1. Innovations in Climate Tech: meet the grantees

    In September we heard from inspiring speakers at our kick-off Innovations in Climate Tech event; in October, we took that inspiration and let you run with it when we hosted a series of online conversations

    And now, we’re happy to present the teams who will be taking their ideas a little further with the help of our small grants.

    We were looking for projects that could test a proof of concept or start something small but meaningful around climate in a local community. Proposals had to have at least one council on board.

    Our successful applicants are all working in very different areas, but all of them have great potential to make a difference, and we’re excited to see what emerges from their work. So, let’s take a look at the grantees:

    Lynsted Community Kitchen Garden

    LCKG logo - a drawing of a radish or maybe a turnipThis collaborative food growing project in Kent will use tech to showcase sustainable approaches to gardening, with an emphasis on adapting to a changing climate. They’ll be working with Swale Borough Council.

    Horticulture may be a new area for mySociety, but Lynsted Community Kitchen Garden made a compelling case for how they would collect data through a digital weather station, and use this information to develop adaptation methods which they could then share with other gardeners.

    Data is data and we’re excited about its potential whether it’s around our familiar areas of democracy and transparency, or in this case precipitation, hours of sunshine and temperature! When correlated with plant growth and the amounts of watering required, this project should be providing some really tangibly useful outputs.

    “We are hugely excited about using climate tech to improve the resilience of our community veg and fruit growing project to weather stress”, said LCKG. “A massive thank you to mySociety for this opportunity, and to Swale’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Officer for their support.”

    Possible

    Possible logo - the word 'possible' in white, on a hot pink background and 'inspiring climate action' below.Climate charity Possible is behind many innovative initiatives, including the Climate Perks scheme which mySociety subscribes to. For this project Possible will be working with Camden Borough Council to run feasibility studies around installing ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) in more challenging residential areas.

    GSHPs have been heralded as a more sustainable option than the gas boilers currently found in most homes. However they are installed outdoors, presenting difficulties for tower block residents, or households with limited space or funds. Air source pumps can be affixed to the exterior of buildings, but this approach can fall foul of planning laws, and they can also be noisy.

    Possible will be experimenting in Primrose Hill with a ‘shared loop’ system, in which the collector loops are installed beneath public green space to assess the technical and commercial viability of this approach. 

    “One fifth of UK households live in flats, while one quarter live in terraced houses, so the untapped potential of this approach is vast”, say Possible.

    Better Futures

    Better Futures logo - the words betetr futures with a blue/green leaf Sandwell Council will team up with Better Futures to research and scope a new project, Climate Interchange. This online database will showcase work undertaken to adapt to climate change challenges, from councils across the UK. 

    The project has the kind of user-focused approach that we heartily approve of at mySociety: it will begin with asking officers in councils across the country what they need, before creating a  searchable project database of solutions and case studies.

    “By opening up data and sharing we want to democratise climate adaptation solutions, putting actionable insights into the hands of those on the front line in communities and local government”, says Better Futures’ Rob Hale.

    There are clear parallels here with the Scorecards work our partners at Climate Emergency UK are engaged in, and we hope that the two projects will benefit one another while providing richer resources to councils and the public.

     —

    We’ll check in with our grantees to see what they achieve and what they learn along the way, so do watch this space for updates.

    With Twitter’s future uncertain, we encourage friends and followers to subscribe to our newsletters, or to use the RSS feed which you can find on the right hand side of this blog page.

    Image: Lynsted Community Kitchen Garden

  2. 1 in 10 have made an Freedom of Information request – we want to support you


    Freedom of Information is a right that gives people power over public authorities. The case for FOI is often made on the high profile investigations and the public disclosure of scandals. But the value can be also seen in the quiet success of ordinary citizens being able to access information from the public authorities that hold power over their lives.

    We ran a poll with Opinium to find out how widespread the use of Freedom of Information is. We found that 10% of UK adults have used FOI to try and get information they thought would be useful to themselves, their community or wider society. When including people who made a request as part of their work, this figure goes up to 14%. 

    Poll: Are you aware of, or have used, Freedom of Information?

