TICTeC2018 in Lisbon is going to be amazing, and we can say that with confidence.
Not just because we know that it’ll feature the usual blend of insights from all sorts of people at the cutting edge of Civic Technology; and not just because it will afford the usual opportunities for swapping stories with others in your field, all against the backdrop of Portugal’s lovely capital.
Giving us even more assurance that TICTeC2018 will be one of the most memorable yet, are our two must-hear keynote speakers. As Gemma has already announced, Professor Jonathan Fox and Martha Lane Fox will be kicking off the proceedings each day — and they have more than their vulpine names in common: you can be sure that they’ll each be delivering some truly thought-provoking insights for those in the field of Civic Tech.
To give you a small taste of that, we had a chat with Jonathan about his keynote, which will be on the topic of the political construction of accountability keywords.
Not to ‘spoiler’ your keynote, but could you give an example of the kind of keywords you’ll be focusing on?
Our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.
Key terms in the field of accountability practice are both politically constructed — and contested.
For example, sometimes pro-public accountability forces lose the battle for what keywords mean. Consider the term “fake news” — during the 2016 US presidential campaign, this term was used to push back against the political use of disinformation.
Not only was this effort unsuccessful, the term itself was then appropriated and twisted by its original targets. Now the dominant use of the term “fake news” (not only in the US) is to undermine the credibility of independent investigative reporting.
The idea of analysing keywords to shed light on contested meanings draws on a long tradition in cultural studies, most notably a 1976 book by Raymond Williams. In this approach, a keyword is “a socially prominent word (e.g. art, industry, media or society) that is capable of bearing interlocking, yet sometimes contradictory and commonly contested contemporary meaning.” You can see more about this on the University of Pittsburgh’s Keywords Project.
Why do words matter so much, when some people might feel that action is a priority?
The real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.
Accountability keywords have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts — and in different languages.
The resulting ambiguity can either constrain or enable diverse strategies for promoting public accountability. This is relevant for action because our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.
What led you to this precise area of research?
I have long been curious about the most appropriate way to communicate ideas about accountability across languages and cultures.
It is easy to become frustrated when literal translations sound awkward or fail to communicate. This led me to explore alternative communication strategies, looking to learn from examples of invented terms that manage to take off and enter everyday discourse (like “whistleblower”), or terms that come from popular cultures than can be relevant.
We’re delighted that you’ll be one of our two keynotes at TICTeC. What are you most looking forward to about the event?
I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants.
I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants — and finding out whether and how the ideas that I am working with might resonate.
For example, I am trying out an invented term that is intended to question the researcher-practitioner dichotomy in which researchers are assumed to be the knowledge producers and practitioners are cast as the knowledge consumers… In an effort to recognise more explicitly how practitioners can also be knowledge producers, I am proposing the term “action strategist.”
TICTeC is attended by activists, funders, academics, government organisations and representatives from the private sector — all working within the field that we label as Civic Tech. First: since you’ve given so much thought to terminology: would you say ‘Civic Tech’ is a satisfactory term for what we do? And second, what one piece of advice would you give us all when it comes to naming and talking about our work?
Yes, I think the term does work. My first reaction was to think that it has the advantage of being fairly self-explanatory — though a quick search finds some important differences in interpretation.
But the real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.
Thanks to Jonathan for this preview of his keynote presentation. If you’d like to hear more on this topic, make sure to book your tickets soon, while the early bird price still applies.
Or perhaps you’d like to present your own research into the impacts of a Civic Technology that you’ve been studying? Our Call For Papers is still open, but hurry: there’s just over a week to get your proposal in.