As part of our new TICTeC Labs programme, last week we convened a Civic Tech Surgery that brought together a group of 100+ civic tech practitioners and researchers from across the world to discuss common challenges of working with governments and public authorities on digital projects to enhance public participation, transparency and accountability, as well as possible solutions to these.
You can find resources from this Civic Tech Surgery here, including minutes, a summary of inputs, a Padlet of contributions, and the full recording.
To carry on the Surgery’s momentum, we are now convening an Action Lab (aka working group) of up to 6 individuals, who will work together to commission a piece of work that will be useful to tackle the issues raised in the above Civic Tech Surgery, to answer this question:
What would help the global civic tech community to work more effectively with public and private institutions?
We’re pleased to say that applications to join this Action Lab are now open, and we would like to invite those interested in working with others to tackle the above to apply.
Funding will be available to those who apply to work on the piece of work identified by the Action Lab.
The TICTeC Labs programme is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for Democracy.
I’m delighted to share details of our first Civic Tech Surgery. It will be held online on 28th October 14.00 – 16.00 GMT+1, and the topic is: Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?
During the Surgery, we will hear about the challenges of working on private-public civic tech projects from practitioners from across the world, as well as their solutions and ideas to tackle these. There will be ample opportunity for attendees to also provide their feedback on issues they have faced, and their solutions and ideas.
The Surgery will also feature reflections from civic tech researchers, to give perspectives on any existing evidence or research ideas on the topic that might be beneficial, that can then be elaborated on in subsequent TICTeC Action Labs.
After not being able to meet as a global community in-person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re really excited to again facilitate the exchange of relevant and timely research, lessons learnt, successes, failures, ideas and code amongst the civic tech sector globally, so ultimately, civic tech tools are more effective.
Who are Civic Tech Surgeries for?
Anyone interested in the use and effectiveness of digital tools to enhance public participation, democracy, transparency and accountability.
We think the event will be of particular interest to civic tech practitioners and researchers, elected government representatives, civil servants, technology companies, funders and software developers.
Register to attend
The Civic Tech Surgery will be held virtually on Zoom. You need to register to attend by signing up on this Eventbrite page.
We look forward to seeing you there! To hear of future TICTeC events and initiatives first, do consider signing up to our mailing list.
We’re delighted to share an exciting new chapter for TICTeC.
TICTeC stands for ‘The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference’. Since 2015 mySociety has convened an international cohort of those who build, use and research technologies that aim to enhance public participation, transparency and accountability, in order to openly and honestly examine how digital civic interventions are shaping society.
Discussion leading to action
Now, thanks to financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy, TICTeC is expanding from an annual conference into a continuous programme of activities and events that will run across the next 18 months, primarily remotely.
The aim is to discuss and tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the global civic tech/digital democracy sector — and once they’ve been identified, we’ll grant participants the funding that will enable them to work on solutions.
We’re calling this new programme TICTeC Labs and it consists of two streams:
1. Civic Tech Surgeries
Regular online convenings bringing together the global civic tech community to discuss challenges facing the sector, to share existing research and experience, and identify evidence gaps and other needs.
Each Civic Tech Surgery will be around two hours long, and open to participants from around the world; there will be six surgeries across the next 18 months, each focused on a specific theme identified as a key challenge for the global civic tech sector.
The first Civic Tech Surgery
Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?
28 October 14.00 – 16.00 GMT+1
2. Action Labs
A collaborative and action-oriented process to take forward ideas generated in Civic Tech Surgeries and support initiatives that address common challenges.
Following each surgery session, a working group of expert individuals will be convened to lead the Action Lab for that issue area, feeding back to the wider pool of participants as they go. Action Labs members will work together to decide what would be helpful to produce in order to help the civic tech community with challenges identified in Civic Tech Surgeries.
Grants will be available to those who apply to actually produce the work identified by the Action Lab.
We’ll be opening applications to join the first TICTeC Action Lab soon, so do sign up for updates.