I am aware of FOi - 62%
Aware but haven't used - 48%
Not aware of FOI  - 25%
I have made an FOi request 14%
I'm not sure - 13%
FOI for personal/community/society - 10%
FOI request as part of job - 6%
FOI request, for me personally 6%
For community/society 4%

    Giving evidence to Parliament, the former Information Commissioner said that “one in 1,000 citizens in the UK will file a Freedom of Information Act request, but journalists are standing in their shoes. It is through journalists that the public can understand or get to know why decisions are being made on their behalf. Journalists, public interest researchers and advocacy groups are important requesters”.  This is an important point about the value of Freedom of Information even if it is only used by a few, but based not just on our polling but the ICO’s own polling, this figure is 100 times too small. Freedom of Information is not a niche right, or mainly used by journalists,  but has been used by millions of people. 

    Alongside a team of volunteers, mySociety runs WhatDoTheyKnow, a website that helps people make freedom of information requests (so far over 850,000 requests), and displays the results of those requests in public, so more people have access to the results. 

    Through running this website, we’re very aware of the many different ways Freedom of Information is used by people, in ways that are not captured by official FOI statistics. We want more and more people to be able to use their information rights, and we want more and more of them to be using WhatDoTheyKnow so that what they find out is available to all.

    We want to be doing more to support and advocate for people using their right to know, and see it as our role to be a voice for our users, and this large group of ordinary FOI users, in arguments about the future of Freedom of Information.

    We’re proud of what we’re able to do with a small budget, but we want to do more. If you want to help us do that, there’s a number of things you can do:

    • If you’ve benefited from Freedom of Information, or support our mission to make information more accessible, please consider making a regular or one-off donation to support our work. 
    • If you’re not able to donate now, please join our newsletter so we can keep you up to date with our work and campaigns. 
    • If you’re a journalist, researcher or campaigner, have a look at our pro service, which for £10 a month provides a wealth of features to help make and manage requests. 
    • If you’re interested in volunteering time, WhatDoTheyKnow as a day-to-day service is run by a dedicated group of volunteers. If you’re interested in getting involved, you can learn more on the volunteering page

    To read more about the numbers behind the polling, and how we validated it, please see this companion blog post. 


    Header image: Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

  3. How many people use Freedom of Information? The numbers blog post


    This blog post is a companion post to a shorter blog post explaining the significance of this polling to mySociety’s FOI work.

    We know very little about the real picture of Freedom of Information use because there are not comprehensive statistics. Information on users of Freedom of Information is very hard to come by.  We have some information through a survey we run on WhatDoTheyKnow, but we know this only covers the minority of requesters who use our service. 

    Knowing about this picture is important to us for several reasons.

    The first reason is one of the big benefits to society of WhatDoTheyKnow is that we make public information easier to discover without explicitly asking for it. If we can know more about how many FOIs are being made in total, we can have a better sense of what proportion of this information we’re publishing (based on some of the maths below, It’s probably somewhere from 5-10%). 

    The second reason is that conversations about the pros and cons of freedom of information can be dominated by the problems journalists experience in requesting information from the central government. This is a big and important problem, but it shifts the general understanding of the impact freedom of information has had on our society. Through WhatDoTheyKnow, we get a glimpse of a bigger world when citizens are making requests that affect them and their communities – but we don’t see everything, and getting more information about this is vital in informing how we approach our policy and campaigning work. 

    As part of a “Giving Tuesday”, Opinium gave five survey questions (for a national representative survey panel)  to a number of charities, including mySociety. We used one of these questions to find out how many people had made a freedom of information request. The rest of this blog post explains the results of that survey. 

    The question we asked

    Our data comes from an Opinium survey of a representative selection of UK adults that ran between 30th November – 3rd December 2021. Respondents were asked:

    The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to request a large range of information from public authorities (government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, schools, etc). These are called Freedom of information requests. Have you ever made a Freedom of Information request?

    Respondents had the option of responding:

    • No I haven’t made a request, and I am not aware of Freedom of Information
    • No, I am aware of freedom of information but haven’t used it
    • Yes, as part of my job
    • Yes, to find out something that might be useful for me personally
    • Yes, to find out something that might be useful to my community/society in general
    • I’m not sure / NA

    Results

    Poll: Are you aware of,or have used, Freedom of Information?

I am aware of FOi - 62%
Aware but haven't used - 48%
Not aware of FOI  - 25%
I have made an FOi request 14%
I'm not sure - 13%
FOI for personal/community/society - 10%
FOI request as part of job - 6%
FOI request, for me personally 6%
For community/society 4%

    mySociety/Opinium polling in 2021 found that 10% of UK adults have used FOI to try and get information they thought would be useful to themselves, their community or society. When including people who made a request as part of their work, this figure goes up to 14%. When looking just at personal use, the figure is 6%. Overall, a majority of people (62%)  had either used FOI or were otherwise aware of it. 

