1. TICTeC: See you tomorrow in beautiful Barcelona

    Yes, time flies — TICTeC really is tomorrow!

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

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

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

    And now: off to Barcelona. ¡Hasta mañana!

     

    Image: Moyan Brenn (CC)

  2. International Citizen Beta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. Introducing TICTeC’s keynote speakers: Guy Grossman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What are you hoping to get out of TICTeC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  4. TICTeC Earlybird tickets: last chance to buy

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

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

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

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

    Book your tickets now

     

     

    Image: Greg Westfall (CC)

  5. Introducing the first of TICTeC’s keynote speakers: Helen Milner OBE

    Helen MillnerTICTeC is our annual conference on the impacts of civic technologies. It’s a great chance to hear from researchers and practitioners right across the sector, from many different countries and with many different approaches.

    Not least among these will be our keynote speakers. Today, we’re delighted to announce the first of these: Helen Milner OBE, CEO of Tinder Foundation.

    Helen has had a long history in delivering training around the internet and particularly, as a means of addressing social exclusion.

    Hi Helen. Give us the elevator pitch: what will you be talking about at TICTeC, in a nutshell?

    Is civic tech an amusing pastime of the middle-classes?

    I’ll be putting a series of questions: is digital trying to fix outdated modes of democracy?

    Are people getting increasingly detached from politics and do they feel that democratic structures are impenetrable no matter how much politicians tweet?

    Is civic tech an amusing pastime of the middle-classes? Or can communities co-design a better future for everyone using tech?

    There are lots of clever people developing democratic and civic tools and apps to help people have a voice—but unless people have the skills to get online, and to use these apps, they will remain the preserve of the digitally confident.

    I will be trying to answer some of these questions and discuss how our efforts can make maximum impact for most people most of the time – and leaving no-one behind.

    And why should people be excited by this?

    As the world becomes increasingly digitised, we cannot allow the chasm between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to get any wider.

    As the world becomes increasingly digitised, we cannot allow the chasm between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to get any wider.

    At Tinder Foundation, we’re committed to helping the 12.6 million people in the UK—and the next 3 billion around the world—who don’t have basic digital skills, and so who aren’t realising all of the benefits of the digital world.

    My work as a Commissioner for the UK Parliament’s Digital Democracy Commission brought me up close to the barriers of history and culture looking from the inside out.

    What are you hoping to get out of TICTeC?

    Tinder Foundation’s ethos is very much about taking collaborative approach to extend our reach and ensure that our models of delivery are co-designed for social challenges, rather than assuming a one-size fits all approach.

    I’m excited about being part of the conversation so that together we can ensure that democratic and civic technology is accessible to everybody in society.

    Where does your passion for digital and social inclusion come from?

    In the UK there are still a shocking 12 million people—and 3 billion worldwide—who lack the basic skills to use the internet and benefit.

    I went to school in south London where I was educated alongside people from all different backgrounds and have always believed in equality of opportunity. In the UK however, there are still a shocking 12 million people – and 3 billion worldwide – who lack the basic skills to use the internet and benefit.

    By not helping these millions and billions of people gain we are further marginalising the most disadvantaged people in society as well as making it less easy for them to have a voice.

    My role on the Digital Democracy Commission presented recommendations about how everybody in society could engage with the democratic process via digital channels, for example the potential for online voting and a website to help make politics more accessible to those who aren’t currently engaging with politics (such as young people).

    The commission also made a strong case for investing in digital skills training in order to ensure that people can participate with a more digitised political system in future, and the same goes for civic tech.

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

    Civic tech is about more than just technology—its evolution should be driven by a desire to include everyone and empowering everyone to participate in decision-making about matters that impact on them: community, housing, education, transport, the environment, budgets, et al.

    Unless there is a shared commitment towards ensuring everyone can engage with democratic and civic tech, the power to influence change in society will continue to be held in the hands of a committed few.