To help guide and promote the TICTeC Labs programme, as well as to make it as relevant and inclusive as possible to local and regional contexts and contributors, we have established a global Steering Group. We are delighted to welcome the following exceptional people to the TICTeC Labs Steering Group, and we thank them for their contributions:
- Neema Iyer, Founder, Pollicy
- Oscar Montiel, Independent Consultant (formerly The Engine Room, Codeando México, Open Knowledge etc)
- Matt Stempeck, Technologist in Residence, Cornell University, and founder and director of the Civic Tech Field Guide
- Isabel Hou, Open Culture Foundation and g0v
- Nonso Jideofor, Funding & Partnerships Manager, Code for All
With the help of the Steering Group we have now identified topics for the Civic Tech Surgeries and Action Labs over the next 18 months:
- Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?
- Ensuring civic tech is accessible: how can we lead and popularise best practice?
- Accessing quality information: how can we overcome barriers to accessing good data and documentation?
- Scaling and replicating civic tech: how can we overcome the well known challenges to achieving scale and replication?
- Tackling the climate crisis with civic tech: Where can civic tech be most impactful?
- Storytelling and reach: how can we amplify our successes beyond the civic tech community to evidence our impact through mainstream channels?
If you would like to join a Civic Tech Surgery as a discussant to share your experiences of, or reflect on, any of the above topics, then please get in touch. We will of course communicate dates for the Civic Tech Surgeries in due course, and you can hear these first by signing up to our mailing list.
We do of course still plan to host our usual in-person TICTeC global gatherings again in future, but at this stage we still think it is too early to start organising a conference with attendees from over 35 countries worldwide, whilst international travel is still so uncertain.
This is why TICTeC Labs is so exciting – we can’t wait to connect more meaningfully with the global civic tech community again and ensure that the peer and cooperation network we worked so hard to build through TICTeC conferences can survive and thrive in this period of uncertainty. We really hope you can join us for this new chapter.
The last in the current season of online Show and Tell TICTeC events gathered together six speakers, each looking at how geospatial data has brought benefits to their sector. From fighting corruption to closing down illegal factories, preventing female genital mutilation and enabling people to envisage what new buildings will look like in their neighbourhood, the applications are wide-ranging, ingenious and sometimes surprising.
We heard about the increased levels of confidence and happiness of OpenStreetMappers in Kathmandu; how hard it can be to get governments off paper and onto digital in Ukraine; how mapping has allowed the police to raid illegal FGM events in Tanzania; and an app allowing the reporting of illegal factories in Taiwan, as well as two projects from the UK focusing on improving the planning system.
Our technical luck had held for all the online events we’d hosted previously, but sadly this one did feature some gremlins that meant Yun Chan’s presentation wasn’t audible in places. Fortunately her slides can be seen here and you can read about the project in English in this article.
- All videos are all available over on our YouTube channel. You can watch the entire event, or pick and choose from the individual presentations, as below.
- Speakers have shared their slides. Access them via the links to each presentation on the TICTeC website.
- There’s also a collaborative notes document here.
#PlanTech and the geospatial ecosystem
Ben Fowkes, Delib
The climate crisis and the pandemic have shown that we have to modernise the places we live and work, and the means by which we get between them, if we’re to be ready for the future. Every local policy decision now has a spatial consideration, from how we reduce our transport systems’ impact on the environment to how our cities adapt to more people working from home.
Delib’s new PlanTech product, Citizen Space Geospatial, incorporates interactive mapping and geospatial data throughout the digital engagement process, with broad-reaching implications for the field of public participation.
What are the effects of OpenStreetMapping on the mappers themselves?
Aishworya Shrestha, Kathmandu Living Labs
We all understand the benefits of OpenStreetMap to society as a whole — but new research indicates that the very experience of contributing to the crowdsourced geospatial database has quantifiable long term beneficial effects, increasing the skills, wellbeing and self-belief of those who volunteer.
Aishworya talks through an extended study which examined the skill-based and emotional effects on a cohort of interns who contributed to maps in Nepal.
Open data for local self governance: learnings from five Ukrainian cities
Nadiia Babynska, OpenUp Ukraine
Nadiia, who project managed the GIS for Integrity cities project, discusses how to improve data and assets governance at the local level, how digitalisation can allow access to public information and the development and launch of (geo)information systems.
Using examples from five Ukrainian cities she discusses implementation, problems and barriers. Open data, open source and open by default/by design principles are at the core of these projects.
