As Mark mentioned last month I have recently joined mySociety as Product Manager in the Better Cities team. This is something of a departure for me as I have spent most of my career working for large, publicly funded institutions — places like the Office for National Statistics, Medical Research Council and Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to name but three.
That said a large part of all those roles was trying to convince colleagues of the benefits of using the kind of products and services organisations like mySociety provide so maybe it isn’t that big a leap after all.
It has been a long held ambition of mine to work for mySociety — looking back it was almost 10 years ago when I first mentioned them/us on my blog and the organisation has been a consistent influence on me ever since with a number of former staff, trustees and volunteers becoming friends and colleagues over the intervening years.
It was my gateway to the wider world of the ‘civic tech’ community to which I have been a proud contributor for many years now — most recently mainly through running a weekly jobs list for public service minded organisations seeking digital staff.
At the moment I am primarily focused on learning as much as I can about our FixMyStreet platform (including the ‘..for Councils’ product) and investigating the MapIt service as well. As I get up to speed with things I am also taking the opportunity to get about and about — attending events and trying to meet people who make use of our projects.
In the weeks to come I’ll be attending MeasureCamp in Cardiff (4th February), giving a talk at World IA Day in Manchester (18th February), speaking at BathHacked on the 22nd February (Bath), helping out at day one of Open Data Camp in Cardiff (25th February), going to ProductCampon the 4th March (London) and giving a lightning talk at the launch of the new Tech4Good group in Bristol on the 23rd March. All this as well as hosting my regular ‘minimal viable meet-up’ on the 8th February in Bristol.
If you are attending any of these events please and want to chat ‘Better Cities’, civic tech or just want to get hold of one of our lovely stickers please come and say hi — there are rarely any other attendees who sound as Bristolian as I do so I am usually easy to find. Also if there are any events you’d like to suggest I attend — either to give a talk about the mySociety ‘Better Cities’ work or just generally an opportunity for me to learn more about how people are using digital tools to engage with and influence local democracy please do let me know.
I am @jukesie on Twitter (be warned — I am something of a prolific tweeter!) and my email is email@example.com so please get in touch.
Audrey is Taiwan’s Minister for Digital, and is part of a massive shake-up that has seen that country embrace unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and citizen participation. Her keynote will describe some of the ground-breaking methods they’ve introduced.
One of these is Audrey’s famous accessibility. Using a public platform, she is happy to answer questions from anyone, and endeavours to do so within 48 hours. We posed ours there, but we’re replicating them below for our readers to follow.
Such is her schedule that Audrey will be delivering her keynote virtually, but there will be an opportunity for delegates to put questions to her live. Accordingly, we’ve gone a little more in-depth with this conversation.
Why haven’t we in the West heard more about the transformations that have been happening in Taiwan? They really are so ground-breaking — do you have any idea why they might not have received more global coverage?
There is reasonable regional coverage in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. However, global awareness is limited by Taiwan’s restricted participation in multilateral organisations, as well as the relative lack of English material (somewhat ameliorated by recent advances in machine translation).
How would we go about encouraging our own governments to follow in your footsteps? You visited the UK Parliament recently: what was your perception of how they are doing on the Open Government front?
While rules, playbooks and tools are reusable, each government’s political context is unique, so I would encourage everyone to pave their own path instead.
I didn’t stay long enough to learn about UK’s progress — looking forward to learn more from mySociety folks in the future, perhaps when TICTeC comes to Asia. 🙂
TICTeC is all about measuring the impact of civic technologies. Do you have systems in place that help you assess the effectiveness of the measures you put in place?
Yes, there are quantitative engagement metrics and surveys, though they are mostly in Chinese — for example for the petition platform [opens as document; in Chinese].
Clearly, it’s early days yet, but have your implementations been an unqualified success?
For the past 100 days, our main contributions are proceeding well — providing an internal collaboration platform (sandstorm.io) for participation officers from every ministry; requiring all regulations and trade-related laws to be open for public discussion (join.gov.tw); as well as help codifying an open multi-stakeholder mechanism into the draft of Digital Communications Act.
