1. TICTeC Show & Tells: Call for Proposals now open

    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.

    Sponsorship opportunities

    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!

  2. What role for Civic Tech, and open data, in mitigating the climate crisis?

    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 tictec@mysociety.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…”
  3. Making it easier to explore council climate action plans

    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

  4. Digitising parliaments: it took a pandemic

    Thanks to all who attended the second in our series of TICTeC Seminars this week: and if you weren’t able to attend, catch up with the video or read the collaborative notes taken during the session.

    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.

  5. Join us at LocalGovCamp

    We’re longstanding supporters of LocalGovCamp, the conference where innovators in Local Government come together to share knowledge on how to improve services.

    This year we’re both sponsoring it and running a couple of hands-on, interactive sessions. All online, of course, given the way things are these days.

    On Tuesday 6 October, join a mySociety-led discussion with Mark and Zarino, on how consistent data standards across councils could open the doors to much better innovation.

    We’ll be looking at our own Keep It In The Community project, nodding to our Council Climate Action Plans database, and inviting attendees to join a wider discussion on how we can encourage better joined-up data across councils.

    And on Weds 7 October, our designer Martin will be running a mock ‘consequence scanning’ exercise. He’ll take participants through a new and useful way of assessing and mitigating risks in new government services, as conceived by Dot Everyone, recently taken up by Future Cities Catapult, and now used successfully in service design workshops by SocietyWorks.

    We hope you’ll come along and enjoy some good discussion and deep dives into local government service improvement: find out more and book your place here.

     

  6. Catch up with the first TICTeC Seminar

    Open Data: an essential, not just ‘nice to have’

    Would societies around the world be better able to respond to the pandemic, if more or better open data were freely available?

    That was the question put to our expert panel on Tuesday, in the first in our series of online TICTeC Seminars.

    Karabo Rajuili of Open Ownership, Olivier Thereaux from Open Data Institute and Fabrizio Scrollini of the Open Data Latin American Initiative (ILDA) were led in a discussion by our own Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul.

    We heard of the need for — and simultaneously the impossibility of — a rapidly-constructed open data standard; the benefits and dangers of releasing data about COVID to a potentially uninformed public; and the need for good ownership data to be freely available in a fast-moving procurement environment in which there may not be the tools to investigate where money is being spent.

    After the speakers had laid out their positions, the floor was opened for questions, each of which ignited still more informed debate. Finally, attendees were invited to a quick (and optional!) networking session in which they could speak to other attendees more directly.

    If that all sounds interesting, you can catch up on the main session for yourself by watching the video or reading the collaborative notes that were taken by attendees.

    There are still two more TICTeC Seminars in this series to go, so do join us to take part in the conversation.

    On 20 October, panelists will discuss why it’s taken a pandemic for more parliaments to digitise; while in November (date TBC) the topic will be the climate crisis. Find full details for both sessions here, and don’t forget you can sign up for TICTeC updates.

    Also: 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.

     

  7. Talking TICTeC 2021

    We need your input on the future of TICTeC – read on to find out more about our plans and have your say.

    We’ve been running our Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) since 2015, and in that time it’s become a key annual milestone for the sector to stop, gather and take stock of how civic technology is shaping societies around the world.

    We believe more than ever in TICTeC’s core ethos: that every organisation developing and running technology that serves citizens — including ourselves — 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.

    Such an approach is especially important for organisations involved in democratic and civic technology, as active, informed and engaged citizens are needed now more than ever to tackle vital issues such as climate change, systemic racism, and health crises. If the tools we build to empower citizens to get things done don’t serve them or function as planned; then it’s time to do things differently.

    TICTeC allows attendees to learn from each other to do this, by sharing best practices, research, methodologies and lessons learnt – so that, ultimately, better civic and democratic tools are developed.

    We will meet again

    TICTeC truly is a global gathering, bringing together around 200 attendees from around 30 countries from across the world.

    Usually, by this time of year, we are well into the organisation of next year’s TICTeC, which we traditionally hold in March or April, in a different global city each year. And by September, we’ve usually decided where we’ll be holding the event and announced all the details including our open Call for Proposals and registration.

    However, this year, as we all know, has been like no other.

    Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the complications it brings for organising global gatherings, we have chosen not to pursue our usual plans. Therefore, for the first time since 2015 we are not planning to run an in-person TICTeC in March/April next year.

    We are instead considering our options for hosting the in-person TICTeC later in 2021, and in addition to our online TICTeC Seminar series this autumn (please do come!), we’d like to organise some further TICTeC initiatives in spring 2021.

    Help us shape TICTeC

    We’d like to make our next TICTeC initiatives as useful as possible to all those working on, using, funding or researching civic technology. What would you find helpful? What would best meet your needs and goals? More seminars? Perhaps workshops, training or networking events? Virtual or in-person? Or perhaps other initiatives that don’t involve actually convening in either of these ways, like podcasts, forums or information sharing?

    We are really keen to hear your feedback on this, as well as on the development and improvement of TICTeC in general. You can let us know your thoughts by filling out this survey or emailing us directly on tictec@mysociety.org. We’d be grateful for any feedback before 31st October 2020.

    Time to reflect

    We’re obviously disappointed to not be organising TICTeC as usual this year, as it is truly a massive highlight for us, and is one of the few gatherings of the global civic tech community left. However, we’re determined that we will meet again and we’re glad to have some time to reflect on how we do things.

    The last few months have been a good time to reflect, speak to other event hosts, attend as many virtual events as possible, review virtual platforms, update our environmental policies, and think about how we can use TICTeC to raise more underrepresented voices.

    So as well as changing the time of year we host TICTeC in 2021, we’ll also be organising things differently. We have a new Environmental Policy that will govern our decisions about future TICTeCs – e.g. hosting in cities that more attendees can reach by train/sea; carbon offsetting; opting for catering with the lowest carbon footprints; and encouraging attendees to play their own part in keeping their carbon footprints down or offsetting etc. And we’re working on plans to make TICTeC as diverse, inclusive and equitable as possible.

    We will continue to reflect and adjust, and your feedback will really help us with this, so we’re really grateful for your thoughts.

    If you’d like to hear about future TICTeC initiatives first, then do consider signing up to our mailing list or joining the TICTeC community on the Google Group.

  8. Join us at our TICTeC Seminars

    We’re not ones to say ‘told you so’, but…

    If more digitalisation, transparency and accountability mechanisms had been adopted before the coronavirus pandemic hit, it’s clear that many outcomes would have been different today.

    Civic tech, digital democracy and open government organisations have been championing these reforms and mechanisms for decades, with the pandemic serving as a tragic example of why they’re essential and not just ‘nice to have’.

    Join mySociety and guests this autumn for a series of online discussions as part of our Impacts of Civic Technology (TICTeC) events programme, to reflect on the impacts of the above, and why digital transparency and accountability are more relevant than ever going forward.

    Seminar 1:

    Having more open data, and access to data, would have helped with responding to the COVID-19 crisis — that’s the premise with which we’ll start this discussion.

    More open contracting and beneficial ownership data would have helped governments the world over to make quicker and safer purchases of essential equipment to tackle COVID-19 — and that’s just one example of how a reliable open data strategy could have saved time… and lives.

    Join us to discuss this timely and important topic by registering here.

    Seminar 2:

    Things that once were deemed by governments as impossible or not important enough – like remote voting – have become a reality in parliaments across the world since the emergence of COVID-19.

    This session will get to the crux of why it’s taken a global pandemic to get more parliaments to digitise, and how new measures should be harnessed so future opportunities are not missed. Register here to join us.

    Seminar 3:

    The pandemic may be taking up all the column inches, but let’s not forget that the climate emergency hasn’t gone away.

    With the UN COP26 delayed until November 2021, this ‘borrowed’ time is crucial. We think it’s vital that we and the TICTeC community discuss the climate crisis and how the wealth of experience and expertise in the civic tech sector can feed into pivotal actions needed to tackle it. What can be learnt from previous civic tech initiatives, and from the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure the right decisions are taken and opportunities are not missed?

    More details on the exact date, topic and panelists for this discussion will be added here and to the TICTeC website soon. If you would like to suggest a speaker or topic for this discussion (or ideas for future TICTeC seminars!) please get in touch; we’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Join the conversation

    There will be ample opportunity for attendees to ask questions during the seminars, and engage in the conversation via chat and interactive polls.