Digital Champions: community led development monitoring in Tanzania
Janet Chapman (Tanzania Development Trust/Crowd2Map)
In another vivid demonstration of the power and versatility of OpenStreetMap, Janet presents Crowd2Map’s activities in Tanzania, which include countering female genital mutilation and gender-based violence, plotting access to water and health facilities and surveying villagers’ SDG priorities.
This volunteer project trained first time smartphone users in all 87 villages of Serengeti District to become digital champions, with positive results.
Disfactory: mapping and reporting illegal factories in Taiwan
Yun Chen, g0v.tw community, Taiwan
Taiwan is home to an estimated 55,000 illegal factories, situated on farmland across the country. Thanks to the Disfactory platform, a crowdsourced project born from a hackathon, anyone can now report a factory they suspect of operating illegally.
The project has changed government policy, opened up data and brought about the investigation — and even demolition — of more than 150 factories. Here is a real example of where civic tech has brought positive change to society.
Unfortunately Yun-Chen experienced technical issues during their presentation, so there is currently no recording of their presentation, but you can find their presentation slides on this page.
Visualising the future: how 3D imaging helps residents understand proposed changes
Peter Kemp, Planning at the Greater London Authority
London needs housing: that is clear. But when construction is planned in a local neighbourhood, it’s understandable that existing residents might not fully comprehend the changes that are proposed — and evidence suggests that 45% of the UK’s population are unable to read a plan.
What if game engine technology could be repurposed to give people a realistic image of how their neighbourhood would look, should plans be passed? With everyone better informed, any objections would be based on facts rather than assumptions. When 3D Repo brought this idea to the Mayor of London’s Civic Innovation Challenge, it won the award.
That’s the last TICTeC Show and Tell for now, but watch this space for details of our future events, online and — here’s hoping — in person.
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Thanks to everyone who attended the launch of our Research department’s policy paper this week.
Open Democracy’s Peter Geoghegan and Open Rights Group’s Jim Killock joined us at the event for a fast paced discussion of the problems with FOI we’re all seeing in the current climate, and to what extent the proposals in our paper would remedy them.
At times, the chat box was so lively and knowledgeable that it felt like we’d convened the entire UK FOI community, but we know that isn’t quite true, so here’s the video for those that couldn’t make it:
We’ve also answered the most relevant of the questions that were posed by our attendees, and you can see the responses here. Thanks, too, to Open Democracy for reviewing the paper in this thoughtful piece.
Alex Parsons, who led on the research, has a handful of side explorations that didn’t end up in the final paper:
- Network Rail: how accounting definitions of control can expand FOI/EIR coverage
- FOI and appeals to the regulator
- What are environmental information requests and how do they differ in Scotland?
And finally, if all this talk of FOI has awakened your desire to do more around the topic, well, we have just the job opportunity for you.
This week saw the second in our series of short, fast paced ‘Show and Tell’ TICTeC events, and this time the focus was on all types of online deliberation and participatory democracy.
We heard of projects in France, South Africa, USA and the UK, where digital technologies have allowed citizens to feed into public decision-making processes.
In some cases presenters had palpable wins to tell us about; in others, there were notable disappointments. In either case, though, there’s always plenty to learn for anyone with an interest in how online deliberation can be used to widen the possibilities for everyone to get involved.
- The videos are all available over on our YouTube channel. You can watch the entire event, or pick and choose from the individual presentations, as below.
- Speakers have shared their slides. Access them via the links to each presentation on the TICTeC website.
- Questions from the audience were answered after the event, and you can see the responses on this document, or on the individual presentation pages linked to from this page.
- There’s also a collaborative notes document here.
Six 7-minute presentations on using tech for online deliberation
Our COVID consultation journey: from a small initiative to the desk of the president
Understanding the small hurdles that block community engagement, with behavioural design
Don’t build it: a practical guide for those building Civic Tech
Luke Jordan of Grassroot provocatively suggested that the best idea for new civic tech is… don’t build it! That is to say, at least consider carefully whether what you’re planning is really the best solution for the issue at hand.