    There was a small gender difference in both awareness and use of FOI, with men having higher awareness than women (68% to 57%), and greater use (16% to 11%). Our polling found that the 18-34 age group were the least aware of Freedom of Information (55%), but were also the age group most likely to have made an FOI request (25%). This is possibly partially explained by a much higher rate of using it as part of employment in younger demographics (12% compared to 6% overall), but the number using it for other reasons is still notably higher (some more discussion of this further down). Looking at respondents by nation/region, there was a less than expected proportion of people who made a request in Wales (6%) and Northern Ireland (2%), but a greater number who made a request in London (28%).

    Validating these figures

    When I first saw some of these figures, I was a little surprised and wanted to explore some different ways to validate the number.

    Digging into it, I found that other polls asking different versions of the question show a similar figure, and back of the envelope calculations based on known statistics suggest the basic ballpark is right – there are millions, rather than hundreds of thousands, of people who have used the Freedom of Information Act. 

    Part of the reason this figure might be surprising is that our statistical picture of Freedom of Information is so poor, we have  very little idea of the scale of it – and what we do know is misleading as to that scale.  For instance, a recent Financial Times article, when highlighting the (bad) trend of how central governments are withholding more and more information requested, falls into the trap of assuming that this picture represents all freedom of information requests. But departments and ministries are not the only public bodies that receive Freedom of Information requests. In fact there’s good reason to believe they receive only a small percentage of the overall total. 

    Most FOI requests in the UK are not covered by official statistics. In 2017, we did a meta-FOI to ask local authorities about the number of FOIs they received. We calculated around 467k were made that year, compared to 46k made in that same year to the central government. From running WhatDoTheyKnow, we know that only 10% of requests made through the site go to the central government departments that are covered in the statistics. 

    As the number of Freedom of Information requests is much higher than the official statistics show, this helps explain why the number of requesters can be far higher than expected. Not only are there many more public bodies outside central government, but these bodies are closer to people’s day to day lives, and so a broader range of people might want information, and find it through the Freedom of Information Act. 

    Polling by the UK’s Information Commissioners

    The clearest reassurance of the 10%ish figure is that a similar poll found a very similar number. Polling by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2021 found 49% were aware of “the right to request information held by public organisations”. This is lower than our equivalent question, where 62% had either made use of FOI, or were aware of it and not used it. However in the same 2021 survey, 10% of respondents to the ICO’s survey said they had already made use of “the right to request information held by public organisations”. In the previous year this figure was 12%. This figure is very close to our figure of 10-14% making use of FOI, and it is reassuring to see something in this ball park come from a different survey company.

    Both these surveys might be wrong of course, but polling by the Scottish Information Commission in 2022 found an even higher number. This poll found 36% of a weighted sample of Scottish respondents had at some time “asked for information from a Scottish public body by letter, email or online form”. 18% said they did this annually or more frequently. This is a much higher number than the other survey. There are several possible reasons why.

    1. There is a genuine difference in awareness and use of rights between Scotland and the rest of the UK. 
    2. The way this question is phrased should also include requests for personal information (subject access requests) as well as freedom of information requests.
    3. This version of the question does not ask about a right, just if someone did something that might have engaged the Freedom of Information Act. This might catch people who get through the process unaware they may have benefited or made use of information rights.

    How should we interpret this? There is no strong reason to believe the use of rights is significantly different in Scotland. The Scottish figure was 63% awareness of freedom of Information, which is higher than the ICO UK-wide, but in the same general area as our UK-wide polling, which did not show a significant difference for Scotland. Similarly, our survey found a statistically significant difference in use of FOI by respondents in London and did not find this for Scotland. 

    As for subject access requests, we actually know from the (really good) statistics recorded in Scotland that around one-quarter of information requests are subject access requests. So even applying this correction, this question is still suggesting around double the figure from our survey. This is likely to be part of the explanation, but is not all of that. 