    Each discussion will be followed by an optional speed networking session. Attendees who stay will be split into small groups so they can introduce themselves and their work; discuss their thoughts on the session topic; and get to know some new people.

    We hope you can join us!

  9. TICTeC goes virtual: running a large scale international conference online

    Last week, we held our first ever online conference.

    TICTeC, mySociety’s annual Impacts of Civic Technology conference, was to have run in Reykjavik on 24 and 25 March, but those plans were, like so many others, scuppered by the COVID-19 outbreak. Instead, on those same dates, over 250 people from 30 different countries joined us for a cut-down programme of online presentations from a selection of the speakers who’d planned to join us in Iceland.

    There’s no doubt that a conference is more fun when you all assemble in the same place, make connections and maybe enjoy some socialising too. Nonetheless, we now have proof that the essential part of TICTeC, the dissemination of research and knowledge — as well as at least part of the friendly socialising — can be managed virtually. As we all seek to decrease our carbon footprints, that is important knowledge.

    Other organisations are of course also looking to take their events online, and now that TICTeC is all done, several have asked if we could share some tips.

    So Gemma, mySociety’s Events Organiser, has shared all the logistics below and we hope that these will be useful. As she points out, this may not be the best way to run a conference online, but it certainly achieved everything we’d hoped for in the ten days we had available to put something together.

    Step 1: Making a decision

    Cancelling the real-world TICTeC was a real wrench: months of work had gone into arranging speakers, putting together the agenda, booking the venue and flights, and so on. Of course, as time went on, and the lockdown became more extensive, it became clear that there really wouldn’t have been the option to do otherwise.

    But we were left with a decision: should we postpone TICTeC, or perhaps simply forget all about it for this year? Or we could try to move it online.

    That decision had to be made fairly rapidly, since we’d cancelled only a couple of weeks before the event. It made sense to stick to the same dates if we were going online, because people had already earmarked them as time they’d be away from their workplace.

    So we decided we’d go for a virtual conference, and Gemma turned her formidable organisation skills away from Reykjavik and towards pulling this new kind of event together — all while wading through the long list of cancellations: the venue, staff flights, caterers, hotels, etc, etc.

    mySociety obviously has some advantages when it comes to this sort of thing: we’ve been working remotely since our inception; and a large proportion of our staff is technically adept. That said, we didn’t build anything. The technical aspect really only came into play to help us make decisions on what existing third party platform/s we would use, so if your own organisation is not so tecchy, you may find that you can benefit from our decisions and follow this plan anyway.

    Step 2: Rearranging the agenda

    Once we knew we were going ahead, Gemma contacted all the speakers to find out who would be willing to do their presentations virtually, what the practical challenges were for each, and how we could get around them. For example, was their wifi signal strong enough, or would they need to rely on data? If the latter, could we pay for them to top it up?

    These were significant considerations that if we hadn’t attended to them could actually have derailed the conference. In fact our intrepid keynote Nanjala Nyabola in Kenya found herself running to buy more data for her phone just minutes before her session began.

    People who would have been running workshops were asked if they’d like to create a ‘fringe event’ — ie, they would do the set-up for their own online session, and we would promote it on the TICTeC agenda.

    We decided not to try and run two full days, as that is a long time for anyone to sit in front of a screen. Instead, we scheduled the line up from 1pm to 5pm GMT each day, which also fitted in with a wide range of timezones.

    Timezones played a part in the practicalities of putting together a schedule, too, with speakers from countries from Taiwan to South America — obviously we didn’t want to be asking anyone to have to make a presentation at three in the morning their time! Here’s the final line-up.

    Step 3: Deciding on and setting up the tech

    zoom pandemic scooby doo memeYou’ve probably seen the jokey meme going round suggesting that Zoom, the online conferencing platform, was actually behind the pandemic — they certainly seem to be getting a lot of custom from it, and we have to admire how they’ve coped with the increased capacity.

    We, too, decided to use Zoom, as it had been recommended by a few people we trust. Zoom isn’t entirely frictionless — you have to set up an account and it prompts you to download a piece of software before using it the first time — but it’s robust and did pretty much everything we wanted it to.