It takes two: when citizens and Congress Members deliberate online
Samantha McDonald presented the findings from a test matching constituents, keen to talk about homelessness, with their Member of Congress and explains how some facets of the US political system prevented optimal engagement.
Leave no-one behind: overcoming hurdles to online citizen assemblies
Next we heard from Craig Morbey of FutureGov and Scott Butterfield from Blackpool Council on how they ensured everyone could be included in the local climate assembly — even those with low ITC skills or practical accessibility issues.
Engaging for the Future: what do the public want from engagement, and how can digital deliver?
Finally, Mike Saunders of Commonplace dug into why, despite a huge appetite for longterm participation in local planning issues, most people only get involved when they have a negative opinion to express.
And that’s not all
The next TICTeC Show and Tell, Empowering communities using geospatial technology, takes place on May 25. See who’s speaking, and sign up for free, here.
We would dearly love to be issuing a Call for Proposals for our normal two day Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC), in person, in some beautiful city somewhere, in anticipation of having some great discourse and drinks. Alas, the pandemic means we are not yet in a place to do that.
We also recognise that attempting to hold a two day event online is just too much – we are all suffering a bit of screen fatigue at this point, and we understand how difficult it is to concentrate and engage with lengthy online sessions.
Therefore, we will instead be hosting a series of online TICTeC ‘Show and Tells’ from March until May 2021, which will be short, energetic and to-the-point.
These will be hour-long virtual events that will bring together the global community who use, build, research or fund digital technology that empowers citizens. Speakers will share their real and in-depth research and lessons learnt about the impacts of these digital technologies, and whether their intended outcomes were indeed realised. TICTeC, as it always has been, continues to be a safe place to honestly examine what works, what doesn’t, what can be improved etc, so, ultimately, better digital tools are developed.
TICTeC’s ethos is that every organisation developing and running technology that serves citizens should do so with evidence-based research at the forefront of their decisions, and should examine their impacts. This is to ensure validity and legitimacy, but also to curb and mitigate possible detrimental and unintended consequences.
Apply to present
Each TICTeC Show and Tell will feature five 7-minute presentations, followed by a Q&A session after all speakers have made their presentations. If you have relevant research/experiences/lessons learnt to share, please submit a talk by 14 February 2021.
We’re looking for proposals relevant to the below topic areas in particular, however, if your proposal doesn’t quite fit into these themes but is still relevant to civic technology we’d nevertheless love to hear from you. We’re also particularly keen this time to hear from users of civic technology about their experiences, as well as researchers, funders and practitioners.
For more advice on submitting a proposal please see our guide.
TICTeC really does bring together a truly global group of people, all passionate about examining digital technology’s impact on society. TICTeC events usually bring together participants from at least 30 countries worldwide. But, as a charity, we need support to make TICTeC convenings happen. We’re currently looking for sponsors to help us continue. If you’re interesting in helping us to continue TICTeC’s valuable work, please see our guide to sponsorship and sponsorship packages, or feel free to contact Gemma Moulder to speak about more bespoke alternatives.
We look forward to reading your proposals, and to seeing you at our Show and Tells!
Our third and final TICTeC Seminar for this year was on civic tech and the climate emergency.
Speakers Rachel Coxcoon of the Centre for Sustainable Energy (and also a District Councillor & Cabinet Member for Climate Change & Forward Planning), Tom Sasse of the Institute of Government, Natalia Carfi from Open Data Charter and Louise Crow, mySociety’s own Head of Development, engaged in a productive hour-long discussion.
Meanwhile there was an equally useful conversation scrolling by as attendees shared links and insights in the chat window! We’ve summarised this at the foot of this post.
Local councils may have declared a Climate Emergency, but now we get into the nitty gritty: where will money be spent, and how can it be used most effectively?
“The biggest political issue is politics”, said Rachel, pointing out that our current, slow decision-making processes may not be fit for purpose in the face of a global emergency.
She bemoaned the duplication of effort, almost inevitable thanks to our local government structures, when so much could be achieved across the country as a whole with a bit of co-ordination.
Natalia was keen to point out the value of open data in all of this – and yet, as she says, the topic was hardly on the agenda at the last COP. The key is to get the governments in the same room as the people who need the data, so that the use case can suddenly become crystal clear to those engaged in gathering and sharing it.