    This leaves the possibility that by not prompting about rights or freedom of information, this is capturing a set of people who are coming into contact with information rights issues without noticing it. It is possible to exercise your freedom of information rights without being aware you are doing so. My first freedom of information request was made this way as a student, asking OFCOM if they held some information from the Broadcasting Complaints Commissions’s archive. If you email your local council wanting to know something, it should be processed under the Freedom of Information Act, even if you were unaware of it. This is likely to include some interactions with authorities that will have existed before FOI (and information may have been made available) but which is now covered formally through the Freedom of Information process. For example, a request for library opening times could be processed as an FOI request, but may well have been answered before the FOI act existed.

    If this is an explanation for a higher number in response to the OSIC survey, it might also explain the higher proportion of 18-34 respondents in our poll who had used Freedom of Information for personal reasons. Contact with public bodies for information is more likely now to be by email, and trigger the formal FOI process. There is more to explore here around possible shifting patterns of first contact with FOI. 

    Back of the envelope calculation based on WhatDoTheyKnow statistics

    The relevant polling we have is supportive of our poll not being outrageously high. The other approach is to try a very back of the envelope approach based on known statistics to see if this is a reasonable amount of FOIs to have been made. 

    Based on previous research by mySociety and the Constitution Unit, we have estimates for the number of FOIs made to local authorities in 2005-2010 and 2017. Filling in the extra years between those dates, extending forward, and doubling the number (roughly 48% of requests made through WhatDoTheyKnow are to local authorities – but we don’t know if this applies more generally or not), this gives roughly 11 million FOI requests all time. On WhatDoTheyKnow there are an average of six requests per user (again, don’t know if this applies more generally) – so applying that ratio gives roughly 2 million requesters all time. A figure of 10% of UK adults would expect roughly 4.3 million requesters all time. 

    To get the two numbers more  into sync some combination of the following could be true:

    • More local government requests have been made all time than this assumes.
      • Not impossible given this is based on three data points (all of which are incomplete surveys and require some amount of extrapolation).
    • A greater proportion of requests being made to non-local government bodies than happens in WhatDoTheyKnow
      • No way of knowing this without a complete statistical picture.
      • OSIC statistics show a higher 60% statistic in Scotland being made to local government.
      • Given there are many  more non-local government public authorities in the rest of the UK, it is reasonable to guess it’s closer to the WhatDoTheyKnow statistic of 50%, but could it be lower than that?
    • The ratio between requesters and requests is different outside of WhatDoTheyKnow.
      • Arguments both ways, WhatDoTheyKnow is missing all the ‘not intentionally using FOI’  one-offs, but also some of the bulk requesters who don’t want the results to be public on WhatDoTheyKnow. 

    Given so many of these numbers are made-up or trying to generalise from WhatDoTheyKnow to all uses of FOI, there is no real reason not to prefer the figure two separate polls agree on. That said, it is reassuring it is in the right order of magnitude (still talking millions rather than hundreds of thousands of FOI users). This question would be helped by a complete statistical picture of FOI in the UK, and to be honest, that would be so useful, it’d be fine if it proved our current numbers wrong. 


    Header image: Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

    Demographic difference graphs

    Download the polling tables.

    The following graphs show the demographic split on aspects of the FOI polling. Where the percentage for a category is higher than would be expected statistically if there was no difference between groups, it is highlighted in blue. If it is smaller than would be expected, it is highlighted in red. For non-highlighted categories there is insufficient data to say the category differs from the general average.

    I am aware of FOI by gender

Male: 68% (higher than expected)
Female: 57% (lower than expected)
    I have made an FOI request - by region

North: 12%
Midlands 14%
London 29% (larger than expected)
South: 11%
Wales 6% (smaller than expected)
Northern Ireland: 2% (lower than expected)
    I have made an FOI request, as part of my job

By age:

18-34 12% (larger than expected)
35-44 10% (larger than expected)
45-54: 4%
55-64% 1% (smaller than expected)
65+ 1% (smaller than expected)
    I am aware of FOI by age

18-34: 55% (lower than expected)
35-44: 62%
45-54: 58%
55-64 69%
65+: 70% (higher than expected)
    I have made an FOI request, for personal/community/society

18-34: 18% (higher than expected)
35-44: 9%
45-54: 6% (lower than expected)
55-64%: 7%
65+ 5% (lower than expected)
    I have made an FOI request

By gender
Male: 16% (higher than expected)
Female: 11% (lower than expected)
    I have made an FOI request, for my community/society in general

18-34: 6% (higher than expected)
35-44: 5% 
45-54: 1% (lower than expected)
55-64: 2% 
65+ 2%

  4. Accessibility ABCs – a practical toolkit for the global civic tech community

    A starting point for making civic tech more accessible

    Commissioned by the TICTeC Labs programme, Technoloxia in Tunisia have created a practical accessibility toolkit for the global civic tech community.

