Citizen Development: What It Is & Strategies For Success

Taylor Karl
Citizen Development: What It Is & Strategies For Success 506 0

Imagine your staff capitalizing on their in-depth knowledge and unique insights, applying them to create tailored solutions, adding value, and streamlining processes. Can you picture it? Welcome to the world of citizen development.

Citizen development is reshaping the landscape of modern businesses, unlocking a wave of innovation and increased productivity. From nurturing and supporting budding citizen developers to the balance between encouragement and control, our discussion covers a comprehensive range of aspects. We recently had a discussion with expert Tom Payne, trainer at New Horizons, for more insight into this exciting new trend.

On this page:

What Is a Citizen Developer?

Suppose we were to envision an organization as a thriving ecosystem. In that case, citizen developers can be likened to resourceful creatures, building, and improving their environment independently, all while harnessing existing resources skillfully. Simply put, citizen developers are ordinary, non-technical employees who are given the tools and resources to create solutions for their teams.

Thanks to the growing availability and sophistication of low-code and no-code development tools, individuals with limited coding experience now have the power to create functional applications that address specific business needs or automate tasks within their organizations. Those who thrive in this role typically possess problem-solving abilities, a passion for technology, and a collaborative spirit. Essential traits for aspiring citizen developers include resourcefulness, a do-it-yourself mindset, and effective teamwork capabilities.

The Role and Impact of Citizen Developers

Citizen developers typically leverage low-code or no-code development platforms, which allow them to build applications through visual interfaces and simple configuration rather than traditional programming. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted an LCAP (Low-Code Application Platform) as one of their strategic application platforms.

Benefits of Citizen Developers

When companies let their employees build applications using easy-to-learn low-code or no-code tools, it brings a lot of advantages across the board. Teams can develop new apps much faster, boosting innovation and flexibility. It also gets different departments working together more closely, knocking down barriers and helping solve problems quicker. When taking this approach, businesses don't just improve their day-to-day operations, they create a workplace culture that values creative thinking. That sets them up for long-term success.



Reduced Development Costs

With citizen developers, there's a noticeable reduction in the development cost as many tasks can be performed by the in-house team without sourcing externally.

Enhanced Security

Custom applications built by citizen developers, particularly in an environment with strong governance, can be more secure due to in-house control and oversight.

Efficiencies in Creating New Products

Citizen developers can rapidly prototype and deploy new software products, accelerating innovation and facilitating more efficient use of resources.

Cost Savings with Cloud Solutions

Utilization of cloud-based low-code/no-code platforms can lead to significant cost savings in storage, scaling, & IT infrastructure.

Faster Time-to-Market

Citizen developers can accelerate the software development process, reducing the time it takes to bring a product or service to market.

Increased Productivity

By empowering non-technical staff to create applications, organizations can free up their technical team to focus on more complex tasks, thus improving overall productivity.

Improved Agility

With the ability to quickly iterate on software products, organizations can become more agile in responding to market trends and customer demands.

That said, it's important to acknowledge that letting employees build their own applications comes with some potential downsides and dangers too. Security holes, management problems, and the requirement for adequate instruction and assistance are a few examples. Companies need to find a middle ground between giving citizen developers the freedom to create and keeping a handle on their technology setup and workflows.

Balance Citizen Development and IT Control

Supporting citizen developers shouldn't mean compromising on security and risk assessments. Remember, central to the success and effectiveness of these initiatives is the importance of IT control. The idea of juggling encouragement of citizen development with centralized IT control may seem like a daunting circus act for some. But according to our expert, the solution lies in a combination of governance policies and standardized tools.

So, what’s the goal? To prevent chaos. As emphasized by Tom Payne, implementing governance policies and standardized tools helps maintain balance and prevents chaos. Having approved resources and procedures for requesting new tools is vital to ensure that your citizen development initiatives are safe, secure, and effective.

Here are some strategies to mitigate the risks:



Violation of security protocols, data privacy regulations, or compliance requirements by citizen developers.

Establish guidelines and governance policies addressing security, data privacy, and compliance to ensure adherence to organizational standards.

Inadequate training and support leading to poor-quality applications and increased vulnerabilities.

Provide training programs and resources on application design, data management, and cybersecurity best practices for citizen developers.

Lack of collaboration between citizen developers and IT professionals resulting in disjointed architectures and systems.

Foster collaboration and knowledge sharing between citizen developers and IT professionals to ensure alignment with IT strategies and integration.

Lack of monitoring and evaluation of citizen-developed solutions, leading to inefficiencies and unmet quality standards.

Implement regular audits and reviews to monitor and evaluate citizen-developed solutions, ensuring they meet quality standards and organizational objectives.

Strategies to Support and Nurture Citizen Developers

So, how do we support these spirited self-reliant employees? Tom suggests rewarding them for innovative solutions and streamlining processes. It's about inspiring a culture where change and exploration are welcome guests, not intimidating strangers. As Payne pointed out, effective citizen development requires a strong culture of change and exploration within your organization.

Supporting and nurturing citizen developers within your organization can greatly enhance innovation and agility. Here are some additional citizen developer strategies:

  • Mentorship Programs: Connect citizen developers with seasoned IT experts who can offer guidance, answer questions, and provide valuable insights based on their real-world experience. These mentors can help citizen developers tackle technical hurdles, hone their abilities, and gain practical knowledge.
  • Access to Resources: Give citizen developers access to development environments, tools, and platforms that simplify the application creation process. Ensure these resources are user-friendly and intuitive to facilitate rapid development and deployment.
  • Feedback and Recognition: Acknowledge the efforts of citizen developers by celebrating their successes, showcasing their achievements, and highlighting the impact of their work on the company's goals. Foster a culture that encourages experimentation and views failures as learning opportunities.
  • Community Building: Create communities or forums where citizen developers can connect, network, and collaborate with peers across the organization. Organize meetups, hackathons, or user groups to facilitate knowledge sharing, brainstorming sessions, and skill-building activities.
  • Integration with IT Processes: Integrate citizen development initiatives with existing IT processes, including application lifecycle management, version control, testing, and deployment. Collaborate closely with IT teams to ensure alignment with IT strategies, architecture standards, and technology roadmaps.

When businesses put these plans into action, they can successfully guide and encourage employees who want to build applications. This allows those citizen developers to push innovation forward, create apps faster, and play a key role in the company's overall effort to embrace new digital tools and methods.

The Future of Citizen Development

Citizen development is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of technology and business innovation. As organizations strive for agility and digital transformation, the demand for rapid application development solutions continues to soar. According to Gartner, by 2023, citizen developers will outnumber professional developers in large enterprises by 4 to 1. Has that happened yet? Not quite, but we’re getting closer.

With the proliferation of low-code and no-code platforms, coupled with the democratization of technology, we can anticipate a future where citizen developers become integral contributors to organizational success.

As we move forward, citizen development projects will increasingly incorporate cutting-edge technology such as AI and machine learning, alongside greater automation and real-time collaboration. Given the ongoing shortage of software developers, organizations will seek to broaden their networks of citizen developers, further integrating them into their operations.


Envision a future where every individual in your organization has the ability to contribute to app development. That's the immense potential citizen development holds. As Tom Payne points out, aligning an organization's mission statement with the strategic focus of decisions and citizen developer projects is of paramount importance. Citizen developers can catalyze innovation, but you, as an organization, need to embrace a culture of change and progress first.

But with an aligned mission statement, strategic focus, and a culture of innovation, citizen development can revolutionize how organizations operate and solve problems. Here’s to all citizen developers out there - the trailblazers and the change agents who dare to break the mold and redefine the potential of technology within the organization!