Civicly: Citizen-powered ratings and reviews

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Civicly: Citizen-powered ratings and reviews

Washington, United StatesWashington, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Civicly brings the power of reviews to government and the public sector. Citizens accustomed to sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor will be empowered to rate city services, schools, public transportation, politicians and more. Civicly closes the feedback loop between citizens and government.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if you could review city services, schools, politicians and public transportation like you can a restaurant?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Citizens interact with government and the public sector every day and have opinions about it. But they have few effective, constructive means of providing feedback. Civicly closes the loop. Citizens currently rely on phone calls, letters, face-to-face conversations and social media to provide feedback. This feedback is fragmented, private and tends not to reach the intended recipients. With Civicly, citizens provide direct, public feedback.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

There are ample feedback channels for consumers but very few for citizens. Given the profound impact of government and the public sector, this needs to change. Ratings and reviews are proven tools for assessing products and services, discerning public sentiment and highlighting what is working and what isn't. Civicly puts these tools to work for citizens. We view each citizen's interaction with government and the public sector as the functional equivalent of a consumer eating at a restaurant or staying at a hotel -- it's an opportunity for feedback. 311 is not enough. Reviews and ratings, done in public and aggregated, create a body of knowledge and become an accepted measure of performance. They also become a force for change.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Civicly provides a platform for citizen feedback that is public and can be easily aggregated and sorted. Public reviews allow citizens to learn from the experiences of others and collectively reward what they like and discourage what they don't. This is our theory of change. In practice, a citizen would come directly to Civicly or find us through a search. Users could rate city services, schools, politicians, utilities, public transportation and more with a star system and brief narrative. The ratings and reviews would be aggregated and displayed like those on Yelp and TripAdvisor. Each entity, service or official being reviewed would have its own page with an average rating and citizen reviews -- sortable by date and popularity.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Researchers have been studying the impact of ratings and reviews in the private sector for two decades. Online reviews influence consumer and corporate behavior, incentivizing good behavior and quality products and services. The public sector has lagged behind. Existing feedback mechanisms, like polls and surveys, are valuable but insufficient. Civicly aims to change this landscape with proven tools from the private sector. These tools will be familiar not only to users of review sites but also top consumer sites like Amazon and Ebay. Civicly imagines a world where government administrators, school principals, politicians and other public servants monitor their pages on Civicly and actively engage with the citizens reviewing them. As in the private sector, ratings and reviews will result in better products, services and experiences for citizens, but first we must close the loop.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Civicly will launch in Washington, DC and the surrounding population centers in Maryland and Virginia. We believe the DC metro area is an ideal laboratory for testing and refining our model. If successful, we will expand our service, both in scope (e.g. allowing feedback on nonprofits and legislation) and geography (around the US and beyond). Civicly will rely on news coverage, social media and organic search to reach new users. Google's proposed schema for civic services could ensure prominent placement for our ratings and reviews in search results. That would be a game-changer for us.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Civicly has the potential to create multiple revenue streams. The best path to sustainability seems to be offering premium services to cities and other public entities, including selling and analyzing data and conducting specialized surveys. Civicly would also seek to sell advertisements, particularly around local elections, and would explore becoming a civic petition engine. Finally, we would seek foundation support for civic engagement work.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Civicly aims to be the go-to website for feedback about government and the public sector. Yet many citizens have already turned to Yelp for lack of options. There are reviews of subway lines, police departments and even border checkpoints. By and large, these reviews have languished. Yelp's brand identity and ad-based revenue model are centered on small businesses. Neither citizens nor officials view it as a venue for feedback on government. The most popular consumer review sites have specialized (e.g. hotels, restaurants, services). Civicly is poised to claim feedback around government.

Founding Story

The idea for Civicly came out of years of using consumer review sites and involvement with politics and government. But the 'aha' moment for Civicly came last April when the Washington Post ran a story headlined "With few other outlets, inmates review prisons on Yelp." We had proposed Civicly the month before and had been talking with civic activists and government officials in DC. The feedback was uniformly positive, and we were encouraged to push ahead. But the Washington Post article made us realize that the average citizen is really no better off than prison inmates when it comes to providing feedback on government and other public institutions. This has reinforced our desire to close the feedback loop for all citizens.


The Civicly team has a background in politics, web design and urban affairs. Josh Glasstetter works in civil rights advocacy and has spent years working at the intersection of politics and technology in DC. Ellen Roche is the Director of Brand Strategy for Free Range Studios, an award-winning digital agency in DC. She helps organizations tell their unique stories and create change. We have also partnered with a leading urban affairs nonprofit.
About You
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, DC, Washington

Country where this project is creating social impact

, DC, Washington

Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

Civicly will launch first in Washington, DC and the surrounding suburbs. We believe the DC metropolitan region is an ideal laboratory for testing and improving upon our model.