What feedback have you had from citizens and the national press?
In Taiwan’s post-2014 political climate, mainstream press and citizens would never call for “less transparency”, so people mostly respond favourably — of course, there are calls for more accountability and more informed participation, for meaningful conversations to form around divisive issues.
What proportion of the population has taken part in your crowd-sourcing projects? Do you worry about the elderly or less connected not being sufficiently represented in decision-making?
As a proponent of assistive civic tech, it is important that we seek diversity of opinion (not zero-sum voting) and each engagement venue opens up access for previously unavailable folks (not taking existing venues away) — see this write-up by LÜ Chia-Hua.
Of course, even in a democracy of feelings, there will still be some people who lose out, or see a decision that doesn’t go the way they wanted. Are you sensing more understanding from these people, since they’ve gone through the online debates process?
Yes. Generally we come up with rough consensus that people can live with — as long as the procedure are transparent and accountable, we are seeing people who did not get what they initially demanded nevertheless help defending the result.
How stressful is it for a human being to hold themself up to constant public scrutiny? Transparency is of course a laudable aim, but might it sometimes be at the cost of a person’s own downtime or privacy?
Private meetings and on-the-record transcripts are fully compatible; note that we allow each participant to make corrections for ten days after the meeting: here are our guidelines.
A large proportion of Taiwanese politicians are Independents. Do you think party politics is now an outdated system?
In the cabinet there are more independents than members of any party, but in the parliament every party has more MPs than independents.
How can digital technologies bridge the gap between citizen and state without simply reverting to irrelevant soundbite politics or Twitter trolling?
We need to partner with (and become) media to make relevant facts as easy — and eventually easier — to spread.
What is the importance of TICTeC? Why assess the impact of civic technologies?
Informed discussions need to be rooted in evidence. If we are to build a global democratic network of feelings, we need to make sure that these feelings are reflective — this is only possible when they are built upon facts.
Finally: what are your next steps? Are there any more big innovations you plan to introduce during your time in cabinet?
For scalable listening to work, we need to engage people who prefer interactive & tangible understanding, including children. This post outlines the initial steps; and this one outlines the main vision.
Book your place at TICTeC
If you enjoyed reading this interview, it’s time to book your ticket for TICTeC, where every conversation will directly examine the impacts of civic technologies.
And for those who would like to present their own insights, better hurry: the call for papers runs until February 10.
Last week, we announced the keynote speakers for TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technology conference 2017.
Now we’re going to look at each of them in more depth, starting with Tiago Carneiro Peixoto of the World Bank. His keynote is titled (Un)Civic Tech? and will be looking at how sometimes, despite high hopes, civic technologies don’t deliver everything that’s been hoped for.
Most importantly, Tiago will examine the tangible effects of civic tech on participation, inclusiveness, and governmental action — and then go on to outline which research agendas we should be pursuing now.
We zipped a few questions across to Tiago and he was happy to give us some answers.
(Un)Civic Tech? — that’s quite a bold title, given that your listeners will all be people working in the arena of Civic Tech and with a strong belief in its power to do good! Should we be worried?
Actually my initial title was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Civic Tech”, so it’s not all just bad and ugly. But no, you shouldn’t be worried. Unless you are extremely prone to confirmation bias!
TICTeC is all about assessing the impacts of Civic Technology, making you a particularly relevant speaker. What measures does the World Bank have in place in order to assess the impact of the work that it does?
The measures depend on the problem at hand.
But some of the recurrent measures we look at are related to the effects of technology on uptake, inclusiveness, citizens’ decision-making, and governments’ responsiveness.
For those who are getting started on the subject, I would suggest taking a look at one of our recent publications, Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement: A Practical Guide.
It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.
Part of our work can also be found at the Open Government Research Exchange, which is a partnership between GovLab, mySociety, and the World Bank’s Digital Engagement Evaluation Team.
