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Citizen Development: Empowering Non-IT Employees to Drive Innovation

  • Written By: Cheyenne Kolosky
Citizen Development: Empowering Non-IT Employees to Drive Innovation

Citizen development enables non-IT employees to build custom applications using user-friendly no-code/low-code tools, boosting productivity and innovation. Citizen development is exploding, transforming businesses by unleashing the innovation potential of every employee. This guide dives deeper into citizen development and its key partner, no-code software. You’ll discover how to equip non-IT employees to build and maintain applications, boosting productivity and propelling your organization to the forefront of innovation.

Key Takeaways

  • Citizen development enables non-IT employees to build custom applications using user-friendly no-code/low-code tools, boosting productivity and innovation.
  • Successful citizen development hinges on teamwork between citizen developers and IT departments.
  • Citizen development benefits businesses across all industries.

Understanding Citizen Development

Unlike traditional software development, which requires extensive coding expertise, citizen development tools offer drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-built components. Deep domain knowledge like this is the answer for businesses wanting to address specific needs and streamline workflows without relying solely on their IT department.

A Catalyst for Growth

Citizen development offers a multitude of benefits for organizations:

  • Increased Efficiency: Citizen developers can automate repetitive tasks and build custom applications that directly address departmental challenges, freeing up IT resources and boosting overall productivity.
  • Faster Innovation Cycles: Citizen developers can quickly prototype and iterate on new ideas, accelerating innovation and allowing your organization to adapt to changing market demands.
  • Improved Problem-Solving: Business users closest to the problem can develop targeted solutions, leading to more effective and efficient workflows.
  • Cost Savings: Citizen development can reduce reliance on expensive external development resources, leading to significant cost savings in the long run.

Bridging the Gap

Citizen developers are not replacements for professional IT teams but rather valuable collaborators. They contribute by:

  • Identifying Needs: Citizen developers have a deep understanding of their day-to-day challenges and can readily identify opportunities for automation and process improvement.
  • Translating Needs: Citizen developers can translate business needs into clear technical requirements, bridging the communication gap between business users and IT professionals.
  • Rapid Prototyping: Citizen developers can use low-code/no-code platforms to quickly create prototypes for new solutions, allowing for faster validation and iteration.

What is Citizen Development?

Citizen development is a transformative approach that empowers non-IT employees to create and maintain business applications. Unlike traditional software development, which requires extensive coding knowledge, citizen development leverages user-friendly tools like no-code platforms

Think of it this way: Citizen development removes the technical barrier to entry, enabling non-programmers to become citizen developers and build applications that directly address their departmental challenges. 

Benefits of Citizen Development

If you’re looking for a solution that benefits your entire organization, a citizen developer approach leads the way in:

Boosted Innovation and Efficiency: 

Citizen developers, armed with no-code platforms like Knack, can automate repetitive tasks and build custom applications that directly address departmental bottlenecks. This streamlines workflows, frees up IT resources, and empowers employees to focus on higher-value activities. Citizen developers can also rapidly prototype and iterate on new ideas, accelerating innovation and ensuring your organization stays ahead of the curve.

Reduced Risk of Shadow IT: 

Frustrated by slow development cycles, employees may resort to unauthorized tools (shadow IT) to solve problems. Citizen development empowers employees to build solutions within IT-approved boundaries, mitigating security risks and ensuring data integrity.


Citizen development reduces reliance on expensive external development resources. By enabling employees to build basic applications themselves, organizations can save significant costs in the long run. Plus, low-code platforms often offer affordable subscription models compared to traditional software development projects.

Streamlined Processes with Clear Governance: 

Citizen development doesn’t mean a free-for-all. Organizations can establish clear governance frameworks to ensure applications align with business needs, security protocols, and IT standards. A collaborative environment where citizen developers can thrive within well-defined boundaries is definitely ideal.

What is the Role of Citizen Developers?

They are typically non-IT employees from various departments within an organization who possess a unique blend of skills intended to build and maintain business applications using low-code/no-code platforms.

Here’s what makes a successful “citizen” developer:

  • Deep Business Understanding: Citizen developers come from diverse departments like marketing, sales, or operations. They know their team’s specific workflows and challenges, allowing them to identify opportunities for improvement and automation.
  • Digital Proficiency: While extensive coding expertise isn’t required, citizen developers need to be comfortable with digital tools and basic programming concepts. Familiarity with drag-and-drop interfaces and pre-built components in low-code platforms allows them to translate their ideas into functional applications.
  • Collaboration Superstar: Citizen development thrives on collaboration. Citizen developers need strong communication and interpersonal skills to work effectively with IT teams, translate business needs into technical requirements, and gather feedback from colleagues throughout the development process.

Why Should Businesses Use No-Code or Low-Code Tools? 

Citizen development is the crux of user-friendly tools. Traditional coding-heavy software development can be a roadblock for non-IT employees. No-code platforms are designed for citizen developers at all levels across your business organization.

Ease of Use: No-code/low-code tools prioritize user experience with intuitive interfaces that look and act like building blocks. Drag-and-drop functionality and pre-built components allow citizen developers, regardless of their technical background, to visualize and construct applications without writing a single line of code.

Reduced Development Time: Citizen developers can bypass lengthy coding cycles and rapidly build functional prototypes using pre-built features and templates. Faster iteration and testing means teams can adapt and refine their applications as they see fit.

Scalability and Security: Many no-code/low-code platforms offer robust security features and ensure applications comply with industry regulations. These platforms can scale to meet your organization’s growing needs, making them a future-proof solution as well.

Citizen Development vs. Traditional Development 

Citizen development is a powerful tool, but how does it compare to the traditional IT-driven approach

Let’s see how they measure up:

Speed and Agility:

  • Traditional Development: Reliant on a dedicated IT team, traditional development often faces lengthy development cycles and bottlenecks due to resource limitations.
  • Citizen Development: Empowers business users to build applications themselves, leading to faster prototyping, iteration, and deployment. 


  • Traditional Development: Hiring and maintaining a skilled IT team can be expensive. Additionally, traditional development projects often incur high costs due to complex coding requirements.
  • Citizen Development: Leverages no-code/low-code platforms with affordable subscription models. Citizen developers can build basic applications themselves, reducing reliance on expensive resources.

Focus and Expertise:

  • Traditional Development: IT teams might be overwhelmed with complex projects, leading to delays for simpler applications requested by various departments.
  • Citizen Development: Empowers business users with deep departmental knowledge to build solutions that directly address their specific needs and workflows. 

Innovation and Ownership:

  • Traditional Development: The innovation process is often centralized within the IT department, which can lead to a disconnect between business needs and technical solutions.
  • Citizen Development: Empowers employees across departments to become citizen developers, fostering a culture of innovation and problem-solving. Citizen developers have a strong sense of ownership over the applications they build, a big boost for user adoption and engagement.

Competitor and Methodology Comparisons

The traditional IT-driven approach to app development has served businesses well for decades. However, the rise of citizen development presents a compelling alternative for organizations seeking greater agility and innovation.

Citizen development is rapidly transforming the way businesses approach application development. So what trends are the driving forces behind it?

Collaboration with IT Departments

Citizen development thrives on teamwork. Non-IT employees (citizen developers) collaborate closely with IT departments to leverage IT-approved tools and robust security measures. IT acts as a guide, ensuring applications align with business needs and technical standards.

Impact on Business Performance

The impact of citizen development on businesses is undeniable. It significantly reduces the time and cost traditionally associated with app development. Not only does it encourage employees to build solutions for their specific needs, but citizen development boosts productivity and work effectiveness across departments.

Efficiency and Speed

Studies like those conducted by 451 Research revealed that these tools can actually enhance development efficiency by a staggering 50% – 90%. Furthermore, predictions suggest an explosion of citizen developers by 2023, with their numbers expected to quadruple that of professional developers.

What Industries Can Benefit from Citizen Development? 

Citizen development lends a hand to businesses of all sizes and industries to leverage the potential of their workforce, including:

1. Marketing and Sales:

Marketing and sales teams can create targeted campaigns, manage customer leads, and automate workflows using no-code tools. Now they can streamline lead generation, improve customer engagement, and focus on strategic initiatives.

2. Operations and Logistics:

Operations and logistics teams can use no-code platforms to streamline processes like inventory management, asset tracking, and work order fulfillment. This improves operational efficiency, reduces errors, and provides real-time data for better decision-making. 

3. Finance and Accounting:

Finance and accounting professionals can leverage citizen development to automate data entry, generate reports, and manage expense approvals. This improves accuracy, reduces manual work, and allows financial teams to focus on strategic analysis and forecasting. 

4. Customer Service:

Customer service teams can build custom applications to manage customer inquiries, track support tickets, and provide self-service options. This improves response times, enhances customer satisfaction, and allows service representatives to focus on resolving complex issues. 

Start Building Your Citizen Development Platform with Knack Today

Citizen development is no longer a trend, it’s a powerful force transforming businesses across all industries. We saw how citizen development can help your employees address departmental challenges directly, streamline workflows, and automate repetitive tasks. Freeing up IT resources for more strategic projects not only invites everyone to contribute to problem-solving but also drives efficiency and accelerates innovation cycles across the board.

Ready to start building for free? Sign up and explore Knack’s citizen development platform and see how easy it is to empower your employees and build custom applications.