Tom reminded us that two thirds of people have never even heard of the term ‘net zero’, let alone thought about what it means, so there is a long way to go. He agreed that it’s no good each council working in isolation within their own carbon budgets: somehow we need to step back and get the wider picture.
That’s where there may be a role for smaller data organisations, said Louise: taking big countrywide datasets and using them to inform the general public about the actions they can most usefully take.
You can watch the whole event again via this video, or read the collaborative notes here.
If you’d like to be the first to know about TICTeC events in 2021, sign up to our Research newsletter. We only send it when there’s something worth saying, so it won’t clog up your inbox!
Thoughts and links from the Seminar chat
We’ve removed names for the sake of privacy, but if there’s a comment or opportunity you’d like to respond to, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can put you in touch with the relevant person.
- The Climate Action Open Up Guide: “the Chilean implementation report in Spanish and English”
- mySociety’s Climate Action Plan explorer
- The UK Climate Assembly website
- “What ClimateView are doing with this open data project around defining a set of indicators for reducing carbon is also a useful tool when focusing on carbon and changes to make.”
- “I’m working on Open Carbon UK – aiming to define data standards for carbon emission disclosure by all sizes of organisation. We’ve got some initial map-based visualisations from existing BEIS and public data here. Would love to talk to potential data or tech collaborators.”
- “For learning how to effectively and constructively engage with decision makers, I can recommend Hope For The Future and for climate literacy training (including for local councils) I can recommend Carbon Literacy.”
- “Here’s a playbook for Civic Voice during COVID — incorporating the new digital rules in the US Congress.”
- “Builders build for profit and most are not installing the technologies needed until forced to do so, eg solar panels or heat pumps. Any thoughts how to overcome this barrier?”
- “With regard to retrofit and how we find local trades etc, a good example is the Futureproof project. It’s vital that supply and demand are stimulated at the same time. Badly timed grant schemes that are too short are causing huge problems. Citizens want to act, and then find that the supply chain simply doesn’t exist in their area, and they lose heart.”
- “Here’s an Open Environmental Data Project where we’re building this overlap between communities.”
- “This is one of the projects where citizens are helping leverage data via sensors – and another one.”
- “This is the Climate Outreach resource Rachel is mentioning just now.
- “Local initiatives based on the specific situation on the ground is the way to do this. The pandemic response has illustrated this starkly this year.”
- “More councils using similar or the same frameworks for tracking and taking climate action would also help sharing and reuse of good practice.”
- “In the UK charging points are holding back the transition to electric cars, particularly the reliability of the charging points. I wonder if anything can be done to help?”
- “In the UK planning system we have a low level called Neighbourhood Plans which need to cover minimisation and impacts of Climate change. The Government intends to computerise these.”
- “We’ve tried to do the best for our Neighbourhood plan by our own research but it should have been better connected to the data. Hopefully future NPs can be better connected. … Perhaps there could be boilerplate material available for Climate change data input to Neighbourhood plans. It’s taken us 4 years to curate relevant material :-(”
- “There are so many NDP groups trying hard on this and MHCLG has let them down by not centralising a lot of data and making this available to them. But this is because MHCLG does not prioritise climate. ”
- “Last May Congress changed its rules to allow for electronic document submission—does anyone have a legislature template or schema so that this kind of participatory climate data can be archived and discovered for example, during research on legislative history? For lawmakers?”
- “The west coast fires in the USA has created a massive opening up of general awareness of vulnerability …we need to figure out how to channel the momentum now…”
Next Friday (13 November), two years after the first climate emergency declaration by a UK council, we’ll be demoing a new online service to help people find and understand councils’ climate action plans at the Climate Emergency: Taking Action Together online conference.
The conference will explore how councils, other public organisations, businesses, charities and communities can all work together to develop radical action plans to deliver on their climate commitments.
Back in March, we kicked off a small crowdsourcing project gathering councils’ climate action plans in an open spreadsheet. A lot has changed since then, but the urgency of responding to climate change becomes ever more acute. With the pandemic providing proof that we can change our behaviour in extraordinary ways, and now that many of us have, of necessity, narrowed our focus to the world on our doorstep, this work seems more important, more challenging, and yet more possible than ever.
