The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Rodrigo Davies: Civic crowdfunding as a marketplace for participation in community development

Rodrigo Davies, Stanford University


The emergence of civic crowdfunding projects and platforms that seek to crowdfund public services, offers a challenge to incumbent mechanisms offered by government and non-profit organizations, and presents a fresh means of political participation. However, just as civic crowdfunding can be seen as the latest manifestation of public-private fundraising initiatives - from nineteenth-century UK public parks subscriptions to Pulitzer's Statue of Liberty campaign - it also faces questions related to the distribution of resources and opportunities. This paper analyzes whether civic crowdfunding represents an open and well-distributed means of participation. It finds that present civic crowdfunding opportunities are heavily concentrated in major cities and skew towards environmental and green space-related projects, and that there is steep inequality in the size of successful projects consistent with a Pareto distribution. Furthermore, while there is evidence of broad-based participation in smaller projects, larger projects (in which the majority of resources are currently concentrated) are more likely to derive the majority of their funding from a small number of large-value donations. While these distributional inequalities may be neither surprising nor troublesome in a market for consumer goods, they have political and ethical implications for civic crowdfunding actors endorsing the idea that the field can serve the interests of a broad public.
Rodrigo Davies