CivicMakers 2016 Year-in-Review

CivicMakers doing our thing!

Let’s be blunt. 2016 was rough. Somehow, though, amidst it all, CivicMakers managed to accomplish quite a bit, and figure out a few things about ourselves along the way. If you’re curious about where we are heading in 2017 and beyond, we invite you to join us over in the “What is CivicMakers” post. Otherwise, we’d like to tell you a tale about our year, but that requires taking a short detour…

CivicMakers: A Brief History

CivicMakers started simply as a meetup group. Our first event in June of 2014, a “CivicMakers Salon” on democracy and technology, was so successful that we saw no alternative but to continue convening people to talk about the burgeoning field of “civic tech.” Since then, we’ve hosted over 50 gatherings for thousands of civic and social innovators. Along the way, we’ve met and been inspired by countless smart, passionate, downright lovely people doing important work in government agencies, nonprofits, technology companies and communities.

This community is the core of CivicMakers. With this community — with you — we have felt incredible potential for what we could do together. But what would that be? Our first big experiment was a “civic innovation marketplace” to showcase all of the tools, projects and people we were excited about in order to foster collaboration and accelerate the civic tech sector. After countless hours with an incredible volunteer team at Code for San Francisco, we eventually launched a modest working prototype and pitched at Civic Accelerator and, but saw little traction. The experiment to replicate our community online had failed (for the moment), but we kept going.

Co-Designing CivicMakers: A Participatory Planning Session at General Assembly, January 2016

Wherein We Found Our Groove

A turning point came in March when San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (SFMOCI) asked us to help them run Startup In Residence (STIR), a 16 week program that pairs technology companies with local agencies to solve a civic challenge. The program, originally launched as a pilot, was expanding to four cities, and SFMOCI needed help developing the training curriculum, supporting project teams and partner cities, and establishing program infrastructure. We jumped in, and by September, STIR had delivered some impressive solutions, including a partnership between Binti and San Francisco Human Services Agency that improved the foster parent application process and saved social workers 20–40% of their time.

The STIR program opened the door for a bevy of other opportunities, and we’re proud of our work:

  • conducting market research for Code for America’s GetCalFresh product helping make the enrollment process for beneficiaries of federal and state nutrition programs enroll more easily;
  • designing and facilitating Code for San Francisco’s National Day of Civic Hacking weekend hackathon;
  • designing and developing a “data commons” with California Health and Human Services Agency to facilitate communication and collaboration around data to improve public health in California;
  • improving the sales funnel for civic tech startup Neighborland by creating a product guide to educate prospective customers;
  • establishing a civic user testing (CUT) group in San Francisco to help bring the public into the process of designing city websites and services

And there is more on the horizon, including a service design consultation with the City of San Rafael, a budget engagement program in the City of Thousand Oaks, and a market research project for the Digital Democracy platform. We can’t thank these organizations enough for trusting us to help them achieve their goals. It’s a true honor and an immense privilege. You can read more about our work, along with case studies, on our website.

Producing Startup In Residence Demo Day, September 2016


That’s not quite the whole story. Since we’re completists, here’s a full rundown of our 2016 activities:


Set up infrastructure operations for our LLC, including accounting, invoicing, time tracking, insurance, etc. Fun! Then, we found a tax preparer and bookkeeper to make sure we were doing all this right :)

  • Launched prototype of our civic innovation marketplace product idea
  • Pitched to & had first round interview for Points of Light Civic Accelerator
  • Became an official vendor for the City and County of San Francisco (Woohoo!)
  • During one of our Collaboration Cafes (see events below), we met one of our favorite people, Jim Rettew!
  • With Jim, we revised the format of our newsletter to a streamlined link-sharing model of jobs, articles, events and other civic and social points of interest. Fourteen volumes later, LINKS has generated tons of positive feedback, such as:
“Your newsletter is hands down THE most useful one that enters my inbox.” — Community Engagement consultant
“I get all the emails, and it is an amazingly rich resource.” — Civic tech CEO
“This is my favorite newsletter that I subscribe to.” — Director, Digital Studio
“I always open emails from CivicMakers.” — Civic tech CEO
  • Started a successful partnership with Impact Hub to offer programming and networking opportunities for Hub members
  • Revised our messaging and launched a new website with a new tagline: “Solving public problems with empathy”
Design Thinking workshop at Impact Hub San Francisco with Jim Rettew (center) for the Google Impact Challenge Winners, November 2016


We were honored to work with some incredible clients in 2016:

  • Neighborland
  • Rokketmed
  • Startup In Residence Program (STIR) in San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento
  • Code for San Francisco
  • Nutter Consulting
  • Code for America
  • California Health and Human Services Agency
  • San Francisco civic user testing group
Exygy’s Zach Berke with Stephanie Rivera and Holly Allen of 18F enjoying a CivicMixer at The Hall! July 2016


And, of course, we hosted a slew of events. Here’s the full list:

We also were out and about in the civic and social innovation mix and presented at these conferences:

Hosting a Visioning Session at BSR in NYC with our friends Ben Snyder and Peter Shanley of Civic Hall, November 2016

Such Gratitude!

We couldn’t have done everything we had the exciting opportunity to do in 2016 without you — our community. We’d love to hear from you: Complete this survey to give us input on what kind of events we should host in 2017 and read our 2017 Strategic Plan!

Contact us to share your thoughts directly or talk about working together on a project. Still want to learn more about us? Read our other latest blog What is CivicMakers?

We ❤ you!