    At our second Civic Tech Surgery in February 2022, we discussed ensuring that civic tech is accessible – how can we lead and popularise best practice? The subsequent Action Lab working group agreed to commission the creation of a toolkit or resource to support civic tech practitioners in making their work more accessible.

    The subgrant was awarded to Technoloxia to create a beginners’ guide to accessibility. Technloxia are a training provider who specialise in digital accessibility for different audiences including civil society organisations and tech practitioners. The team working on this project included people with disabilities and trained practitioners, who worked with a focus group of users with different accessibility needs to review the material and provide feedback.

    With this guide, Technoloxia look to provide a simple primer and introduce the subject while staying practical and action-oriented. This guide is in no way exhaustive but is a starting point for a larger conversation.

    Step-by-step guides to better accessibility

    The guide starts by explaining basic concepts and principles and then presents best practices by examining case studies. After each case study, the guide highlights a few potential challenges and how best to deal with these. It provides you with questions to ask to check whether your work is accessible, and always centres the people using the services, reminding us that accessibility goes beyond ‘technical accessibility’ to the ways in which we communicate and interact around our work.

    An accessible accessibility guide

    The guide is freely available on our website, to download as a PDF and as an audio file to increase the accessibility of the information itself. Please do download it and/ or pass it on to any other contacts who might find it useful: this guide will have most impact when it is widely used.

    —-

    TICTeC Labs is our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion – Civic Tech Surgery – on a topic affecting the civic tech community, followed by an Action Lab, a working group who meet to discuss the challenges and commission some work to help provide solutions. To find out more about the TICTeC Labs programme and the work being produced following the series of Civic Tech Surgeries, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  5. Local authority and Westminster constituency deprivation datasets

    Summary:

    Back in 2020 we released a UK-wide version of the index of multiple deprivation (see original blog post). This is a dataset that uses multiple metrics of deprivation to rank all small neighbourhood sized chunks of the UK from most to least deprived.

    This data is produced for each nation, but our dataset allows areas to be roughly compared across the whole UK (with a separate file for comparing just Great Britain, without Northern Ireland).

    This is useful if you have postcode data you want to add information about deprivation to, but sometimes you want to be comparing the bigger areas like local councils and Westminster constituencies.

    In the course of some of mySociety’s recent work,  we’ve added new sheets to the deprivation dataset that show the relative deprivation of UK councils and Westminster constituencies.

    This works by using a population weighted average – where each neighbourhood’s raw score is multiplied by its population, added together for the authority/constituency and then divided by the total population. This new score can then be ranked and put into deciles.

    Because local authorities and (to a lesser extent) constituencies, have different sizes at a national level, the deciles are based on the percentage of the population rather than number of councils or constituencies. So the 1st decile contains the councils with the highest deprivation, that collectively account for 10% of the population. 

    If working with data that is entirely from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, it is better to use one of the official datasets that are derived from the national index.

    If you want to use our data for climate related purposes, I run drop-in hours on Thursdays and Friday to talk about our data, or just email me! For more information on our climate data, see our previous blog post

    You can sign up to our data newsletter to keep up to date with future updates.

    We’ve also updated the UK-wide Rural-Urban-Classification (RUC) dataset to include local authorities and Westminster constituencies. This is a dataset that combines the different measurements of whether a neighbourhood is urban or rural into a single UK wide dataset. 

    Here my approach was slightly different. Our RUC dataset recognises three classifications (“Urban”, “Rural”, “Highly Rural”) as this was the best way of combining the different approaches from different nations. 

    For each authority/constituency, we calculated the percentage of the population who lives in areas that fit these three criteria. Then, using a clustering approach, authorities/constituencies were split into four loose categories. 

    • Urban – All, or the overwhelming majority of the population live in an urban area.
    • Urban with rural areas – places with significant rural areas by volume, but generally where the population is concentrated in an urban area. 
    • Rural – Less of the population is concentrated in urban areas.
    • Sparse and rural – large rural areas with very dispersed populations.

    All of these make sense on a spectrum, so at the margins some authorities will be more similar to ones in other classifications, than to the mean of that classification – but in broad terms these categories reflect different kinds of areas. The original population breakdowns are included if further processing work is useful.

    If you want to use our data for climate change related purposes, I run drop-in hours on Thursdays and Friday to talk about our data, or just email me! For more information on our climate data, see our previous blog post

    You can sign up to our data newsletter to keep up to date with future updates.

    Header image: Photo by Héctor J. Rivas on Unsplash

  6. Climate monthnotes: October

    Whilst the days get shorter, October is already over. Here’s what the Climate team has been up to this month!

    Events

    This month, we ran our second Innovations in Climate Tech event. It went well! Some project ideas from the first event began to build up momentum and excitement, and we closed our applications for grants at 23:59 on the last day of October. That means we’ll be announcing our decisions very soon! If you want to find out more about how the event went, check out Myf’s post here.

    Communications

    Myf graduated from the Weston Communicating Climate programme, and is feeding back to the team everything she’s learnt. It was an in-depth course, where she’s picked up lots of very valuable information to help us use communications around climate as effectively as possible.

    Development

    Off the back of our prototyping weeks over the year, we have been continuing developing.

    Struan’s been working on development of the Local Intelligence Hub (which you can read about the prototype of here), and we look forward to borrowing Graeme from the Transparency team over the coming month to help bring this to life.

    Meanwhile, Alexander has been working on Contract Countdown (with the prototype report for that here), getting it ready for focus groups, which Siôn has been hard at work to start getting together.

    Our partners, Climate Emergency UK are working on their methodology for measuring actual climate action from councils. This is for the next iteration of their climate scorecards site, which up until now has only assessed councils’ plans rather than what progress they’ve made in implementing those plans. Full details of the criteria they’re working to will be released in November, before they dive into the rigorous process of scoring.

    The Climate Action Plan Explorer is going to be undergoing some improvements – Myf has been looking at how to make the tool more accessible for non-specialist users and the team are now beginning to see how that can feed into development. Look out for changes between now and December.

    Everything else

    The Climate team has recently started to experiment with “fallow sprints”. Placing them at either end of a cycle, they’re allowing the team time to plan, and regroup, ready for the next sprint. This is helping us to feel more focussed in our work, and seems to be doing good for the team as a whole.

    Even as the nights get longer and the days get colder, we’re not slowing down, so if you can’t get enough of what we’re up to, you can sign up to our newsletter to get updates in your inbox!

     

    Image: Jonathan Cutrer (CC by-nc/2.0)

  7. How can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?

    The first TICTeC Labs subgrant project provides practical examples

    How has civic tech helped protect the health of a small rural community in Chile, engaged citizens in decisions about their local areas in China, improved the electricity supply to a village in Kyrgyzstan and assisted people with visual impairments to take part in participatory budgeting in Argentina?

    This month sees the first output from our TICTeC Labs subgrants.

    TICTeC Labs is our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion – Civic Tech Surgery – on a topic affecting the civic tech community, followed by an Action Lab, a working group who meet to discuss the challenges and commission some work to help provide solutions. 

    Tackling the challenges

    At the first Civic Tech Surgery, in October 2021, the challenges of public-private civic tech projects, as well as possible solutions to tackle them, were discussed by Aline Muylaert of CitizenLab, Amanda Clarke of Carleton University, Gabriella Razzano of OpenUp in South Africa and Ebtihaj Khan from Code for Pakistan, with valuable input from our Surgery attendees. 

    Action Lab #1 then convened to decide what would help the global civic tech community to work more effectively with public and private institutions. They agreed to commission a piece of work that showcases examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens, aiming to promote the benefits of civic tech and inspire and motivate government actors to start similar civic tech projects in their contexts. 

    Showcasing successful projects

    The Action Lab #1 subgrant was awarded to People Powered, who approached the organisations who were highly rated on their digital participation platform to provide examples where their work has resulted in clear improvements and benefits for governments, institutions, and communities.

    The case studies all include key lessons learned and recommendations on how to use digital platforms effectively:

    To find out more about the TICTeC Labs programme and the work being produced following the series of Civic Tech Surgeries, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  8. Notes from TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #6: Civic tech in hostile environments

    Last week we convened the sixth and final (at least for now) online TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery, our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech.

    Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion on one topic area affecting the civic tech community. Interested parties can then apply to take suggested ideas forward in a smaller working group, building solutions with the aid of a grant.

