1. mySociety at OGP in Paris

    This week, the 2016 Open Government Partnership summit is being held in Paris, France.

    The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Its goals are, therefore, pretty much in line with the objectives of civic tech — the field we at mySociety been ploughing in for over a decade. So we’ve been supporters of the OGP since it started, as have many of our partners and collaborators.

    Today, there are 70 participating countries. Inevitably, some member countries have governments whose enthusiasm for the OGP goals is, perhaps, greater than their willingness to actually implement the changes that attaining such goals require. But even where that is the case, the OGP is a catalyst for getting accountability and transparency onto their agenda, and we’re all for that.

    All of mySociety’s projects fall somewhere within the remit of the OGP. For example, our Freedom of Information platform Alaveteli encourages citizens to make requests, and our work with parliamentary monitoring organisations is all about opening up the activity of parliaments in a way that OGP very much promotes.

    This year, mySociety will be represented at OGP by Bec (from our research team), Jen (who manages our international partners) and Dave (who works on the EveryPolitician project). If you’re in Paris for the OGP, please do seek us out. We’re around for the main events, but also:

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  2. TICTeC 2017 – save the date

    It’s official: TICTeC 2017, our third conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Florence, Italy, at the beautiful Firenze Fiera.

    Please block out the dates in your calendars now: 25th and 26th April 2017. And watch this space, as we’ll be putting out the call for papers soon, with plenty more details to follow.

    We’re looking forward to seeing you in April! Meanwhile, if you’d like to see what TICTeC is all about, you can browse last year’s highlights here.

    Image: Ben McIver (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)

  3. Come and see Finnish Freedom Of Information cartoonists

    Think Freedom of Information is a bit of a dry topic? Not when you mix it with some exuberant inky comic art, it’s not!

    Two Finnish cartoonists, Siiri Viljakka and Lauri Tuomi-Nikula, are visiting the UK to speak about their comic book Last Words. This graphic novella imagines one of the founding fathers of Freedom of Information, Anders Chydenius, returning from the grave to see how his ideas are surviving in the modern world.

    Siiri and Lauri will be speaking at four informal meet-ups in London, Brighton and Hastings — entry is free.

    Image: Siiri Valjakka and Lauri Tumoi-NikulaArtwork: Siiri Viljakka & Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

    If you’d like to hear Siiri and Lauri speaking about comics, FOI, and how the two can interact, you can register now at no cost.

    At the Monday, Wednesday and Thursday events, the talk will focus mainly on comics with a side order of FOI.

    At Citizen Beta on Tuesday, it will be the other way around, with Siiri and Lauri fitting in among other speakers on the topic of FOI and civic technologies – full details here. So take your pick, depending on how you prefer your arts/civic rights balance!

    The trip has been made possible by generous donations from several people via a crowdfunder. Thanks to everyone who donated, but special thanks to Dan Berry’s Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast, the Hastings 1066 Country Cartoon Festival, and my dad 🙂

  4. Videos from TICTeC 2016

    Videos from TICTeC — our Impacts of Civic Technologies Conference — are now available for viewing.

    So, whether you were there and you want to experience it all over again, or you just want to see what you missed out on, settle down and enjoy accounts from some of the most interesting civic tech projects around the world right now.

    What is TICTeC?

    Here’s mySociety CEO Mark Cridge explaining what TICTeC is, and why we run it:

    And if that’s left you hungry for more, make sure you visit our YouTube channel to watch the other TICTeC videos.

    You might also enjoy the slides, photos and other media that have all been collected together on the TICTeC 2016 page.

  5. We think we can do better

    We held our second TICTeC conference in Barcelona at the end of May. The feedback has been generally very positive, and there are many aspects that we were very pleased with: the quality and diversity of the speakers, the smooth running of the event, the opening up of debates that will continue to resonate in the civic tech world.

    But, nothing’s ever perfect, and on reflection there are some aspects, some large, most small, which we can improve for our next big event.

    These are conversations that often happen behind the scenes, but we thought it might be useful for anyone else planning a big event or conference, if we share some of the things that didn’t work so well, and our plans for making things better next time.