If successful, Civicly would expand to new regions in the U.S. and then beyond. Based on user interest, we would also expand the scope of what could be reviewed on the site.

By listening to our users and partnering with media outlets, community organizations and governments, we aim to provide a useful service and generate impact. Our hope is that citizens will request Civicly in their city.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

A key challenge faced by any new site relying on user-generated content is getting users to contribute content. Fortunately, there is already demand from citizens to provide feedback, and they are familiar with ratings and reviews.

That leaves the other key challenge of getting users to the site. As with any new site, we will need to generate media coverage and optimize for search. But Civicly will have help. Google has proposed a new web schema for civic services that would embed Civicly ratings alongside government websites in search results. This would put us on the map overnight.

Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

Civicly has informally partnered with a nonprofit dedicated to connecting cities and informing the people who work to improve them. The group's urban affairs publication has reported on Civicly, and we are poised to collaborate with them on closing the feedback loop between citizens and government.

Civicly has also reached out to journalists, government officials and community activists about ways we can partner and collaborate.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Help funders, governments, and other organizations to listen to and act on feedback.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

Citizens can already give feedback freely on government and the public sector, but rarely at scale and in an effective way. Civicly creates an environment where ongoing feedback can be given freely and effectively at scale.

Civicly provides a service to citizens and government by closing the feedback loop. The two groups spend far too much time talking past one another and failing to understand the other. With Civicly, they will be speaking -- often directly -- in ways that everyone will understand. Public institutions will be able to listen to and act on feedback in entirely new ways.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?


2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

The goal of Civicly is to make government and the public sector more responsive and more effective by closing crucial feedback loops.

We will collect information about citizens' (and other stakeholders') experiences with government and the public sector -- in the form of ratings and reviews of city services, schools, public transportation, politicians and more.

The information (ratings and reviews) will be indexed, aggregated and publicly accessible. As with sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, Civicly will help discern public sentiment and highlight what is working and what isn't.

There are three key audiences for our information: citizens, journalists and managers, leaders, officials and bureaucrats within government and the public sector.

Civicly's ratings and reviews will form an ever-growing body of knowledge and serve as a measure of performance. Taken together, they will serve as a force for change.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Improve quality of programs

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)


If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

Every interaction that citizens have with government and the public sector are the functional equivalents of a consumer eating at a restaurant or staying at a hotel -- it's an opportunity for feedback. We will collect this feedback through ratings and reviews, including a star-rating system and freeform text.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?


If other, please specify

The satisfaction of providing public feedback that will be seen by others

How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?


If other, please specify

By lowering the barriers to meaningful civic participation

What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?


If other, please specify

Public feedback from citizens will create pressure to respond and can generate media coverage

How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?


If other, please specify

Other users, including citizens, media and represenatives of those being reviewed will be able to respond

How is feedback published/transparent?

On a website

If other, please specify

All reviews and ratings will be indexed and publicly accessible

Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

There have been numerous examples in the news recently of feedback driving changes in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, e.g. from early users of and from citizens who were unexpectedly notified that they could not keep their current plans.

That said, I've learned more by watching feedback loops play out in my neighborhood. For instance, a member of the local community board kept hearing from constituents that buses on a popular route were full by the time they reached our stop. This problem had been occurring for months.

Individual riders occasionally complained to the transit authority, but to no avail. It was only when the community board member aggregated and delivered directly it to the transit authority that a solution was proposed -- additional buses for our area during peak times. The problem, for now at least, has been resolved.

On a similar note, I'm a member of a neighborhood listserv that facilitates direct communication between citizens and the local police commanders and beat officers. Each week I see examples of citizen input and feedback enabling the police to be more responsive and effective. The communication tends to increase trust and a mutual sense of good will between the police and citizens.

Direct communication between citizens and government on a listserv is incredibly valuable, but it cannot be scaled. That's where Civicly comes in.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

I believe the greatest obstacle to achieving our goal is cynicism and apathy. We can build powerful feedback mechanisms but people won't use them if they think government is hopelessly broken.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

Lack of funding for feedback data collection

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I can see myself using it as a resource

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

I hope to use the Feedback Store to learn what's worked and what hasn't in feedback collection, learn about possible partners for future collaboration and to improve upon and expand the reach of Civicly.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

The web interface for this competition has been a bit clunky and less than intuitive. I believe that it's had the unfortunate effect of reducing feedback and interaction among entrants.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

Citizens will provide feedback on Civicly in the form of ratings and reviews. Consumers routinely use such tools in the private sector, so we are confident that citizens will be comfortable applying them to government and the public sector.

The feedback (star ratings and freeform text) will be transparent and self-evident to users. They will have the knowledge and comfort that they are not submitting their feedback into the void. Instead, their feedback will be indexed, aggregated and publicly accessible.

We believe citizens will feel empowered by knowing that they can provide feedback in a format that will hold up over time and be visible to all, including fellow citizens, the media and the subjects of their feedback.