process Figure: The basic iterative loop used in Code for Ireland’s software development process

Civic technology, or the diverse ways in which people are using technology to influence change in society, is a field growing across the world. While civic technology can apply low tech solutions to a great benefit, several major civic tech projects create software. Most commonly built by institutions, such as NGOs and the academia, there are an increasing number of bottom-up efforts by to create grassroots software. In this case study, we present one grassroots-based group and their software development process, and the lessons learned for future practitioners.

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An open access version of the paper is available in arXiv.


Civic grassroots have proven their ability to create useful and scalable software that addresses pressing social needs. Although software engineering plays a fundamental role in the process of creating civic technology, academic literature that analyses the software development processes of civic tech grassroots is scarce. This paper aims to advance the understanding of how civic grassroots tackle the different activities in their software development processes. In this study, we followed the formation of two projects in a civic tech group (Code for Ireland) seeking to understand how their development processes evolved over time, and how the group carried out their work in creating new technology. Our preliminary findings show that such groups are capable of setting up systematic software engineering processes that address software specification, development, validation, and evolution. While they were able to deliver software according to self-specified quality standards, the group has challenges in requirements specification, stakeholder engagement, and reorienting from development to product delivery. Software engineering methods and tools can effectively support the future of civic technologies and potentially improve their management, quality, and durability.


Knutas, A., Palacin, V., Maccani, G., & Helfert, M. (2019). Software Engineering in Civic Tech: A Case Study about Code for Ireland. In Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Software Engineering. (Preprint from arXiv)