    You won’t want to miss what Helen has to say at TICTeC, so make sure you book your tickets now. Earlybird pricing runs until February 19.

  6. Big Bang Data exhibition

    How is the data explosion transforming our world?

    That’s the question that inspires the Big Bang Data exhibition, running from today until February 28 at Somerset House in London.

    Alongside all kinds of data displays, data-inspired artwork and data-based innovations, the exhibition features our very own FixMyStreet and TheyWorkForYou as examples of websites that are using data for the common good.

    The exhibits range from fun to thought-provoking to visually rather beautiful: we enjoyed Nicholas Felton‘s annual reports about himself, the Dear Data project, and innovative devices such as the fitness tracker for dogs. Most of all, of course, we enjoyed seeing our very own websites put into context and available for everyone to have a go with. :)

    We’re delighted to have been included in this event, and we recommend a visit if you’re in the area.  There’s plenty to keep you interested and informed for a good hour or two.

    Data for the common good - a sign at the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House
  7. What can you add to TICTeC?

    tictec16TICTeC is our annual conference on the impacts of civic technology — and if you’ve got something to say about that, we’d love to see you there.

    Last year’s TICTeC saw a huge range of subject matter, including:

    • Keynotes from leaders in the field, Shelley Boulianne and Ethan Zuckerman
    • Experimenting with Facebook ads in Kenya, to see whether users could be encouraged to take a political action
    • A look at the demographics of who uses online democracy tools across different countries
    • A donor’s perspective on what makes for successful civic technology
    • And even crowdsourcing a map of public toilets in the UK

    Session leaders included representatives from MIT, the Oxford Internet Institute, the World Bank and even the Royal College of Art.

    If your research is just as interesting, and touches on the impacts of civic technology anywhere in the world, we’d love to hear from you.

    Oh, and did we tell you it’s in Barcelona? In spring time?

    Speakers will have free entry to the conference, and there’s also the chance for all attendees to be considered for travel grants.

    Submit your paper, or find out more about attending.

    Still not sure? Check out videos, photos and slide decks from last year’s TICTeC.

    Image: Robert Pittman (CC)

  8. mySociety at MozFest 2015

    mySociety was at MozFest again this year — we had a table at Friday evening’s “Science Fair”, showcasing our EveryPolitician project.

    As ever with Mozilla’s annual, hands-on festival, there was a lot going on in London’s Ravensbourne, a venue that’s especially conducive to mixing and meeting.

    MozFest attracts an active and positive crowd of digital people, ranging from junior-school coder kids right through to hoary old digital campaigners. So we were delighted to meet up with old friends and make new ones, especially as some of them had travelled for afar to be there. London was fortunate once again to be hosting the event, since Mozilla is of course an international organisation. And as our main focus at this year’s event was EveryPolitician — “data about every national legislature in the world, freely available for you to use” — that international aspect was especially welcome.

    As a result of our being there, we hope that lots more people know about EveryPolitician’s data, and that some of them are going to build or do amazing things with it. We’re still adding to our data, so we’d love your help: we have data on at least the current term of the top-level legislatures of most of the countries in the world. But we’d still love your help with finding good sources for the remaining few, as well as our ongoing task of going wider (adding more details about the politicians we do have) and deeper (adding historic data from previous terms).

    If, in the spirit of digital do-ism that infuses MozFest, you do make something useful or funky with EveryPolitician’s data, do please let us know. We make sure all this lovely data is available to you in a consistent way (that not only means the delivery formats of CSV or JSON Popolo, but also that we adopt reliable conventions about the way we use them). This maximises the likelihood that, when you share that thing you’ve built using the data for your country, people in other places will be able to easily adopt it to work with the data for theirs. And that’s why, if you’ve made something amazing, we’d like to know — so we can shout about it.

    Finally: thanks to the people who made MozFest run so smoothly this year, and the spirit of the open web. See you next year!

