1. Let’s try this again! WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary party

    Back in February, as you may remember, we announced an evening of celebration in London for WhatDoTheyKnow’s tenth anniversary.

    And then it snowed, public transport ground to a halt, and we made the tough decision to call the party off.

    But it was only ever a postponement. Now we’re in a more temperate season and we’re determined to get this milestone celebrated! We’ve rescheduled, and we’re looking forward to an evening of talks covering the project’s past, present and future, not to mention chat, drinks, nibbles and the best FOI-based playlist you’ve ever heard.

    If you’d like to come and join us for this event in London on the evening of July 3rd, please email Gemma with more about yourself and why you’d like to come. Spaces are limited so let us know asap if you’d like to attend.

    Image: Gaelle Marcel

  2. TICTeC 2018 in Lisbon: Conference resources now online

    Back in April, we hosted the fourth edition of our research conference The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) in Lisbon, Portugal.

    We were thrilled to bring together 150 leaders in the field from 29 countries to take stock of the civic technology research landscape and to discuss what works and what doesn’t when it comes to using technology for social good.

    62 speakers from 19 countries covered topics such as: responsible technology; accountability keywords; blockchain; fact-checking; service delivery; bridging the civic tech research divide; working with governments; impact measurement; open contracting; amongst many, many others. Thank you to everyone involved for sharing your experiences and research.

    If you weren’t able to attend (or indeed if you’d like to experience it all again), do check out the TICTeC website to see videos of all conference sessions, interviews with delegates, photos, and slides where available.

    As a taster, here’s an overview of the whole event… in just two minutes:

    Thank you again to Google and the MacArthur Foundation for sponsoring TICTeC. We’ll keep you all posted on next year’s event over on the research mailing list and on the TICTeC Google Group.

  3. Looking forward to Lisbon

    This year’s Impacts of Civic Technology conference, TICTeC, is shaping up to be one of the best yet. Tickets have almost sold out, so if you’re hoping to attend, don’t delay.

    Running on April 18-19 in Lisbon, TICTEC will, as usual, provide an unparalleled opportunity to meet the people building and using Civic Technologies that improve lives, solve problems and address social ills. The schedule is now on the TICTeC website, where you can also get acquainted with this year’s speakers.

    Keynotes Martha Lane Fox and Prof Jonathan Fox will set the tone for a full programme, with speakers and delegates including representatives from Google, Facebook, and scores of cutting edge practitioners from many countries.

    This will be your chance to hear from recently-elected French MP Paula Forteza; and Civic Tech thinkers from MIT, NYU and UCL. More international angles are added by representatives from Buenos Aires City Government, Rome’s ‘Roma Capitale’ initiative, and several speakers from Nigeria whose attendance has been made possible thanks to a grant from the MacArthur foundation.

    During two days of diverse presentations and workshops, attendees will examine what works — and what doesn’t — in the fields of digital democracy, accountability, anti-corruption and transparency tech. There’s just one rule for those making a presentation at TICTeC: it’s not enough to present a new digital initiative; you must also bring the research that enquires into its efficacy.

    A few tickets are still available, but hurry — we’re nearly sold out.

    Don’t worry too much if you can’t attend in person. Every session will be filmed, with videos shared online after the event. Keep an eye on the mySociety blog or YouTube channel to be the first to know when they’re available  — or sign up for the newsletter. To track the conference in real time, follow the hashtag #TICTeC.


    Image: Alejandro (CC by/2.0)

  4. Open Data Day’s coming – let’s help out!

    March 3 is Open Data Day, and groups all around the world will be using Open Data in their communities, to show its benefits and to encourage the sharing of more data from government, business and civil society.

    Obviously, that depends on their having some good-quality data to work with — and we’d like to help make that happen. Or, more accurately, help you to help make that happen.

    Just as with Global Legislative Open Week last October, we’ll support groups who would like to run a workshop, getting together with other like-minded people to improve the open political data available for your country in Wikidata.

    Funding and support available

    Thanks to the Wikimedia Foundation, we’re able to offer some support to individuals/groups who are interested in running Wikidata workshops during February. If you’d like to hold an event like this, it’s pretty simple: all you need is a space, and someone with some existing Wikidata skills who can show others how to add or improve data. Then you just have to pick a date, and put out the word for people to join you.