    Please do feel free to join in the discussion in the comments below, whether you were there or not.

    Timing

    It was obvious from the number of hands up, and disappointed faces, that we hadn’t allowed enough time for questions or discussion about the presentations. We’d allocated twenty minutes’ speaking time to each speaker, intending that slot to include questions and discussion. But most speakers filled, or almost filled, their time with their presentation.

    Next year we propose formally splitting the slot into 10 minutes of presentation time and 10 minutes of discussion time for each speaker. Oh, and although we were sitting in the front row waving ‘five minutes left’ cards in the speakers’ faces, we appreciate that there are improvements to be made here, too. We’ll use countdown clocks to make it very easy for the speakers to see how much time there is left.

    Better balance

    mySociety cares so much about gender balance that we even built an app around it. And yet we could have done better when it came to the gender balance of the panels.

    Speakers were chosen on the quality of their submission, and while we don’t believe we have any internal biases we’d be interested to see what happened if we introduced an entirely name- and gender-blind selection process.

    For 2016, there were no all-male panels, but overall the gender-split of speakers was 60% male to 40% female (incidentally, the same gender split as made up the delegates as a whole).

    Also, there was a strong European and US bias among our speakers, with only 8 out of 62 coming from outside North America or Europe. So we could be criticised for giving a voice to those who already speak quite loudly enough in the civic tech world.

    We’ll definitely aim for more equal balances next year.

    Cloakroom

    No-one likes lugging their heavy bags around, and this especially becomes an issue on the final day of an international conference, when people may have checked out of their hotel and have their luggage with them, too.

    Yet in our chosen venue, there was nowhere for people to put coats and bags. This is a pretty simple fix — we’ll make sure that there’s a secure cloakroom next year.

    Coffffeee

    Coffee was only available during breaks, and wasn’t self-service.

    Conferences run on coffee (and tea) — we know that — but it was whisked away at the end of the breaks and people had to wait to be served when it was there. Next year there will be limitless, self-serve coffee available the whole time. Because it’s important.

    Somewhere to network

    There was no real networking/seating area. Other than in the auditoria, there wasn’t a space where people could sit and catch up between sessions. That’s partly because Barcelona didn’t pony up the stunning sunny weather we thought we could rely on, so no-one felt inclined to linger in the outdoor space, but still. Something to allow for next time.

    Time to mingle

    There wasn’t enough time for networking/breaks. We crammed an awful lot into the one and half days, but it meant for a pretty packed programme. Next year we’ll run the event for two full days and allow more break/networking time.

    Handy maps

    The venue map should have been printed on the main programme, rather than being a separate insert in the bag. That was confusing and yet another piece of paper for people to wrangle.

    All hands on deck

    We needed more mySociety people on hand. We ran the whole event (including note-taking and session chairing) with a team of seven. With more people, we could have ensured that, for example, the reception desk was always manned. Raising the numbers would also make things a little less stressful for our team.

    The usual wifi issue

    The wifi wasn’t great. This is a perennial issue, we know. It’s hard to know how a venue is going to perform when there are 140 people with multiple devices each trying to get online.

    Next year we’ll try and contact those who ran previous events at the shortlisted venues to find out how things were for them.

    Something we all got right

    At the last moment, we decided to introduce a Code of Conduct, setting down in black and white what kind of behaviour was not acceptable at the conference, and providing an anonymous route via which to report any contraventions.

    We’re glad to say that this wasn’t used — we hope we’re right in surmising that this is because it wasn’t needed — but more than one delegate thanked us for putting it in place, and it’s something we’ll be replicating and refining for future events.

  6. Discussing impact in Barcelona: TICTeC 2016

    The chairs have been stacked, the banners rolled away, and 142 delegates have returned to their 29 home countries. TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference, is over for another year.

    The 1.5 day event saw a concentration of wisdom and expertise from across the civic tech sector, and we’re keen to ensure that we share as many insights as possible.

    To that end, we’ll be publishing materials such as photos, videos and slides, as soon as we can. We hope that, if you weren’t able to attend, they’ll give you a taste of the TICTeC experience — and, if you were there, they’ll serve to keep it fresh.

