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Libraries as the infrastructure for content strategy in civic tech

In civic tech data production supply chain, civic content strategy plays a huge role in working with policy framers to establish the standards, structure, and data governance models.

It is heartening to see the role of information scientists and content strategists in the civic tech projects worldwide. When we imagine the scope of work in production, processing, and architecting the public information, content strategists bring the right planning and the structure for the civic tech projects’ success. A lot of public-sector specific information lives in public libraries and these libraries help different parts of government to achieve their policy goals.

My first experience of visiting a library was in my college and I remember the smell of books—Chemistry, Literature, Faraday’s laws, sports and yoga, history, and architecture. Later after finishing my college when I was looking for my first job, my membership with The Browser library in Chandigarh changed the direction of my career, forever.

People see the library as a platform or a source to read or borrow books and literature. They form library book clubs and groups and exchange notes and insights from their readings.

Modern libraries can play a far more important role in public sector digital design, as I found in this book by Shannon Mattern—A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences (opens in

Shannon writes—“Few libraries would look at information as an off-the-shelf commodity. It is not merely content to be promoted via a platform for instant likes. It is not data to be fed into a dashboard. Instead libraries have long-embraced critical information literacy which involves examining resources to better understand how they are produced, presented, and valued, and how the institution of the library itself—its political history, its classification system, its institutional structure—shape the ways that knowledge acquires and represents power.”

“As Trevor Owens, the head of digital content management as the Library of Congress said a few years ago—Libraries could become a kind of middle ground for the ‘civic data initiatives’, libraries could be the spaces where anybody could learn about the data that was being collected about them, or about their communities, how they use those data, and have the voice in how those data are collected, managed, and used.”

In this civic tech data production supply chain, civic content strategy plays a huge role in working with policy framers to establish the standards, structure, and the trust-driven data governance models. It helps them design the data canvas so that data and information and knowledge and insights are available to strengthen the citizens-government relationship.

Civic tech has different models and hence the scope of their work, role, and the impact also changes accordingly. These can be very niche such as for neighborhood communities, or these are heavy-activity focussed to bring operational efficiency in citizens-government interactions. In all cases, the civic tech communities advocates that all the stakeholders and participants should co-design the policies and should work together to frame the design the interactions for the knowledge models.

Content strategists have been doing it in the private sector with a lot of success across industry, locations, and for all sized organizations worldwide. In civic tech where the stakes around data are the key drivers in the project success, libraries provide the right infrastructrure, resources, inclusive space, and the confidence to build the confidence-inspiring content strategy frameworks for civic tech projects.

Not only for data but access to right information at the right time in public sector has been such a challenge worldwide. No institution is better-equipped to bridge this gap than the libraries, and there are many projects that are driving this movement, to build the right libraries-for-pubic-sector use cases. Here are a few related references:

  • The Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA), along with International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and the United States Public Library Association (PLA), has received major, long-term support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the transformation of public libraries as critical centers of learning, creativity, and community development. (source PDF, opens in new tab)
  • As part of Columbus’ Smart Mobility Project, the city plans to use a library as a smart mobility hub. The hub will include a smart kiosk, car-share spaces, dockless e-bikes and e-scooters, and pick-up and drop-off locations for yellow cabs, Bishop said. It will bring those different mobility options together in one space to help the city learn how people move from place to place. (source opens in a new tab)
  • Libraries for civic engagement—“We must study collaborations between local news outlets and libraries to understand what’s working and what could work better.” (source, opens in a new tab)

In private sector, the content strategists do not get any such open platform or knowledge infrastructure and so we continue to fight for the fragmented investments in stakeholder mapping, in design and content systems, in content governance models, and for baking the right message in the interactions. Imagine how we could have done it if we had such powerful information and knowledge pyramids in for-profit organizations.

In that sense, the content strategists in the public sector or directly working in civic tech projects for an agency, are better placed to build on what they have—public libraries.

This topic is part of my advanced course in product content strategy, content design, and UX Writing. See the course details for how we can find and add more meaning to our work.

Vinish Garg

Vinish Garg

I am Vinish Garg, and I work with growing product teams for their product strategy, product vision, product positioning, product onboarding and UX, and product growth. I work on products for UX and design leadership roles, product content strategy and content design, and for the brand narrative strategy. I offer training via my advanced courses for content strategists, content designers, UX Writers, content-driven UX designers, and for content and design practitioners who want to explore product and system thinking.

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Vinish Garg is an independent consultant in product content strategy, content design leadership, and product management for growing product teams.