    We can help with a few things, so let us know once you’ve decided to take part, and we’ll chat with you about what might be useful. Here’s what we can offer:

    • A small amount of funding to help cover event costs
    • In-person support during your event – we may be able to send one of our EveryPolitician/Wikidata team to your event to present, participate and advise
    • A review of your country’s existing political information in Wikidata and some pointers about possible next steps
    • Ideas for how you and your attendees can:
      a) Use the data for interesting research and projects, and
      b) Improve the data for future research queries/projects

    Workshops can take place at any time until the end of February.

    So, if you’d like to be part of this push to improve and use political information in Wikidata in order to contribute to the Democratic Commons, we’d be thrilled to hear from you. Please do get in touch: gemma@mysociety.org

  5. Meet TICTeC2018 keynote: Professor Jonathan Fox

    TICTeC2018 in Lisbon is going to be amazing, and we can say that with confidence.

    Not just because we know that it’ll feature the usual blend of insights from all sorts of people at the cutting edge of Civic Technology; and not just because it will afford the usual opportunities for swapping stories with others in your field, all against the backdrop of Portugal’s lovely capital.

    Giving us even more assurance that TICTeC2018 will be one of the most memorable yet, are our two must-hear keynote speakers. As Gemma has already announced, Professor Jonathan Fox and Martha Lane Fox will be kicking off the proceedings each day — and they have more than their vulpine names in common: you can be sure that they’ll each be delivering some truly thought-provoking insights for those in the field of Civic Tech.

    To give you a small taste of that, we had a chat with Jonathan about his keynote, which will be on the topic of the political construction of accountability keywords.

    Not to ‘spoiler’ your keynote, but could you give an example of the kind of keywords you’ll be focusing on?

    Our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.

    Key terms in the field of accountability practice are both politically constructed — and contested.

    For example, sometimes pro-public accountability forces lose the battle for what keywords mean. Consider the term “fake news” — during the 2016 US presidential campaign, this term was used to push back against the political use of disinformation.

    Not only was this effort unsuccessful, the term itself was then appropriated and twisted by its original targets. Now the dominant use of the term “fake news” (not only in the US) is to undermine the credibility of independent investigative reporting.

    The idea of analysing keywords to shed light on contested meanings draws on a long tradition in cultural studies, most notably a 1976 book by Raymond Williams. In this approach, a keyword is “a socially prominent word (e.g. art, industry, media or society) that is capable of bearing interlocking, yet sometimes contradictory and commonly contested contemporary meaning.” You can see more about this on the University of Pittsburgh’s Keywords Project.

    Why do words matter so much, when some people might feel that action is a priority?

    The real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.

    Accountability keywords have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts — and in different languages.

    The resulting ambiguity can either constrain or enable diverse strategies for promoting public accountability. This is relevant for action because our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.

    What led you to this precise area of research?

    I have long been curious about the most appropriate way to communicate ideas about accountability across languages and cultures.

    It is easy to become frustrated when literal translations sound awkward or fail to communicate. This led me to explore alternative communication strategies, looking to learn from examples of invented terms that manage to take off and enter everyday discourse (like “whistleblower”), or terms that come from popular cultures than can be relevant.

    We’re delighted that you’ll be one of our two keynotes at TICTeC. What are you most looking forward to about the event?

    I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants.

    I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants — and finding out whether and how the ideas that I am working with might resonate.

    For example, I am trying out an invented term that is intended to question the researcher-practitioner dichotomy in which researchers are assumed to be the knowledge producers and practitioners are cast as the knowledge consumers… In an effort to recognise more explicitly how practitioners can also be knowledge producers, I am proposing the term “action strategist.”

    TICTeC is attended by activists, funders, academics, government organisations and representatives from the private sector — all working within the field that we label as Civic Tech. First: since you’ve given so much thought to terminology: would you say ‘Civic Tech’ is a satisfactory term for what we do? And second, what one piece of advice would you give us all when it comes to naming and talking about our work?

    Yes, I think the term does work. My first reaction was to think that it has the advantage of being fairly self-explanatory — though a quick search finds some important differences in interpretation.

    But the real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.

