What is Citizen Development?

Emily Bogin |

Are you looking to empower employees at every level of your organization with the no-code tools to streamline, standardize, and improve processes?

A 2021 study by productiv found that each department in an enterprise uses 40-60 applications — and 56% of those are owned by the business unit rather than IT. So, what does this mean for enterprises? It’s becoming more accessible — and more common — for non-technical users to create and deploy custom applications. With tools like WordPress and Canva, which use a visual deployment interface (aka: drag and drop), anyone can build their own website or create digital content, without being a web developer or seeing a line of code. The reason for the growing popularity of these tools is two-fold: 

  1. Individuals have access to abundant information, allowing them to learn new tools without formal training. 
  2. The need for custom solutions has surpassed the number of developers available to deploy them.

The result? No-code applications have eliminated the IT bottleneck, empowering anyone with internet access to create technology applications of their own. 

A Closer Look: What is Citizen Development?

Citizen development is a mindset that helps companies and departments democratize innovation by putting application development in the hands of non-technical business experts. No-code platforms empower regular business users to answer their own requests and build out solutions to problems that would otherwise depend on heavy IT investment and a long and slow implementation process.

Citizen Development for Departments

From the business perspective, citizen development lowers spending by providing a platform application that can be used to solve numerous pain points, rather than forcing single-use purchases to cover a wide range of inefficiencies or hold-ups. Citizen development also mitigates the tendency of departments to rely heavily on IT, which can cause bottlenecks and technology scarcity issues at the company level.

A recent Forbes article confirms that by giving development capabilities to different departments themselves, employees can ensure that their solutions perfectly fulfill their requirements without losing anything in translation between the department and IT. In addition, these departments can hit their development goals much more quickly because they are not subject to delays as a result of IT’s differing priorities or budgetary constraints. Once a no-code application is purchased, individual users can attack multiple issues and build out solutions without additional spend.

Citizen Development for Employees

From the employee perspective, citizen development is key to personal development, professional growth, and productivity. Imagine being faced with time-consuming, repetitive requests and following up on each of them through email or on a spreadsheet . Now imagine being able to automate the whole process just by playing around with drag-and-drop software. Citizen development makes heroes out of employees, who are able to come to their own rescue and share their success with their teams, without requiring additional outside support. 

In this way, citizen development platforms can transform business users into strategists, who can solve their own pain points on a larger scale by implementing automated processes that save their whole departments time and money. For example, a legal operations employee, faced with tens or hundreds of requests for basic contracts every month, can use their own pain points and requirements to pull together a workflow that automates the whole process. These processes don’t just touch them, but every user that touches the process on the way, from the Sales request all the way to the escalation manager, if necessary.

These improvements flow outwards, helping not just whoever has the inspiration to solve their pain points but large swatches of the company. And when these processes are successfully implemented, the employees who have taken the helm with citizen development find that they have also gained new skills, becoming more strategic players within their departments. With citizen development practices, employees may find themselves undertaking higher-level challenges and improving their teams at scale. Thus, citizen development gives employees the opportunity to build out their own resumes by tackling challenges that are otherwise given to IT specialists. 

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