But the best illustration of our measures and findings — which will be presented later this year — are not public yet. So, for those who would like to see it first-hand, I would suggest they come to Florence for TICTeC.
What do you perceive to be the value of TICTeC?
One of the key values of TICTeC is that it is convened by mySociety — which, since its creation, has been one of the leading organisations actually doing civic technology work.
The curation of the conference by mySociety’s team, combined with mySociety’s reputation and network, naturally tends to draw the participation of high-level researchers who are more likely to be dealing with concrete problems in the civic tech space.
What are you looking forward to getting out of the conference yourself?
Of course, I’m very curious to see the research that will be presented at the conference, and how it has evolved in relationship to previous conferences.
I am also very interested in meeting new researchers and exploring venues for collaboration with them. But I hope that the conference is also an opportunity to collectively move towards a more coordinated and problem-driven research agenda.
TICTeC brings together researchers and practitioners in Civic Tech. If you could give a single message to the community, what would it be?
It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.
You’ve done some interesting work with FixMyStreet data. What did you discover there?
We are happy to have conducted what is, to our knowledge, the first empirical work examining the effect of government responsiveness on citizens’ participation.
The fact that we did this in collaboration with mySociety and using FixMyStreet data is something we are particularly proud of.
We are now looking into other issues, such as predictors of government responsiveness. In other words, what makes governments “tick”? Does it matter who you are for governments to respond?
While these may seem like trivial questions, they have important implications for the design and performance of solutions like FixMyStreet. I don’t want to anticipate our preliminary findings now, but I will certainly do so at TICTeC.
So there you have it: several more good reasons to book your ticket for TICTeC now.
Or, if you have something to say, why not submit an abstract?
You can be sure of seeing thought-provoking speakers at TICTeC, all focusing on the vital area of researching the impacts of Civic Technologies. We put a lot of effort into making sure of that!
And we especially strive to bring you keynote speakers who are inspiring, insightful, surprising… in some cases even provocative. You may still recall last year’s keynote Helen Milner asking ‘Is Civic Tech just an amusing pastime of the middle-classes?’.
For TICTeC 2017, we can promise keynotes that are just as compelling. We’re delighted to say that each day’s proceedings will be kicked off by Tiago Carneiro Peixoto and Audrey Tang.
Tiago Carneiro Peixoto
Tiago is from the World Bank, which has the ambitious mission of reducing world poverty.
As a Senior Public Sector Specialist, Tiago works with governments to develop solutions for better public policies and services. As you might expect, that involves research around technology, citizen engagement and governance, to help understand how those things can intersect for the good of all. One example of that is the research using FixMyStreet reports, which demonstrated how government responsiveness can lead to citizens becoming more engaged.
If you’d like further reason to pay attention to his keynote, well, Tiago was featured in TechCrunch as one of the twenty most innovative people in democracy. We know he’ll have plenty to say that is of direct interest to TICTeC delegates.
In her inauguration speech, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said, “Before, democracy was a clash between two opposing values, but now democracy must be a conversation, a dialogue, between many different values”. To help bring about this vision, she appointed Audrey Tang as Minister for Digital in her new cabinet.
If you think parliamentary proceedings can be as dull as ditchwater, you may be in for a surprise. Audrey was not a standard appointment: she comes from a background of activist hacking, for one thing.
Since her arrival in August 2016, the government has undergone a colossal transformation into one of the most open and participatory administrations operating in the world today, ranking top in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Index.
Audrey will be running through some of those groundbreaking changes in her keynote at TICTeC. Note that she’ll be ‘appearing’ virtually — she’s very much in demand — but there will still be the opportunity to pose questions to her live.
Stand by, as we’ll shortly profile our two keynotes further. For now, we hope your appetite has been suitably whetted.
If you’re interested in presenting a session or workshop at TICTeC, see the Call for Papers here — and submit before February 10.
Registration to attend is available at the earlybird price until March 10 — book here.