    Some materials will take a little time: videos, for example, are currently in post-production, and should be ready within a few weeks. We’ll be announcing on the mySociety Twitter feed, Facebook page and this blog when they’re online, or check the TICTeC resources page.

    Meanwhile, here’s what’s available right now:

    • Slides from all the speakers Click on each speaker’s name to access them.
    • Photos: all under Creative Commons, so feel free to download and share them if you wish.
    • A Storify to help you relive the experience through hashtagged tweets and photos.
    • The TICTeC Google Group: everyone who attended the conference is a member, so this is the place to continue discussions or begin new ones.

    Thanks so much to everyone who participated, making TICTeC a real success. We hope to see you all again.

  7. TICTeC: See you tomorrow in beautiful Barcelona

    Yes, time flies — TICTeC really is tomorrow!

    We’re looking forward to hearing from those at the heart of civic tech research. We can’t wait to see old friends and make new ones, too.

    But if you can’t be with us for this unique conference on the impacts of civic technologies, don’t despair. You can follow along via the #TICTeC hashtag, which we’ll be encouraging people to use across all the usual channels.

    Of course, we’ll also be busy taking notes, photographing and collecting footage for blog posts and videos after the event, so watch this space for those summaries.

    And now: off to Barcelona. ¡Hasta mañana!

     

    Image: Moyan Brenn (CC)

  8. International Citizen Beta

    We’re helping our friends at Citizen Beta by sponsoring (and co-hosting) an international-themed event next Monday (25th April 2016, 7pm–10pm). There will be three presentations, one from OneWorld about their work overseas, one by our own Jen about some of our recent international projects, and then there’s the spotlight: a talk from the Kuala Lumpur-based Sinar Project.

    If you’re in or near London, please do come: sign up on Citizen Beta’s attending.io page.

    Citizen Beta is a roughly-monthly meetup for civic tech people. Next Monday’s event will follow the usual format of Q&As after each presentation with (deliberately) lots of meeting, mixing, and chatting too. It happens in Newspeak House in Shoreditch, and refreshments will be provided.

    We’re very pleased to have been able to make this event happen. It was precipitated because Khairil from Sinar is coming over to our side of the world for mySociety’s forthcoming TICTeC 2016 conference in Barcelona. (If you haven’t already got a ticket to TICTeC then, sorry, you’re too late; but of course keep an eye on this blog because we’ll be sharing photos, videos and accounts from the event).

    OneWorld, like mySociety, are based in the UK, but work all over the globe. Their projects often depend upon the classic civic tech components of web and mobile, but they’re also actively involved in addressing health and rights issues in the countries in which they operate. They have a wealth of experience from running projects in developing countries, especially when it comes to understanding both the capabilities and the limitations of the technologies they use.

    The Sinar Project, which the aforementioned Khairil heads, is a civic tech group based in Kuala Lumpur. They first came to our attention because they were using two of our codebases (FixMyStreet and MapIt). We’ve been friends ever since, and it’s always been a delight when our international paths have crossed. In many ways Sinar perfectly epitomises the philosophy of civic tech/open source reuse that mySociety, and specifically Poplus, is so passionate about: when you have a small team of super-focused developers (shout-out to Sinar’s Motionman and Sweester!), you simply can’t afford to waste time reinventing the wheel.

    On Monday evening Khairil will be showing some of the impressive ways they have been combining their tech skills and tools in a political environment which is considerably more hostile than that in the UK.

    Oh, one last thing — sorry; we do realise that this is a London event. mySociety itself is a remote-working organisation, which means we’re spread all around the UK, so we know that not everything happens in London. But that’s where Citizen Beta is, so that’s where this particular meetup is happening.

    It’s going to be great — so if you can come, please sign up. See you there!

    Image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Horng Yih Wong of Khairil Yusof speaking at TEDxKL

  9. Introducing TICTeC’s keynote speakers: Guy Grossman

    Guy GrossmanTICTeC is our annual conference on the impacts of civic technologies.

    This year, we’ll be in Barcelona, Spain, with a diverse programme of speakers from all over the world.

    Guy Grossman, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s political science department, will deliver one of two keynotes. See details of our other keynote speaker, Helen Milner OBE, here.