    Additionally we used Slido, which allows people to submit questions and then everyone can vote for the ones they most want to hear the answers to. We’d seen this used to great effect by Audrey Tang who was our keynote-via-video link-up at TICTeC in Florence, in 2017.

    Then finally we set up a Google Drive folder containing a document for each session so everyone could contribute to collaborative note-taking, and where we also stored speakers’ slides.

    Gemma created a staff roles document ahead of the conference to brief the team. It was worth running through each simple task via a video call with staff about a week before the conference to make sure everyone understood their duties — this prevented any hiccups.

    If you’d like to see the nitty gritty of the various options we went for in Zoom and Slido, see this document.

    Step 4: belt and braces

    Gemma got in touch with the headline speakers for some trial runs, to test how well their connection would stand up on the day.

    If there was some danger that the connection wouldn’t be good enough and a speaker wouldn’t be able to make their presentation, Gemma asked them to prepare a video of their talk as a safety net.

    In the event, everything was fine and we didn’t need to switch to video, but it was good to know that we had that fallback.

    Gemma also advises to be prepared for your own connection going down, which happened to her mid-TICTeC! She found that tethering off her phone worked just as well if not better than her home broadband, so if you don’t know how to do this, it is worth looking it up. Instructions will vary depending on your phone set-up.

    Step 5: promotion

    Creating the event generated a Zoom URL, which we then shared with speakers.

    Next, we needed to make sure that as many people as possible knew that the event was happening. We put the word out via our newsletter (with an extra reminder being sent out on the morning of the first day), and every civic tech-related mailing list or Facebook group we could think of. We also sent out scores of tweets highlighting each speaker, and a few Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram posts.

    All of these communications linked to a central blog post which explained what people needed to do to participate (ie make sure they had access to Zoom, etc) and linked to the agenda. On the agenda were:

    • the timings and schedule
    • the links to Zoom, Slido and the Google docs

    Keeping all the information in one place meant that if anything changed, we only had to edit that document. We asked everyone to share the information widely.

    Mainly due to the lack of time we didn’t set up any kind of registration, such as an Eventbrite page. This had the positive effect that there were fewer barriers to joining in (and that anyone learning about the event while it was in progress, say, via Twitter, could just hop on), but it also meant that people wouldn’t receive an automatic reminder of the event starting, and that we had absolutely no idea how many people to expect.

    Anyone with the Zoom meeting URL could join. Zoom prefers people to download their launcher, but we heard from a couple of sources that this isn’t necessary or particularly desirable, so we also linked to this page on how to use your browser instead.

    Step 6: running the event

    We always take several mySociety staff members to help run TICTeC. If you’re thinking that a virtual conference would require less manpower, that’s not what we found. We called on all of the colleagues who would have been with us in Reykjavik to help make sure TICTeC online went smoothly. There were numerous tasks: none of them was particularly grueling, but put together, they’d definitely have been too much for just one or two people to handle.

    See this document for full details of everything that was going on behind the scenes while TICTeC was running.

    In short, while Bec and Mark (Head of Research and CEO) were introducing speakers and running the Q&A sessions  — a job requiring a surprising amount of energy — Gemma was manning a second Zoom conference, the ‘green room’, where speakers could test their connections, mics, cameras and slides before coming into the main one.

    Sam, our sysadmin, was on hand in case anything failed. Myf, Communications Manager was clearing Slido between sessions and tweeting to let people know what was going on. Other staff members were ensuring that notes were being taken on the collaborative documents, and keeping an eye on Zoom chat to see if anyone needed help.

    Knowing that people would be joining the event at different times throughout the two days, we kept repeating messages in Zoom’s chat about the location of Google docs, the conference hashtag, and that people should use Slido rather than Zoom to pose questions.

    Slido made it easy for our two conference compères to ask speakers the most popular questions during conference Q&As. During the conference, we frequently reminded attendees in the Zoom chat to ask and vote for questions on Slido.

    Step 7: sharing the event

    Thanks to Zoom’s add-on allowing us to record the event, we now have videos of the whole thing, as well as a copy of everything that was said in chat.

    We edited the recording down into individual sessions, which you can see on our YouTube channel.

    Where we have them, the slides for the presentations are in the Google Drive, as are the notes.

    Step 8: look back and evaluate

    So, how was it for you?