    This time, the discussants looked at the challenges and rewards of creating civic tech within hostile environments, from war zones to dictatorships; examined what ‘peacetech’ means and whether it can be applied more broadly; and then discussed how a small grant might best be deployed to help those working for good despite tough external factors.

    Discussants were Yolanda Booyzen, Communications Coordinator at HURIDOCS, joining us from South Africa; Julie Hawke, Digital Peacebuilding Lead at Build Up speaking from the US; and Teona Tomashvili, co-founder and Project Lead at ForSet in Georgia.

    For a high-level view, read on. We’ve attempted to capture all the ideas discussed, but if you’re keen not to miss anything, access the notes from the meeting, as well as the full recording of the session and the AI-generated transcript.

    Problems

    A summary of the issues identified during the chat and by the audience.

    • Security: Both people and information must be kept secure when working in hostile environments.
    • Practical and logisitcal problems: Stable internet connections and electricity supplies can’t be relied on; roads may be poor and organisations may need to work across large or difficult-to-reach areas; there may be language barriers.
    • Time: Issues with time expectations manifest themselves in a variety of ways; for example –
      • The documentation of atrocities may take longer than the period in which funders expect to see results;
      • Organisations may need to react more quickly to fast-changing events than tech developers are used to.
    • Socio-cultural factors:
      • Organisations have to work in hostile online environments which also foster mis- and disinformation; hate speech, algorithmic profile targeting and polarisation.
      • In the real world, they may be battling electoral fraud and a non-independent media that is under political pressure.
    • Lack of political will: Trying to run a service that is helpful to citizens, such as an Alaveteli-based FOI service, is difficult without government co-operation and this leads to a lack of open data for civic technologists to work with.

    Possible solutions

    • Create networks of grassroots organisations working in the same or similar areas, online if that is safer.
    • Make longlasting and authentic relationships with the organisations working on the ground; not just partnerships for the duration that the funding is available.
    • Base your services or software on the actual needs of the people you’re making it for. Listen to them before you begin. They might not even need software: it might be that they need connections, or training, instead. The objectives come first, before the tech.
    • Ensure that the safety of people and security of information are prioritised.
    • Build software so that it works offline for example by storing data locally on a device and allowing the user to upload it when they come back to somewhere with wifi.
    • Often the way forward is to use or repurpose existing software in new contexts. You don’t necessarily have to see yourself as a creator of ‘peacetech’ to be providing a technology that fosters peace.
    • Don’t forget that people in hostile environments need psychological support as well as technological tools. A sense of humour is also important.
    • Consider giving money to people other than ‘the usual suspects’, directly and without strings. Take more risks.

    How the grant could help

    Some ideas for spending (and administering) the grant.

    • Consult the organisations over what they really need.
    • A handbook listing ways to work and what not to do in hostile environments.
    • The organisations that need the most help are not always fluent in English. Consider providing a contact that can help them through the grant process.
    • Consider not requiring any proposals or reports, as that uses up the valuable resource of the organisations bidding for the money, and takes up some of the money you’re granting in terms of their time.

    Action lab

    Some of this discussion also took place on Padlet and you can see more ideas there.

    We are now inviting people to join the Action Lab working group, which will comprise up to six people who are keen to use this discussion to inform the group as they pin down how the grant will be spent.

    To keep an eye on this progress, and to know more about the next Surgery, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  9. Innovations in Climate Tech: finding partnerships

    Yesterday was the second Innovations in Climate Tech event. People from councils and organisations came along and discussed all kinds of projects and ideas.

    The key question? What they might do with a small injection of money designed to kickstart digitally based, local climate related projects.

    If you’re ready to go ahead with your application, start here. Otherwise, read on.

    Projects beginning to form

    You can see all the ideas that were floated in our first meetup on our Padlet, but here are a few of the projects that emerged and appeared to be gaining the most momentum yesterday. 

    • A national knowledge sharing tool This project would seek to create a comprehensive list of what has been done digitally around Climate Adaptation, showcasing lessons learned, successes and failures. The instigators could also develop playbooks, open source tools and a knowledge sharing forum for councils and citizens. Notes here.
    • Community resilience to extreme weather events A plan to bring people together to embed community resilience, sharing information about flood risk, how to make your home more able to cope with the effect of climate change and extreme weather events. There was also a suggestion of broadening the existing community warden role to encompass community resilience issues. Notes here.
    • Adaptation gardens Showing people how they could garden in a different way to adapt to a changing climate: eg with drought resistant plants, water conservation methods, pollinator friendly plants and other eco-friendly methods. Notes here.
    • Digital toolkit for events Putting together a digital toolkit that people can use for climate-related community events, ensuring it’s accessible and reusable in lots of different situations. Notes here.