    Image: Mozilla Festival CC BY 2.0

  9. We’ll be at the OGP Global Summit

    We’ll be at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit on October 27-29.

    It’s one of the biggest events of the year within our sector, focusing on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and innovation, so we know it’ll be a great chance to spread the word about our work, and catch up with friends from all over the world.

    We’re there with two main purposes.

    Launching our latest research

    On Wednesday 28th October at 4pm, Rebecca will be hosting a session titled Researching the Real-World Impact of Digital Democracy. The Open Knowledge Foundation will be joining us, to present recent research they’ve conducted into open data and data literacy.

    We’ll also be launching our own report on the demographics of civic tech users, highlighting how the kind of tools we make are used by different groups around the world, and the opportunities and challenges that this presents to civic technologists and open government advocates.

    Can’t make it to Mexico City? No problem: we’ll simultaneously be publishing the research here on the mySociety website. Yes, that’s right, we’re staging an international live link-up… in our own small way.

    Showcasing our software

    With so many people in one place, all with a very specific interest in our kind of work, we jumped at the chance to exhibit at the Open Fair. Paul and Gemma will be there, showcasing some of our projects and tools that promote transparency and help with parliamentary monitoring.

    We’re really looking forward to the event. If you’re going too, we hope you’ll come and say hello.

    Want to know who else is going?

    It’s always useful to know who’ll be around, so you can see who you want to catch up with. We’ve started this crowd-sourced spreadsheet: do feel free to add yourself.

     

  10. Bristol: We’re coming back to see you

    7858490506_6a9b40bb1a_kAs last year’s meet-up in Bristol was so fun, we thought; why not have another?

    So, after a bit of encouragement from some of our Bristol-based friends,  we’ll be back on 23rd July to host another meet-up at the Royal Navy Volunteer pub.

    Our meet-ups are open to everyone. Come along if you’re interested in hearing more about inspiring tech projects in Bristol and beyond, and if you fancy having a drink with the following guest speakers:-

    Paul Wilson and Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Bristol Is Open:

    Paul and Dimitra will speak about Bristol Is Open and its mission of creating an open programmable city region that gives citizens more ways to participate-in and contribute-to the way their city works. Find out more about the project here: http://www.bristolisopen.com/

    Mike Dunn, Sift Digital: 

    Mike is a UX consultant with Sift Digital in Bristol. The Bristol Pound is an local alternative currency designed to benefit independent businesses. They’re trying to get us to completely rethink where our money goes. Mike will talk about how he put together a lightweight programme of user research and digital strategy work to suit their (very) limited budget, and why digital people should use their powers to do good.

    Ben Fowkes, Delib: 

    Ben leads the consultancy team at digital democracy company, Delib, where he helps governments tackle tricky initiatives that require input from citizens. Ben will be giving a talk about his recent trip around the US which saw him visit large swathes of government, universities and hallowed ground like Civic Hall in New York, to attempt to answer the question – ‘What is Civic Tech?’. He’ll explore the differences and indeed, the similarities, between the respective countries and look at larger trends and opportunities from the other side of the pond.

    Our very own Ben Nickolls:

    Ben heads up the mySociety Services team. He’ll talk about some of the innovative digital projects we’ve been working on recently to help local government and other institutions better serve the public.

    They’ll be some other speakers too; which we’ll add to the meet-up’s Lanyrd page in due course.

    So, we hope to see you there!

    When: Thursday 23rd July 2015, drop in any time between 7pm and 10pm
    Where: The Royal Navy Volunteer pub function room, 17-18 King St, Harbourside, Bristol , BS1 4EF
    How: Add your name to the Lanyrd page: http://lanyrd.com/2015/mysociety-friends-meet-up/, so we know you’re coming.
    Who: Anyone who fancies it.

    NB: Watch our Twitter stream on @mySociety to check for last minute advice about where we are sitting or if we have moved venues for unforseen reasons.

    Photo by Derek Σωκράτης Finch (CC)