    Guy has had a long history in civic tech research, with a special focus on Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa, and we are delighted that he will be sharing his insights to our audience of practitioners and researchers.

    Hi Guy! Tell us what you’ll be covering in your TICTeC keynote.

    The state of academic knowledge about the promises and pitfalls of ICT applications designed to increase voice and accountability in low-income countries. Specifically:

    • Under what conditions are citizens more likely to communicate with government officials using mobile-platforms? If we “build them – will they come”?
    • Do mobile platforms exacerbate inequalities in political access, privileging groups (men, urban, better-off) that are heavier users of ICTs?
    • What can be done to help increase the participation rates of marginalised populations (such as women and the poor)?

    Low-income countries have leapfrogged past the landline era and directly into the mobile era. Citizens can now connect with each other and with their public officials in unprecedented ways.

    Even though mobile technology is so pervasive, our collective understanding of many first-order questions in this area is surprisingly limited.

    The massive penetration of mobile technology, even to remote areas of the least developed countries, has great potential to reshape both the social and political landscapes.

    Even though mobile technology is so pervasive, our collective understanding of many first-order questions in this area is surprisingly limited. My goal at TICTeC is to help take stock of what we know and don’t know in this emerging field.

    What are you hoping to get out of TICTeC?

    I’m hoping to interact with practitioners, policy makers, technologists and fellow academics to figure out where the overlap is between practical needs and academic research.

    I’m also hoping to get exposed to promising and innovative applications that I am unaware of.

    Your civic tech research focuses especially on Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa. What led you down this path?

    I found very few applications and platforms, if any, designed to improve governance and accountability in low-income countries.

    I care deeply about poverty and social and gender inequality, so working and studying in Africa has been a natural choice.

    How did I get involved with civic tech? In the past decade I have witnessed an increasing number of mobile-based applications designed to enhance such things as agriculture productivity and financial transactions or match between buyers and sellers.

    On the other hand, I found very few applications and platforms, if any, designed to improve governance and accountability in low-income countries. I came to believe that this was a great void that needed to be filled.

    In fact, unfortunately, we are still quite far from saturation in the development of governance-related ICT applications.

    What do you think are the big unanswered questions when it comes to civic tech?

    Does participation in mobile communication spill into more traditional forms of political participation?

    Here’s a very partial list of some of the answered questions when it comes to civic tech in the global south:

    Can simple innovations in mobile technology be used to facilitate new meaningful forms of political participation?

    If so, what types of mobile-based political communication are most likely to be adopted by voters?

    What is the potential of ICTs to flatten political access to marginalised populations?

    What are some of the ways to increase the usage of mobile-based political communication in the face of clear collective action problems?

    How can ICT be used to overcome political economy constraints to growth (e.g. by resolving monitoring challenges in government bureaucracies, reducing the cost for citizens of tracking bureaucratic performance, or making it easier to detect corrupt practices in public-sector salary distribution)?

    And, does participation in mobile communication spill into more traditional forms of political participation?

    If you could make one recommendation to those developing new civic tech, and wanting to see real impact from it, what would it be?

    Adopt a user perspective — make sure that the suggested application/platform addresses a real need that could not be addressed using a low-tech solution.

    You won’t want to miss what Guy has to say at TICTeC, so make sure you book your tickets now.

     

  10. TICTeC Earlybird tickets: last chance to buy

    If you’re hoping to join us in Barcelona for TICTeC, the Impact of Civic Technologies conference, then hurry: early bird pricing ends tomorrow.

    You can save £100 on your ticket by registering before midnight GMT on Friday.

    Join us to hear a variety of inspiring speakers from around the world as they share their experiences in civic technology, headed up by keynote speakers Guy Grossman (University of Pennsylvania) and Helen Milner OBE (the Tinder Foundation).

    There will also be ample time for socialising and enjoying Barcelona’s unique atmosphere. TICTeC is the world’s only conference focusing purely on the impacts of civic technology, and represents an excellent chance to meet, share, and learn from others in the sector.

    Book your tickets now

     

     

    Image: Greg Westfall (CC)