    Thanks to Jonathan for this preview of his keynote presentation. If you’d like to hear more on this topic, make sure to book your tickets soon, while the early bird price still applies.

    Or perhaps you’d like to present your own research into the impacts of a Civic Technology that you’ve been studying? Our Call For Papers is still open, but hurry: there’s just over a week to get your proposal in.

  6. Introducing the TICTeC 2018 keynote speakers

    We’re really looking forward to heading out to Lisbon in April, for our fourth Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) — and you will be too, once you hear who our keynote speakers are!

    Drumroll please… as we introduce:

    Martha Lane Fox

    Martha is the founder and executive chair of Doteveryone, a think tank fighting for a fairer internet. She co-founded Europe’s largest travel and leisure website, lastminute.com, with Brent Hoberman in 1998; they took it public in 2000 and sold it in 2005. In 2007 she founded her own charitable foundation Antigens and also serves as a Patron of AbilityNet, Reprieve, Camfed and Just for Kids Law.

    Martha was appointed as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords in March 2013, and was appointed Chancellor of the Open University in March 2014. In 2015 she joined the board of the Creative Industries Federation, the Scale up institute and the Open Data Institute, and became a member of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy in 2017.

    She is a non-executive director at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and in April 2016 was appointed as a non executive director of Twitter. She also co-founded and chairs LuckyVoice, the chain that’s revolutionising the karaoke industry in the UK.

    Professor Jonathan Fox

    Jonathan is a Professor at the American University’s School of International Service, focusing on the relationship between citizen participation, transparency and accountability, from both scholarly and practitioner perspectives.

    He has carried out extensive research in rural Mexico, and with Latino immigrant organisations in the US, conducting dialogue with a wide range of public interest groups, grassroots organisations, development agencies, private foundations and government policymakers. Jonathan’s current project? He’s launching a new “action-research incubator” at SIS: the Accountability Research Center.

    Here at mySociety, Johnathan’s research work has always been an inspiration. If you’re not familiar with his work we can recommend a short reading list:

    And if you’d like to read more about Jonathan and his work, you can visit his blog.

    Fancy speaking at TICTeC? There’s still time to apply

    Our Call for Papers is open until 2nd February, so do submit a proposal if you’d like to join Martha and Jonathan on the bill.

    We’re looking for session proposals that focus on the specific impacts of Civic Technologies, rather than showcase new tools that are as yet untested.

    We will prioritise proposals that can demonstrate data or evidence of how Civic Technology has been impactful in some way. We encourage presentations that examine negative results as well as research evidencing positive outcomes!

    So if you have research to share, then do submit your proposal here.

    Join us

    If your work touches on Civic Technology and open government, and you need a fast-track to understanding what works and what doesn’t, you’ll want to join us in Lisbon. Previous attendees attest that time spent with others in the sector has been every bit as useful as the conference itself — we make sure there’s plenty of time in the evenings for socialising. Roll that in with the lovely location, and you have a package that’s both professionally rewarding, and a lot of fun too. Register to attend here.

    Early bird tickets are available until 9th March, which provide a 50% discount on regularly priced tickets.

    Past TICTeCs have sold out, so do make sure you book in early!

  7. GLOWing the extra mile

    As you’ll remember from our previous blogpost, the Global Legislative Openness Week — AKA GLOW — provided us with a great opportunity to support events and spread the word about our ambitious Wikidata project with groups around the world.

    In the end we sponsored nine events (in Slovenia, Sweden, Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Spain, Wales and, amazingly, Nepal) and sent representatives to support seven of them in person. This meant that Tony, the lead for the EveryPolitican project, had an interesting 10 days getting the most out of budget airlines and managing to attend six of the events. He would have liked to have made it seven but EasyJet don’t go to Nepal! Also special thanks to Lucas who represented the project in Greece and Bulgaria taking a little of the pressure from Tony.

    Five of the countries (Croatia, Greece, ItalySlovenia and Spain) moved from very little or no coverage of political data in Wikidata to our two-star (or better) indicator — this is a (very) rough guide to how good the data is in a country; we are tracking what information already exists for the primary house of a national legislature which you can learn more about on our Wikidata project page. Wales was already a ‘three-star’ country and the others are coming along nicely.

    We couldn’t be happier with the response and contributions made to the Democratic Commons by the participants  — and we’re extremely keen to do more events early next year, collaborating with Wikimedia communities to make this happen. If that sounds interesting take a look at our original blogpost about the events and get in touch if it seems up your street.

    All in all these events really felt like a culmination of all the learnings and activities undertaken in the project so far. The strides we have taken in understanding the best way to model this kind of data in Wikidata and the tools that have been built are what made it possible to make such a big impact in each of the countries in just a day or two. Not all of these lessons were easy to learn but they are really starting to pay dividends now.

    We really want to keep this momentum up and build even more relationships with Wikimedia communities who are interested in contributing to the Democratic Commons in their countries so I can’t reiterate it enough – please do get in touch if you would like to get involved.

    One more thing

    If you’ve read this with great interest to the very end, then you are just the sort of person who we’re looking for! We currently have a vacancy for a Political Researcher to help us kickstart this kind of work in up to 100 countries, supporting our ambitions in the Democratic Commons project. See the job description here.

     

     

    Photo by Margo Brodowicz on Unsplash

  8. GLOW is calling: help increase the world’s knowledge of politicians

    If you know your way around Wikidata, we’d love you to join in with the global string of events taking place for GLOW next week.

    We’re very keen to get as many people as possible helping to improve the quality of Wikidata’s information on politicians. Why? Well, let’s take a quick look at a recent story that hit the news.

    A new Bundestag

    With Germany’s new parliament gathering for the first time on October 24, der Spiegel took the opportunity to examine their male-to-female balance, in the context of legislatures across the world. At around 31% female, they noted, the Bundestag now sits at the better end of the scale: parliaments almost everywhere are male-dominated.

    How were they able to make such an assessment? As they note at the foot of their article, they used data on politicians’ gender from our EveryPolitician project.

    A further exploration looked at age — they discovered that on average their parliamentarians were very slightly younger than in previous years — and they note as an aside that here in the UK, we have in Dennis Skinner the oldest MP in Europe, while Mhairi Black is the second-youngest by a whisker.

    These are the kind of insights we seek to increase through our work with Wikidata as we help to boost the quality of their politician data: we consider such analysis not only interesting, but important. Whether or not countries wish to encourage fair representation across age groups and gender — not to mention many other categories — their decisions should at least be based on facts.

    As things stand, there are only a handful of countries where data is good enough to be able to make such comparisons: in our vision, journalists, researchers — and anyone else — will be able to turn to Wikidata to find what they need. The forthcoming Global Legislative Openness Week (GLOW) gives us all an opportunity to put a rocket under the quality and quantity of data that’s available to people making analyses like these, that stand to benefit us all.

    How to get involved

    GLOW runs from next Monday until the 30th November, and we’re encouraging people — wherever you live in the world — to get together and improve the data on national-level politicians for your country.

    We’re already expecting a good number of groups to run events. Get-togethers are confirmed in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Spain and more — once final details are firmed up, we think there’ll be action in other countries across the globe. Now how about you? As we said in our post last month, a concentrated effort from a small group of people can really make a difference.

    We’re especially keen to encourage folk who have some experience of contributing to Wikidata: we reckon that, for this particular drive, you need to already know your way around a bit. So if that’s you, do come forward!

    Start by having a look at this page, which outlines what we hope to achieve; we’ll be adding more detail this week too.  You can add your country to the list if you’d like to, or explore what’s missing in the data of those countries already listed.

    Or, if Wikidata’s all new to you, why not put out some feelers and see if there’s anyone who can show you the ropes while you work together? One good way is to see if there’s a Wikimedia User Group local to you.

    What exactly will you be doing?

    Here’s a bit more detail on what a workshop will look like.

    The idea is to improve information in Wikidata about members of your country’s legislature. The ‘Progress Indicators’ on this page will give you guidance: typically you’ll be working through tasks like adding any missing “position held” statements and biographical data. We’re asking folk to prioritise current politicians, with information for historic members an added bonus if time permits.

    Once sufficient data is available in Wikidata, the real fun begins! Your workshop attendees will be able to query the data to answer questions such as:

    1) Can the gender breakdown and average age of members of the current legislature be calculated?
    2) Can that be broken down per political party/group, or (where appropriate) by region?
    3) Can you compare those figures for the legislature vs. the cabinet?
    4) How far back can you generate those for?

    And if the ideas start to flow, building queries and visualisations to answer other questions will also be very useful.

    Let us know if you have any questions before the week begins — we’re going to be very busy during GLOW, but we’ll do our absolute best to help.


    Image: Alex Iby (Unsplash)

  9. Join us in Lisbon for TICTeC 2018

    It’s official: TICTeC 2018, our fourth conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Lisbon, Portugal, on 18 and 19 April 2018.

    Stick that in your diaries now, we’d love for you to join us.

    TICTeC is known for its unique focus on the impacts of Civic Technologies: it’s a safe place to examine what works, what doesn’t, and how best to measure that. And the culture of TICTeC — where funders mix with practitioners, activists converse with researchers, small NGOs get as much attention as the big players — tends to create new sparks: partnerships, ideas, synergies and friendships.

    Call for Papers now open

    If you’d like to give a presentation or run a workshop, please submit your proposals now. You have until 2nd February 2018.

    Register

    For the last two years TICTeC has sold out – so make sure you get tickets early. Early bird tickets provide a 50% discount, so it’s well worth registering before they run out!

    Sponsor

    If you’d like to support TICTeC to bring together the world’s best Civic Technology researchers and practitioners, there are many different sponsorship opportunities available. Please visit our sponsorship page for more details, or contact gemma@mysociety.org for more information.

    Keep an eye on the TICTeC website for full details of proceedings as they are announced.

    We look forward to seeing you in April! Meanwhile, if you’d like to see what TICTeC is all about, you can browse highlights from TICTeC 2017 and from our recent special TICTeC event in Taipei.

  10. mySociety in… Bristol, Belfast, Berlin, Oslo, York, Albania

    There are multiple opportunities to see mySociety people speaking in the coming weeks. From Wikidata to web design — and plenty more — they cover a broad spectrum. So if any of these events interest you, we hope you’ll come along!

    17 October, Bristol

    Rebecca Rumbul, our Head of Research, will be giving an overview of our work on the impact of Civic Technologies. It’s part of the Venturefest Smart Cities Thought Leadership conference at the Watershed in Bristol. Register for attendance here.

    21-22 October, Belfast

    Tony Bowden who’s been leading on EveryPolitician, and Head of Product Matt Jukes will both be attending Open Data Camp. It’s an unconference, meaning sessions have not yet been set, but if enough people are interested you may well hear all about mySociety’s hopes for the Democratic Commons and how our EveryPolitician project fits into that. Otherwise, grab Matt and Tony for a chat! More details here.

    28-29 October, Berlin

    WikidataCon is a must-visit for us, given the collaboration between our own EveryPolitician project and the Wikidata community. We’ll be running a couple of sessions: one on whether structured politician data for the whole world is an impossible utopia and one informal meet-up to share experiences in gathering politician data.

    And of course the conference info takes the form of a Wiki!

    2 November, Bristol again

    More from Matt Jukes, who this time will be speaking at the Agile in the City. What lessons has he learned from working in very different organisations, all of which implemented ‘agile’ very differently? More details here.

    4 November, Oslo

    That Matt Jukes again! He gets about. This time he’s speaking at The Free Society Conference and Nordic Summit (FSCONS), “a meeting place for social change, focused on the intersection between technology, culture and society.” He’ll be discussing ‘the importance of being open’ in his 6pm session. All the information you need is here.

    9 November, York

    Poor connectivity, low bandwidth, different platforms and cultural no-nos: mySociety designer Zarino Zappia runs through some of the considerations when designing websites for international usage at DotYork. We have a limited number of discounted tickets we can give out, so if you’re interested drop Zarino a line.

    17 November, Tirana, Albania

    Rebecca is a keynote speaker at an event jointly-organised by the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe) and the ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights), “Leveraging New Technologies to Transform Youth Political Participation” — something we’ve been thinking about rather a lot recently. Details will be added here.


    Well, that’s certainly enough to be getting on with. We hope we’ll see you at one or more of these events.

    Image: The Climate Reality Project (Unsplash)