    We can’t pretend we offered anything like all the joys of swinging by the Blue Lagoon or Seljalandsfoss, checking in with associates to enjoy a pricey Icelandic beer, and mingling with the friendly civic tech community face to face. Those things, sadly, are on hold for the foreseeable.

    But we do think we managed to produce something special.

    There really was a sense of camaraderie and togetherness in our virtual Zoom conference room, perhaps borne of all those previous TICTeCs where people have had time to build up relationships in real life.

    The presentations went well. Speakers came through loud and clear; their personalities were not reduced and their points were not diluted by the online environment. It was just as easy to take in the information and to pose questions as it would have been in a conference hall. Small jokes resonated and the resulting chuckles rippled across the world.

    To our relief, and perhaps to some small degree of surprise, everything went smoothly. Gemma mostly puts this down to the planning and practice we did in the week or so beforehand, but also to colleagues and to the speakers and attendees all approaching this novel set-up with a degree of trust and a willingness to try.

    We’re hugely grateful to the speakers and attendees who made all of this possible. Thanks, too, to our sponsors Luminate, Google, Facebook, the Citizens’ Foundation and Balsamiq, all of whom stuck with us as we pivoted to an online event.

    Finally, kudos to Gemma who really is the linchpin of all our events and whose refusal to be daunted by a vast list of admin practicalities repeatedly serves as an inspiration to us all.

    We are all very much hoping that soon enough, our community can all be in the same room again. And goodness, won’t we all appreciate it.

  10. TICTeC’s going online

    Thanks to the travel restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, TICTeC will not be going ahead in Reykjavik. Instead, we will be taking the TICTeC experience online. We very much hope you’ll join us from the comfort of your own homes.

    Here’s everything you need to know to be a part of the first ever completely virtual version of our annual Impacts of Civic Technology conference.

    When

    On the afternoons of Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 March.

    Tuesday: 13:00 to 17:00 GMT

    Wednesday: 13:00 to 17:10 GMT

    There’ll also be fringe events happening around these times.

    How much?

    Free of charge, of course.

    What’s the agenda?

    You can see the timings for each session on the agenda here. Join us for the whole lot, or dip in and out to the parts that interest you.

    We’re delighted to say that we’ll still have barnstorming keynote sessions from Nanjala Nyabola and Hollie Russon Gilman, each giving profound insights into the extraordinary political times we are living in, from a global perspective.

    There’ll also be sessions from representatives of Iceland‘s local and national government and civil society; research presented from Uganda, Taiwan, North and South America and beyond; and speakers from a range of organisations including Civic Hall, Citizens Foundation of Iceland, g0v.tw, Transparency International UK, The African Legal Information Institute, Frag Den Staat… and more.

    So TICTeC will still be allowing you to gain insights from all around the world, sticking to our mission of bringing together practitioners, commentators, academics and funders to debate, network, and share research and knowledge in the civic tech field.

    What else is going on?

    There will be fringe events as well (details TBA) and the opportunity to chat online with other attendees.

    What do I need to take part?

    Zoom

    Presentations will be taking place via Zoom. Before TICTeC starts, please make sure you have downloaded the Zoom launcher, or read this page to learn more about Zoom, including how to use it in your browser. The link to TICTeC is https://zoom.us/j/528401903.

    This link is also on the agenda page.

    Slido

    Slido allows the audience to submit and vote for audience questions, so the ones that the speaker answers are the ones most people want to hear. Once the event is live, just enter the code at the top of the agenda on slido.com in your browser. If you prefer to use the app, download it here.

    Access to Google docs

    There’ll be a collaborative document for each session where we can all work together to take notes for each session. Find them all here.

    You won’t need a Google account to view or add to these documents.

    You might want to do all this in good time before Tuesday, just to make sure everything works!

    What if I can’t make those dates?

    We’ll be putting the videos online afterwards, and you can check the notes as well. So the only thing you’ll miss out on is the real-time chatting and networking.

    Please spread the word

    We have room for literally thousands of participants, so this is the chance for anyone who has an interest in Civic Tech to come and enjoy some great presentations for free.

    Let’s take this opportunity to widen our audience and put the word out through social media, newsletters, blog posts, wherever people will see it. Thanks!

    We want to extend our thanks to the sponsors and supporters of TICTeC 2020: