Introducing Citizen Technologist, the Blog

By Nick Doty & Galen Panger, CTSP Co-Directors  |  Permalink

What is a Citizen Technologist?

Increasingly, we must accept that technology is not a neutral thing, not developed apart from cultural or political ideas and not deployed in a vacuum. Technology has effects—obvious and subtle, planned and unforeseen—on our daily routines, our well-being, our communities, our jobs, our love lives and our political activities. A citizen technologist is a person who works with the intersecting effects of technical architecture, social norms, and public policy.

We’re starting to hear this term more often, and applied to different things. Here are some examples of what a citizen technologist might be (please share yours in the comments!):

  • a software engineer who considers ethical principles in building her new app;
  • a designer who volunteers his services to improve the user experience of a local non-profit or government agency website;
  • a legislator who works closely with the technical community to design laws and regulations affecting the Internet;
  • a researcher who studies the effects of new communication technologies on employment, inequality or happiness;
  • a citizen who participates in technical projects to map their neighborhood or advocate for their community

Citizen technologists can vary by personal and professional background, by the work they do and by the values they consider and advocate for. We posit that these types of roles are becoming more common than they used to be, whether it’s integrating usable technology into government services, providing technical advice to legislators and leaders, or advocating within the startup community for product values beyond seeing how quickly we can deliver dinner. Some recent examples of recruiting citizen technologists might be the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, Upturn,, Code for America, and the FTC’s recent technical and research hiring. But we expect we’ll need many more to answer the coming questions about new technologies and their interactions with society.

What is Citizen Technologist, the blog?

In short, Citizen Technologist is a blog for writings from, for and about citizen technologists.

Every year, starting this year, the Center for Technology, Society & Policy will offer fellowships for graduate students, postdocs, faculty, practitioners and others in this space to collaborate and make advancements in four focus areas where the questions seem profound and the opportunities great. These areas are: engineering ethics; technology and well-being; infrastructure, standards and governance; and digital citizenship.

This blog will host fellows’ ideas and perspectives, but we don’t want to limit this space only to those we’ve funded to take on a collaborative project this year. We invite anyone working in this new category — academics, practitioners, policymakers or ordinary citizens — to apply to write with us. Feel free also to reach out with ideas or questions. What do you have to say or share in this space? Writers will be encouraged to cross-post their work in other places, too, to reach diverse audiences (and we can often help with that).

What’s next?

We see this blog and our new center as an exciting experiment, one that you have an opportunity to shape with your effort. CTSP kicks off our first year with a half-day “Proposal Hackathon” to help people interested in fellowships find collaborators. Learn more about our fellowships/project proposals, apply to write with us, or consider becoming a mentor for our teams of fellows. We’re looking forward to working with you in this growing and essential space.

  • Rafael Zanatta

    September 10, 2015 at 3:48 pm Reply

    I totally agree with the definition of “citizen technologist” proposed by the authors. There are many people working nowadays in the intersection of technical architecture, social norms and public policy.

    In Brazil, we are experiencing the flourishing of this type of citizenship (or human action in the polis). I would include in the concept the following examples:
    1) a hacker that develops open-source databases and systems to monitor how public money is spent by the government (or the private funding of political campaigns);
    2) a citizen that develops apps to solve common problems for regular citizens (e.g. timetable of public transport system or agencies to get official records and IDs);
    3) a collective that protects the privacy of one political community by developing and sharing anti-surveillance methods.

  • Deji

    September 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm Reply

    This is great. Are you going to create a mailing list so people can receive the posts in a digest?

    • Nick Doty

      September 10, 2015 at 11:16 pm Reply

      Thanks! You can subscribe to the CTSP mailing list using the small form in the footer of this page (under “Keep in touch”) to get announcements about the center’s work and events.

      To keep up to date with blog posts, I’d suggest subscribing to our RSS feed. An RSS reader or your browser should be able to find our feed automatically, or you can use this direct link: If you don’t have an RSS reader already, you might try or

    • Avatar photo

      Galen Panger

      September 11, 2015 at 6:49 pm Reply

      Just to add to what Nick said, you can also use an RSS-to-email service. IFTTT is one way to make this happen (and IFTTT is awesome).

      One guide:

      If there seems to be demand for us to provide blog posts via email, it’s definitely something we can consider for the future.

  • Rambabu Thapa

    December 2, 2015 at 10:53 am Reply

    Hi Nick,
    I totally agree with you on, “A citizen technologist is a person who works with the intersecting effects of technical architecture, social norms, and public policy.”
    I am Software Developer from Nepal, How Can I be a part of this community ?

    • Nick Doty

      December 5, 2015 at 8:20 pm Reply

      To keep up with CTSP, you can subscribe to our mailing list: and follow this blog.

      But more generally, try to get involved with citizen technology work in your own community! Is there a need in Nepalese civil society for software expertise? Or contribute to an open source project, which you can do from anywhere. Either way, let us know your experiences.

  • Kamal Thakur

    December 2, 2015 at 5:49 pm Reply

    Nick, am bit confused. Can you tell me the difference between a technologist and an Innovator ? I liked your article and I want to just clarify this. Hope to see your reply.

    • Nick Doty

      December 5, 2015 at 12:01 am Reply

      It’s a good question; “technologist” is often used without a clear definition, even by people who understand the concept or identify as technologists themselves. In terms of distinction from “innovator”, I think people can innovate — come up with something new — in any number of fields and disciplines. We typically use “technologist” to refer to people who are designing, building or operating something architectural, whether it’s the Internet, or agriculture, medicine, urban planning, etc. And I also think not all the work of a citizen technologist needs to be strictly new; there’s a lot of work to do in just translating between technical concepts and legal ones, for example, or in teaching how to use a new information technology.

  • Alicia Green

    December 18, 2015 at 7:01 pm Reply

    Interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed the example in which you discussed the software engineer incorporating ethics when building her app. I am required to take an ethics course for my degree in Computer Science, so I suppose we are being trained to become “technologists”.

  • theresia

    March 2, 2016 at 10:46 pm Reply

    In an age of modernization, as now, people are very dependent on technology. This makes the technology becomes the basic needs of every person. From parents to young children, experts to ordinary people use technology in various aspects of life. The farmers who work the land are also using technology to improve crop yields, for example, is the use of tractors machines more quickly and efficiently when compared with the plow pulled by a buffalo.

  • Pedro Maia

    March 31, 2016 at 7:44 pm Reply

    Hi Nick, 2 questions…

    So, I am in no way a webdesigner but I have built, free of charge, websites for 2 dog rescues. Does that make me a technologist, according to the second example?

    Also, when you mention ethics when building the app, do you mean like the implied common sense (no stealing data, no spamming…) or something higher that I am probably not thinking of?

    Thank you,

  • Roger Pierce

    May 1, 2016 at 2:41 am Reply

    Fascinating. I completely delighted in the case in which you talked about the product engineer fusing morals when assembling her application. I am required to take a morals course for my degree in Computer Science, so I assume we are being prepared to wind up “technologists”.

  • candra pasha

    May 14, 2016 at 2:04 am Reply

    hello i am from indonesia, i think technology and human can not be separated, because technology without human /people will loss of function. Otherwise, human without technology in this era would have difficulty doing the job. its Just my opinion 🙂 , thanks for sharing

  • Philipp

    July 14, 2016 at 12:01 am Reply

    I totally agree with the definition of “citizen technologist” proposed by the author! All in all a very interesting article. Greetings from Germany 🙂

  • sara

    September 26, 2016 at 9:45 pm Reply

    Recent public controversies regarding the collection, analysis, and publication of data sets about sensitive topics—from identity and sexuality to suicide and emotion—have helped push conversations around data ethics to the fore. In popular articles and emerging scholarly work (some of it supported by our backers at CTSP), scholars, practitioners and policymakers have begun to flesh out the longstanding conceptual and practical tensions expressed not only in the notion of “data ethics,” but in related categories such as “data science,” “big data,” and even plain old “data” itself.

    Thank you very much:

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