In case you missed it — or in case you want to watch it all again — here’s the video from our #Democracy2043 event of May 24.
Our insightful panel discuss what kind of democracy they’d like to see in 2043, and, perhaps more importantly, what we need to put in place in order to make it a reality.
Many thanks to our panelists for their brilliant inputs: Emma Geen, Disability Activist; Immy Kaur of CIVIC SQUARE; Joy Green, Systemic Futurist; Dr Kim Foale of Geeks For Social Change and our own Chief Executive Louise Crow.
Want more like this? Help us make it happen.Donate now
What if you could reshape democracy for the better – and you had twenty years to do so?
That’s the question our panel will be tackling at our #Democracy2043 event, part of the Festival of Debate – and we’ll be asking for your thoughts and ideas, too. Join us in person in Sheffield, or online on May 24. Either way, you can book your free tickets now.
We’ve assembled a panel of really insightful speakers, each of whom will bring a new angle to the question of what we want a better, fairer, more vibrant democracy to look like, and what we need to put in place to get there by 2043.
- Dr Kim Foale, Founder & Studio Lead, Geeks For Social Change
- Emma Geen, Interim Manager, Bristol Disability Equality Forum
- Joy Green, Systemic Futurist
- Immy Kaur, Co-founder and Director, CIVIC SQUARE
- and mySociety’s own Chief Executive Louise Crow
Why are we looking forward twenty years? Well, this is mySociety’s 20th anniversary, and we’re using the opportunity not just to look back on what we’ve done, but to understand what part we must play in the future. The world looks very different now than it did at our beginnings in 2003, and undoubtedly there are seismic societal changes to come.
This event is one part of our ‘futures’ process, helping us to ensure that the services we provide are still relevant and that we can work together to help shape the kind of democracy in which everyone can thrive. We hope you’ll join us and help tackle these complex, but compelling questions.
Yesterday was the second Innovations in Climate Tech event. People from councils and organisations came along and discussed all kinds of projects and ideas.
The key question? What they might do with a small injection of money designed to kickstart digitally based, local climate related projects.
If you’re ready to go ahead with your application, start here. Otherwise, read on.
Projects beginning to form
You can see all the ideas that were floated in our first meetup on our Padlet, but here are a few of the projects that emerged and appeared to be gaining the most momentum yesterday.
- A national knowledge sharing tool This project would seek to create a comprehensive list of what has been done digitally around Climate Adaptation, showcasing lessons learned, successes and failures. The instigators could also develop playbooks, open source tools and a knowledge sharing forum for councils and citizens. Notes here.
- Community resilience to extreme weather events A plan to bring people together to embed community resilience, sharing information about flood risk, how to make your home more able to cope with the effect of climate change and extreme weather events. There was also a suggestion of broadening the existing community warden role to encompass community resilience issues. Notes here.
- Adaptation gardens Showing people how they could garden in a different way to adapt to a changing climate: eg with drought resistant plants, water conservation methods, pollinator friendly plants and other eco-friendly methods. Notes here.
- Digital toolkit for events Putting together a digital toolkit that people can use for climate-related community events, ensuring it’s accessible and reusable in lots of different situations. Notes here.
Seen a project that you’d like to try too?
Maybe you’re a council officer who thinks one of the ideas above would fit well within your constituency.
Or maybe you’re a community group that could help shape the project and replicate it in your area.
There may be an opportunity to join up with other folks working on the idea, and perhaps expanding their plans into more than one region.
Feel free to fill in our form and indicate that you are open to working with others on one of the existing ideas.
What you should know about the grants
- You do not have to have attended either of the prior sessions to bid, but please do give consideration to what we are looking for: small, locally-based trials of projects that work with a local council at the intersection of democracy (broadly defined) and climate. A local authority must be involved in the project.
- Need to find a partner council? Let us know and we’ll shout out on Twitter for you.
- This is seed funding, designed to allow for testing, planning and trying new approaches; things that aren’t possible with restricted grants. So don’t worry about having a detailed plan — your application can be short and simple.
- Applications close at 23:59 on Monday 31st October 2022. We aim to have made our decisions and awarded the grants by Monday 7th November 2022.
- Funding will cover the period until March 31 2023 — though your project may continue onwards for as long as you like. We’ll hold a wrap-up event in spring showcasing the work to date.
Ready to bid? Apply here.
There’s lots, as ever, to report from the Climate team this month, so I’ll try to pick some highlights… this time with a Shakespearean flavour, as I (mySociety’s Liverpool correspondent) celebrate the opening of the Shakespeare North Playhouse in the nearby town of Prescot. May the bard’s lyrical visions propel us into a summer of climate action!
All things are ready, if our mind be so
In the previous monthnotes Jen trailered Innovations in Climate Tech – our online, half-day event, featuring inspirational examples and discussion about how civic tech projects are supporting climate action around the world, and how we might be able to seed more projects like this, with the cooperation of local authorities, here in the UK.
This month Jen’s been lining up speakers for the event (which takes place on 21st September), and Siôn has been planning how we can use workshops in the second half of the event to share best practice and build more connections between technologists and local authority officials.
If you’re from a local authority, or you’ve been involved in a climate-related technology project, and you’d like to share your work at the event, there’s still time to submit a proposal for inclusion in the programme.