Now the new year’s begun, we’re allowing ourselves to get excited about The Impacts of Civic Technology conference in April. This will be the 3rd annual TICTeC, bringing researchers, practitioners and activists together in Florence, Italy.
TICTeC was a sell-out last year, so if you’re hoping to participate, make sure you don’t miss the boat! Here are the important dates for your diary:
For those who would like to run a workshop or give a presentation: please ensure you have submitted your abstract by this date.
Earlybird registration ends, so if you want to take advantage of the better price for snappy booking, better get to it!
As soon as possible
Once you’re certain that you’ll be joining us, please do book your travel and accommodation as soon as possible. Florence is a popular destination at this time of year — so the longer you leave it, the harder it will be to find well-priced flights and rooms.
25 – 26 April
The conference itself. Keep an eye on the TICTeC website for full details of proceedings as they are announced.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Almost all the videos on our YouTube channel now have subtitles in English. You can tell which ones do, by the small CC symbol beneath each one:
Watching our videos with subtitles
To switch subtitles on or off, you click the CC sign at the bottom right of every video:
If we’ve already provided subtitles for the video you’re watching, that’s what you’ll see. If you’ve picked one of the few we still haven’t got round to, you get YouTube’s automatically-generated subtitles which — while they do obviously represent great strides in voice recognition technology, compared to how things were only a few years ago — can still be a bit hit and miss.
Subtitles make videos more useful for all sorts of people, from the hearing impaired to those who just want to watch without disturbing others. But of course, English subtitles aren’t necessarily useful for people who speak other languages.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) recently asked whether we’d mind them translating some of our subtitles into Arabic. Mind? We were positively delighted.
It turns out that YouTube has really upped its game on subtitles, making it much easier to add them to our own videos, and providing the means for others to contribute too.
Here’s how to view subtitles in another language:
Click on the ‘settings’ cogwheel at the bottom right of the video:
You’ll see a short menu pop up. Click on ‘subtitles/CC’:
Then select the language you require: in this case, you have the choice between Arabic, our own English subtitles, or, for potential comic value, the auto-generated version.
Incredibly, you can also select ‘auto-translate’, which takes the English transcript and gives you what appears to be a fairly reasonable version (presumably run through Google Translate) in any one of more than 100 different languages.
Here’s how to contribute subtitles in another language
If you think our videos might be useful for organisations, researchers or students, but that they would benefit from being able to read the subtitles in their own language, you are more than welcome to contribute a translation.
Begin by clicking on the three dots next to the word ‘More’, and then selecting ‘transcript’ from the drop-down menu:
This will show you the existing transcript in written form. At the top you’ll see a dropdown menu with options for the transcripts which are already in place, and at the bottom, ‘Add subtitles/CC’:
Again, you’ll be shown a list of the translations that we already have, and invited to search for the language that you wish to add — in this case, let’s say Greek:
Click on the name of the language, and you get this simple translation interface, with a box below each section of the existing transcript for you to type your translation into. And as you type, you’ll see how the subtitles will look on the video.
And that’s it! You’ve benefited everyone who speaks your language… and of course we here at mySociety will also be very grateful.
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:
- We’re hoping EveryPolitician data can help some of the projects in the OGP toolbox hackathon
- Bec will be on the Hands-on Accessing and Re-using Parliamentary Data panel at 4:15pm Thursday (lecture theatre, Conseil Economique)
- then at 5pm in the “pitch corner” Bec is reminding people about about TICTeC (that’s our research conference in Florence next year)
- Jen and Dave are running a session on EveryPolitician on Friday at 12:30 (Room 5, Iéna)
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.
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.
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.
- October 24 (Monday): Cartoon County in Brighton. Register via Eventbrite or Facebook
- October 25 (Tuesday): Citizen Beta in London. Register on Citizen Beta’s own site.
- October 26 (Wednesday): Gosh Comics in London. Register via Eventbrite or Facebook
- October 27 (Thursday): Wow and Flutter in Hastings. Register via Eventbrite or Facebook
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 🙂
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.