We’re more than delighted that Ethan Zuckerman will be one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology.
Ethan is Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT Media Lab, and a longtime digital activist and thinker. He’s on the directorial board of Ushahidi and Global Voices, as well as being a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Ethan is also the originator of the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism– a theory which, one might say, is highly relevant to at least two of the interests of many mySociety folk.
We asked Ethan a few questions in advance of his keynote presentation.
What will you be talking about at TICTeC?
I’m going to talk about civics through the lens of efficacy. What can individuals do to influence their communities, their societies and their nations? Are they more effective working through existing institutions, through building new ones or through influencing opinion via making media? And how can we know what forms of civics are most effective?
What’s your involvement in civic tech?
I’ve been building media systems for twenty years, and have focused for the last ten years on civic media, tools that help citizens make change in their communities through media. High points have included working on Global Voices, Ushahidi and now Promise Tracker.
There’s […] lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.
What are your best concrete examples of the impact of civic tech?
I think there’s good evidence that projects like SeeClickFix and mySociety’s various projects can help citizens feel their government is more responsive. There’s some evidence that tools like Ushahidi have allowed relief organizations to respond better to emergencies. But there’s also lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.
How can research help those of us in the field?
My research focuses on the question of how making media might be a path towards making change. We’re building tools that help individuals and advocacy organisations track the spread of ideas in social and journalistic media, offering nuanced pictures of the structure of a particular story or controversy.
What are you most looking forward to about TICTeC?
I’m hoping to leave with a better map of what research questions are most pressing in this space.
What (excepting mySociety, for modesty) are your favourite examples of good civic tech?
As I mentioned above, I’m an admirer of SeeClickFix and (immodestly) Ushahidi. I think Code for America is doing a good job of building a pipeline of civicly motivated techies. I think Kickstarter, while not explicitly civic tech, has been masterful in helping communities figure out how to fundraise together.
If you’d like to join us at TICTeC, tickets are still available. But hurry: early bird registration closes on 20 February.