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Community building

Civic crowdfunding platforms can be valuable during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, says Dr Matthew Grimes, Reader in Organisational Theory and Information Systems.

As the COVID-19 epidemic is forcing people all over the world to work from home and to connect remotely, the importance and usage of digital tools is rapidly soaring. During a time like this, civic crowdfunding platforms might play an especially crucial role. They virtually connect different stakeholders – public sector organisations, councils, individuals, businesses, cultural institutions, for example – and help them pool resources and ideas for the realisation of projects of public and local interest.

Dr Matthew Grimes
Dr Matthew Grimes

Even in times of relative stability, these civic crowdfunding platforms play a critical role in filling in local infrastructural gaps due to the limited budgets of many local authorities. And right now in this period of uncertainty and instability, civic crowdfunding platforms could prove a particularly vital source of community building as well as a tool that can support things happening at the fast pace that is required by a fast-evolving emergency. Yet, as the demand for these tools grows, so too do the challenges associated with managing this growth.

A few months ago, Strategic Management Journal published a “Platforms for the people: enabling civic crowdfunding through the cultivation of institutional infrastructure”, co-authored by myself and Danielle Logue, Associate Professor at the University of Technology Sydney, that presents some key insights for founders and managers of such platforms. The paper’s findings could help boost the effectiveness of these platforms in a moment of potential growth and rising need stemming from the current crisis.

Three key takeaways from the paper are:

  1. In order to succeed, civic crowdfunding platforms need to be perceived as legitimate and reliable by individuals and organisations with very different goals and values. To bring such diverse constituents together for projects such as those responding to the coronavirus, the platforms may need to broadcast multiple value propositions that appeal to different stakeholders. Yet in doing so, it is crucial for these platforms to clarify their own core values so they do not dilute their mission.
  2. Common values play a key role in helping to drive interaction, yet within these multi-stakeholder environments identifying such commonality can be difficult. Relying on broader and more abstract values such as “democratic participation” can allow unity amidst diversity by encouraging different stakeholders to project their own meanings onto such abstract values.
  3. One of the key tensions that all platforms operators face is the desire to allow their platforms to evolve naturally (wherein exchanges are defined “from the bottom up”), while also trying to ensure the quality and integrity of the platform (such that those exchanges are defined “from the top-down”). This is likely to be experienced as a tension between the need to maintain a neutral role and position and the need to regulate platform interactions. Platform managers might thus consider creating templates for interaction, which help to guide participants’ behaviours in an unobtrusive way, while still allowing the platform to clearly express its values and mission.

The coronavirus pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge for business, policymakers and individuals all over the world, as their ways of working, life and even thinking are profoundly changed. History has shown how adversity has spawned innovation and creative thinking, and civic crowdfunding platforms are a form of such innovation that may prove highly useful in navigating this crisis.

Find out more

Visit Dr Matthew Grimes’s faculty webpage