Three guiding principles
In September, Climate Assembly UK, the citizens’ assembly commissioned by the UK parliament to answer the question of how should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, produced its final recommendations. We were proud to be part of the team working on the assembly, and particularly happy to be able to make the comprehensive report available in readable, navigable, accessible and mobile-friendly HTML online.
The randomly selected people from all walks of life and all across the UK who made up the assembly chose and agreed a set of principles to guide their work. The top three were:
- Informing and educating everyone (the public, industry, individuals and government)
- Fairness within the UK, including for the most vulnerable (affordability, jobs, UK regions, incentives and rewards) in actions, not just words
- Leadership from government that is clear, proactive, accountable and consistent
We’re committed to a climate response that follows these principles, and believe that local government and local communities – individuals, institutions, and businesses – have a key and difficult role to play together.
As the recent Institute for Government report on getting to Net Zero noted,
“The local level has become a key outlet for public enthusiasm to address climate change. This is one reason why it is important to address the co-ordination and capability problems that are holding back local efforts – or else this enthusiasm will turn to disillusionment as aspirations cannot be achieved.”
This is a huge challenge, and getting the right information is part of it. We’re hoping to use our data and service design skills to play a part in helping councils learn from each other’s ideas and successes, and in helping citizens find and engage with their councils’ climate plans.
An open dataset of action plans
With your help, and working with ClimateEmergency.uk, we’ve created a first basic dataset of all the council climate action plans that are publicly available. The headline is that 269 out of 414 councils we researched (around 65%) have a current public plan outlining their response to the climate emergency.
In the last few months of this year, we’re doing research to better understand the challenges of producing and improving these plans, and of understanding, discussing and scrutinising them.
Helpful for councils — and citizens
We know that people working inside councils to produce plans are looking for inspiration – “What’s worked in other places like ours? How do you do it on a budget? How do I persuade my colleagues that it can be done? How do I talk to residents about the options?”
Citizens who want to have a say in their council’s plan may struggle to find it in the first place, or to understand what the council can and can’t do, how to influence them, or how their plan compares to others.
We’ve also been working on a minimal viable digital service that will meet some of the basic needs that people have around these challenges – one that supports quickly finding plans and starts to put them in context.
How to find out more
So if you can, join us at the Climate Emergency UK: Taking Action Together online conference next week on Friday 13th November. We’ll be giving the first public demo of that service, which will allow anyone to quickly and easily find out if their council has a plan, and to filter and search within all these action plans.
We think that will be useful in itself and we’re really excited to be putting it out into the world – but we’re also going to be developing our ideas on how to sustain and expand the service. This is still an early stage project for us, but we think it’s one where we believe our skills can play a part in catalysing action and enabling people to come together to make these plans reality.
Image: Master Wen
Many thanks, too, to our panelists, who spoke so knowledgeably and engagingly about the experiences of parliaments around the world that have been forced to make a quick switch to digital technologies during the COVID months.
Julia Keutgen of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Avinash Bikha of the Centre for Innovation in Parliament and Lord Purvis of Tweed from the UK’s House of Lords were led in conversation by mySociety’s Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul.
We heard about parliaments in Morocco, Brazil, Chile, the Maldives, and of course the UK, with a rounded view of the benefits of quick digitisation against the challenges and inconveniences. Naturally, parliaments and their members come in all shapes and sizes around the world, and their readiness or suitability for transferring to online methods vary accordingly.
On the negative side, some representatives have struggled to adapt, especially if older; and all may be missing the nuances of face to face conversations with their colleagues.
But there are positives too, with MPs able to spend more time in their constituencies helping constituents, and (close to mySociety’s heart, this one) a quicker turnaround of digital data on voting results.
Watch the video to hear plenty more detail on this engrossing topic.
The third and final TICTeC Seminar in our autumn 2020 series will focus on civic tech’s role in the climate crisis and will take place next month — date TBC. Sign up for TICTeC updates and we’ll send you an alert once timings are confirmed.
Finally, if you work on, use, fund or research civic technology, we would be really grateful if you could spare some time to help us shape the future of TICTeC by filling in this survey.
Image: Joakim Honkasalo.