How To Build a Citizen Development Program

Citizen development has been on the rise. More companies are embracing that non-technical employees can contribute to software development with the governance of IT. On this page, we will cover how to empower citizen developers to bring value to the business.

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Citizen Developers are the answer to today’s explosive demand for software and developer shortage


Learn to identify the Citizen Developers in your company and use their power to align the business and IT department


Support your Citizen Developers with organizational structure and IT governance

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What is a citizen developer?

Citizen development is a strategic process that aims to develop applications by business users (citizen developers) in an IT-governed environment. When we talk about application development, we usually think of apps being built by experienced developers. Traditionally, this is the case, and experienced developers are still essential for effective citizen development.

However, with the rising demand for software and the shortage of experienced developers, we need to find more developers – that’s where the word ‘citizen’ comes in. ‘Citizen’ simply means someone who is not an experienced professional in the discipline in question – in this case, application development. So, citizen development not only expands your pool of developers, it also brings other insights and expertise into the software development process.

Put simply, a citizen developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units as defined by Gartner.

Who are citizen developers within an organization?

Citizen developers

You wouldn’t hire a citizen developer – not yet, at least. Rather, enterprise organizations look within their own workforce to find their citizen developers. Potential citizen developers usually have a role within the business side of an organization, for example, they could be in sales, HR, or customer service. Often, potential citizen developers will already be known in a company – they’re natural problem solvers who go above and beyond to improve their department and the organization as a whole. They're business users with the expertise of their business domain.

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Business Technologist

As far as technical skills go, many citizen developers have some basic knowledge of programming, but it certainly isn’t essential. Employees with some coding skills make great business technologists. They build most of the framework using no-code tools that a platform like Betty Blocks provides. Since business technologists come from the business-side of the organization, they are well acquainted with the systems and any augmentations that can be done to internal solutions. 

The Low-Coder

The power of the Betty Blocks low-code platform really gets to shine when professionally skilled developers get involved. They can use their skills to customize components, interfaces, data sources, and actions, which can then in turn be reused by the entire company. Being able to reuse components means that existing business tools can be augmented and new products don’t need to be completely coded from the ground up. Since the low-coder is part of the development department, all custom solutions adhere to IT requirements, mitigating shadow IT. 

The Admin

Admins don’t build unlike the roles specified above. Rather, they are the ones that oversee the security of applications and tools. It is important that all applications built through citizen development are in line with the company’s policies and security. Governance tools implemented in a low-code platform give admins the power to oversee and manage internal applications. Likewise, they are able assign role-based permissions to the citizen developers to make sure that the right access is granted to the right people.

Potential citizen developers embrace technology in their day-to-day lives. To identify such individuals within the organizations, look for the ones who are able to work with complex spreadsheets. They could make for a perfect citizen developer.

Citizen developer vs. professional developer 

Across all industries and global markets, the demand for software is skyrocketing and traditional Java or .NET developers simply can’t keep up. When we speak with enterprise organizations, it’s clear that IT departments have enough on their plates just to keep the ship running smoothly, leaving sales, customer service, marketing, and field operations departments with no way to adapt, modernize, or innovate.

Here’s some good news – there is a solution. With the rise of low- and no-code application development platforms, it’s never been easier for business users to create their own IT solutions in a safe and governed environment. This is the world of citizen development.

From time to time we encounter the concern that citizen developers will one day replace experienced, professional developers. This is simply not the case. As I mentioned above, experienced and professional developers are still absolutely critical for successful citizen development strategies. For example, as we’ll discuss later, a key role of experienced developers is to provide governance, ensuring organizations avoid shadow IT whereas citizen developers are empowered business users who engage in the app development even though they lack traditional coding skills.

Why use citizen developers to build apps?

A few years ago, allowing non-technical employees to participate in the software development process would have been akin to swearing in church. However, these days, organizations have embraced citizen development after the practice has proven to be a valuable asset for business growth. Moreover, some companies are completely shifting to business-led IT. Giving citizen developers a platform so that they can solve the limitations of existing tools means that they can execute their work far more efficiently and diligently. Because the platform is governed by IT, the issue of accidental shadow IT practices is easily avoided.

Pros and Cons of Citizen Developer Tools

Pros Cons
Facilitate app creation with business-led IT Learning curve for non-technical employees
Creation and optimization of IT solutions by citizen developers Investing in a good low-code platform
Speeds up software development life cycle Resources and manpower need to be put towards citizen development
Ability to automate tasks and workflows Employee willingness to adopt citizen development
Fosters digital innovation and transformation Ensure the quality of apps created through citizen development



What can citizen developers build?

Equipped with no- or low-code technology, citizen developers can build web, mobile, and back-office applications. Check out the Betty Blocks App Gallery for examples of applications built with citizen development. Below we see the uses cases that citizen developers  have need for most. 


The development of administrative and reporting apps is one area in which citizen developers and business technologists can have the biggest impact within enterprise organizations. These are applications that currently run on spreadsheets or database tools and also include data-tracking and workflow or administrative apps.

Administrative and reporting applications are generally so far below the radar of IT in terms of backlog, that without citizen developers to step in, they would never enter the software development life cycle. More hands from the business side can knock these off the backlog, leveraging business expertise to innovate faster and speed digital transformation organization-wide.


Benefits of a Citizen Development Model

The reason for creating a citizen development model within the organization, is to drive business value by empowering non-technical employees. Not only will companies be able to speed up the overall development process, it will also foster better collaboration between business and IT. Thanks to the customization and reusability of low-code platforms, development costs can be cut and resources can be put towards innovation. 


Citizen developers support your organization’s ability to react when there is a need for change by helping to drive digital transformation. They can contribute to applications that automate processes and fully digitize systems.


Businesses have an ongoing demand for applications and need solutions now. By using a no-code or low-code development platform, citizen developers and business technologists can build solutions rapidly, easily, and effectively using drag-and-drop interfaces. Development lifecycles that once took months now take weeks or even days which results in much lower cost due to a quicker development time frame. Powerful applications can be built at the speed business leaders desire and without creating IT bottlenecks.

Better alignment between business and IT

Citizen developers align business and IT by bridging the gap between the differing interests. They combine business acumen with citizen development tools to develop applications under the full governance of IT.

Meet the growing need for apps

IT, with its limited resources, is unable to meet the demand for new apps, and therefore, it has a huge app backlog. By empowering citizen developers, businesses can take some pressure off IT, so experienced developers can focus on complex projects, whereas business users can build applications to solve business problems and improve operational efficiency.

Continuous improvement

Citizen developers will only become more valuable as their skills expand over time. The more experience (and more tools) they gain, the more their development skills will expand to deliver greater business value.

Improve Business and IT productivity

With the use of the right low-code platform, business users can build new apps that they need which results in becoming more efficient in their jobs. Moreover, it decreases the operating costs of the business and reduces the IT backlog. This increases the overall productivity of the organization.


Citizen developers ignite the spark of innovation. Organizations often rely on their IT team or external software providers when they have a need for a new product, but with IT teams bogged down maintaining existing systems there isn’t always room to innovate. No-code and low-code tools enable citizen developers to explore new solutions and business models to better serve their own needs and the needs of their customers.

Combatting shadow IT

One of the most significant citizen development benefits has to do with the fact that business-side employees have always found ways to create their own solutions – and will continue to do so – with or without IT’s knowledge and oversight. Examples include spreadsheets, templates, shared folders, and even basic applications. This is known as shadow IT.

What to do about Shadow IT

The problem with this is that, because IT isn’t aware of these solutions, there’s no way to govern them. This can create huge risks for the organization, particularly in areas such as security, support, and modernization. Citizen development gives business-side employees the opportunity to take part in building the solutions they need in a safe and governed environment. It’s all about understanding that employees are going to build the solutions that IT doesn’t have time to build, so why not minimize the risk to the organization by implementing a safe way for them to do so?

Citizen development mentoring and training

Citizen developers are already technologically savvy and self-motivated learners by nature. It’s what makes them citizen developers in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need guidance. Training and mentoring helps citizen developers gain new skill sets, more confidence, and learn new working techniques. The more professional development and guidance you can afford your citizen developers, the better equipped they will be to align with IT’s expertise and the goals of the organization.

Collaboration with IT

IT departments can actively collaborate with citizen developers by, for example, delegating administrative and reporting apps. IT departments should also be actively involved in overseeing citizen developer projects to eliminate the risk of shadow IT. While this promotes security and control, citizen developers can also learn from IT by working on projects led by traditional developers.