    Seen a project that you’d like to try too?

    Maybe you’re a council officer who thinks one of the ideas above would fit well within your constituency.

    Or maybe you’re a community group that could help shape the project and replicate it in your area.

    There may be an opportunity to join up with other folks working on the idea, and perhaps expanding their plans into more than one region. 

    Feel free to fill in our form and indicate that you are open to working with others on one of the existing ideas. 

    What you should know about the grants

    • You do not have to have attended either of the prior sessions to bid, but please do give consideration to what we are looking for: small, locally-based trials of projects that work with a local council at the intersection of democracy (broadly defined) and climate. A local authority must be involved in the project.
    • Need to find a partner council? Let us know and we’ll shout out on Twitter for you.
    • This is seed funding, designed to allow for testing, planning and trying new approaches; things that aren’t possible with restricted grants. So don’t worry about having a detailed plan — your application can be short and simple.
    • Applications close at 23:59 on Monday 31st October 2022. We aim to have made our decisions and awarded the grants by Monday 7th November 2022.
    • Funding will cover the period until March 31 2023  — though your project may continue onwards for as long as you like. We’ll hold a wrap-up event in spring showcasing the work to date.

    Apply now

    Ready to bid? Apply here.

  10. Climate monthnotes: September 2022

    As we move into the season of the falling leaves, we look back on the activities that fell in September.

    Most importantly we welcomed Alexander to the team, doubling both our developer count and the number of people on the team named Alex.

    Events dear boy, events

    We ran an event! About Climate Tech! It seemed to go quite well. There’s lots of detail in the blog post and links so you can rewatch people from Wiltshire to Copenhagen talking about how they used technology to help with everything from green roofs to community consultation.

    The post also contains details of our follow up event about the small grants (£5,000) we have available for local councils and partners for trialling ideas for tackling climate change.

    Internally we spent a bit of time thinking about how we might use some futures scenarios to test out our plans and explore any unspoken assumptions we might have about the way the world works. Failing that we could always use said scenarios to help run a creative writing workshop on dystopian fiction.

    The work goes on

    We have come to the end of our prototyping weeks and we’re now starting to look at  exploring some of them in more detail. The focus at the moment is on home energy, procurement and our most recent prototyping work with The Climate Coalition.

    On the home energy front, Siôn has been continuing to speak to potential partners in the area while we work out the best way to turn this work into something concrete. If encouraging local communities to come together and improve the energy efficiency of their homes sounds interesting to you then get in touch.

    Wasting no time, Alexander has been unknotting procurement and contracts data in order to turn our Contract Countdown prototype into something a little more functional. We’re still at an early stage with this, trying to work out if it’s practical to keep the data current. We’ll also be looking to show the more useful version to some potential users to see if it’s a service that has value.

    Finally, we started work with The Climate Coalition on a beta of a tool to help them corral a range of data to more effectively help climate groups with campaigning. So far we’ve largely been talking about what data is both useful and available, and how to link it all up.

    In non-prototyping work we’ve continued to chat to Climate Emergency UK about next year’s follow up to the Council Climate Plan Scorecards. This is very much in the planning stage at the moment.

    Previously in blog posts

    One of the side effects of our work on Climate is we’ve gathered a lot of data which we’d like more people to use. Alex wrote both about the data we have and also the process we use to gather and publish it. The first of these is of interest to anyone who would like some nice data, while the second is considerably more technical.

    Speaking of people using our data, Myf published the latest in our series of case studies on how people are doing just that. This month it’s the turn of the Brighton Peace and Environment centre who’ve been using CAPE and the Council Climate Plan Scorecards to help with visualising council’s progress towards their Net Zero targets.

    As ever, if you’ve used any of our data we’d love to hear from you. It helps us with both prioritising future work as well as when talking to current and potential funders.

    While gathering all this data we’ve had some thoughts. Alex has started to work with the Centre for Public Data to turn these thoughts into some recommendations. There’s a survey!

    If you’d like this sort of thing in your inbox then you can sign up to our monthly climate newsletter by clicking the subscribe link at the top right of that page.

    Image: Mott Rodeheaver