Continued support

In order for a citizen development strategy to live up to its full potential, CIOs and IT managers need to promote the movement throughout the entire organization. This ensures that the culture of the organization as a whole is supportive of the citizen development strategy. Continued support on an organization level is also essential because there is no endpoint to innovation or rapid application development projects.

A successful citizen development strategy leaves room for continued adaptation and improvement, throughout the whole software development life cycle of digital transformation. Citizen development enables large enterprise organizations to be more flexible and agile.

As long as IT governance is both strong and adaptive, organizations can quickly adapt to any changes that come their way and respond to new opportunities for growth.

Business Users

Business users should never be handed the tools and set loose to overrun the IT landscape within a company. They need formal policies in order to contribute to the full IT ecosystem. With the proper governance, business users can and will become an integral ingredient to a successful and efficient IT strategy.

How do you manage citizenship development with fusion teams?

The best way to leverage the citizen development movement is with fusion teams. Fusion teams are multi-disciplined or cross-functional teams that combine low-code technology and business domain expertise and have shared business goals, as defined by Gartner. We've created a dedicated page on how to get a fusion team off to a successful start.

Citizen development in software development life cycle

One of the big concerns of citizen development relates to how it will work in the software development life cycle (SDLC). IT wants to ensure that applications built adhere to guidelines and security objectives. Depending on the project and complexity, the following three paths explain how governance of citizen development can be implemented.

1. The Fast Track: 

With the citizen developers playing the key role, this path is characterized by light-touch governance and therefore the development team opts for it when projects are less risky and have low technical complexity. The main emphasis is on iterative ideation, design, build, and deployment with continuous business feedback loops.

2. The Assisted Path:

For the projects that fall under medium complexity and low risk after the initial assessment, the assisted path is the most suitable choice. The main role is performed by no-coder while citizen developers can solicit the support of the competency center and the practitioners therein. This allows the citizen developer to progress relatively quickly without extensive IT engagement. The team builds the minimum viable product(MVP) and with the assistance of technical experts, the application is completed.

3. The IT Path:

With the pro-coder playing the central role, projects with medium or high risk and high complexity must follow the IT path. However, a citizen developer can still be the lead application developer in this scenario. The citizen developer utilizes IT policies, standards, and resource support to ensure that the application is delivered into the business appropriately.

Scaling of citizen development

In short, the key to implementing citizen development is to start small by initially automating paper-based and spread-sheet-based processes. These processes may not seem the most crucial part of the business but they will enable you to demonstrate value and provide a foundation for scaling. 

Once all the elements of citizen development are in place, organizations can look further to scale it. Relatively fewer companies have entered this stage owing to the fact that it is a fairly new concept. However, it's important to understand what to expect once the company is past the discovery, experimentation, and adoption phase.

Based on the initial pilot, identify further use cases and determine changes that need to be made to the applications which were built previously. This will help to improve the development process and products.

After this, seek the support of the entire organization by showing concrete results of citizen development efforts which will gradually change the way people think about software development. Create a community around citizen development to encourage people to share knowledge which helps further to democratize app development.

Finally, measure the success of active citizen development initiatives by keeping track of the impact it makes on the business. Eventually, by nurturing this citizen development flame, businesses can arrive at a self-sufficient stage where IT can focus on higher initiatives.  

Many companies have implemented citizen development initiatives successfully and many more now realize it is the only way to keep pace with today's economy.

FAQ About Citizen Development


What is the definition of a citizen developer?
The term citizen developer relates to any non-IT employee within an organization that is involved in the application development process. They work exclusively within the business side and are at the forefront of customer and operational interactions. This enables them to identify the pain points that they face in their day-to-day. 
What are the benefits of a citizen development model?
By empowering the entire workforce to create applications and internal tools, an organization's overall workflow can be optimized faster than traditional IT solutions. This leads to faster time to market, automation of manual tasks, optimization of workflows normally done in cumbersome spreadsheets, and the creation of user-friendly customer-facing apps, for example.
Are citizen developer tools safe?
When citizen developers are allowed to build apps within a governed IT environment, the risk of shadow IT is mitigated. Apps created through this process are secure and in line with the company’s policies.