We’re also excited to find we’ve been accepted to speak at the upcoming Code for All 2022 Summit (also happening in September), so we’re looking forward to working our sessions there into our wider plan for building connections between the climate and civic tech communities.
And finally, to complete the Summer events trifecta, we’ve been laying plans for an informal online get-together about energy efficiency and retrofit, since it’s proved such a popular subject during our prototyping weeks, and we’d really like to find the most impactful contribution we could make in the space, especially with fuel costs expected to continue rising well into 2023. If this interests you, share your availability for the week in which we’re planning to meet and join our climate updates newsletter to hear how things develop.
Once more unto the breech dear friends
All good things must come to an end – and our series of six rapid prototyping weeks has certainly been a good thing! This month we’ve been preparing for the final week in the series, focussing on how improved collection and sharing of MP, constituency, and local climate action data, between environmental charities and organisations, could enhance public understanding of climate challenges and solutions, and build networks across local communities.
We’re really excited to be working on this with a number of really big names in the space—including The Climate Coalition, Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trusts, Hope for the Future, WWF, and Climate Outreach—and we’re really excited to see what recommendations come out of the week.
We’re also putting the final touches to our write-ups of the last two prototyping weeks (on fair transition and energy efficiency for private rental tenants) and will be posting them on our Climate Prototyping page shortly.
Friends, romans, countrymen, lend us your ears!
Siôn has been sharing our procurement and energy efficiency prototypes with a whole range of organisations, getting their input on next steps we should take, and potential collaboration opportunities. So far we’re excited to have met with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, UK Green Building Council, Architects Climate Action Network, Living Rent, Energy Local, Connected Places Catapult and Citizens UK.
Meanwhile, Myf has been renewing our efforts to promote CAPE to journalists, as one of the core audiences where we think up-to-date, accessible data on local authority climate action could really enable a new level of scrutiny and cross-pollination of climate actions around the UK. We’re looking to potentially speak at a few journalism conferences in the coming months, and we’re planning to prepare a set of online resources that might give journalists an idea of how they can use our data to find stories.
We also presented CAPE and the Scorecards at Friends of the Earth’s Environmental Data for Change event—which I was honoured to be asked to facilitate on FoE’s behalf—right at the end of June. It was an absolutely packed call, which left everyone buzzing with ideas for the future. We’re continuing to work with Friends of the Earth, and other attendees from the event, on how we take the this great momentum, and shape a community of practice around sharing and building on the rich environmental data available in the UK, to power more informed climate action.
Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash.
Last week saw us come together for the fifth online TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery, our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech.
Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion on one topic area affecting the civic tech community. Interested parties can then apply to take suggested ideas forward in a smaller working group, building solutions with the aid of a grant.
This time, the discussants examined issues faced by those tackling the climate emergency with civic tech: what are some of the blockers they face, how can these be overcome, and what could a small grant do to help with one or more of those challenges?
Discussants were Laura Brown, Chief Marketing Officer of ISeeChange, Jacopo Ottaviani, Chief Data Officer at Code for Africa and Laurence Watson, Head of Technology at Subak.
For a high-level view, read on. We’ve attempted to capture all the ideas discussed, but if you’re keen not to miss anything, access the notes from the meeting, as well as the full recording of the session and the AI-generated transcript.
A summary of the issues identified during the chat and by the audience.
Data and understanding
Access to data – there is a lot of relevant data out there, but much of it is behind paywalls, expensive, or relies on an understanding of jargon. It is difficult to get reliable data for many areas that are needed.
People aren’t experts: To what extent do you need to hold their hands and tell them what to do with complex datasets? The very people who are impacted by climate change impacts do not understand the terminology: climate communication should be localized for people to understand and get involved in the fight.
Experts in climate data aren’t experts in communications – they need to learn how (or employ staff) to make their messaging easier for those at the receiving end. As a techie, it’s relatively easy to build solutions, but there’s a whole different skillset involved in publicising them and getting people onboard with them.
Apathy and mistrust
There’s general apathy from the public over a problem that seems too big or difficult to solve, or which has ben talked about for such a long time with no seeming progress. People think they’ve heard it all before, and don’t believe this time will be any different. They also don’t think small local changes can make enough of a difference.
Mistrust of government: the diminishing levels of trust, especially in national government, affects how people regard the data they provide (and possibly the data provided by all authorities).
Governments shift responsibility between levels and governments are complex to navigate.
It’s hard to persuade people to make difficult changes – it’s easy enough to suggest them, but harder for tech to push them to actually see it through. The challenge is in getting people to accept short term inconvenience or risk, for a long term (and often non-individual) return. Incentives are tricky to identify and then communicate.
The public has a short attention span and climate is a longterm, slow burn issue.
Ways of working
Startups also tend to work to short timescales and need to see quick results.
NGOs don’t work together: there may be infighting as NGOs jostle for the same resources, which wastes their energy and disregards opportunities for working together. There are many organisations working on similar-but-different solutions, making for a lot of wasted/duplicated effort. Non-profits often are funded for very specific things that they can deliver individually, so they are not incentivised to put effort into working with one another.
Too many projects have no Theory of Change – they’re just created because it seemed like a good idea.
It is difficult to measure impacts when asking people to take action in the real world. Particularly for projects that aim to create or open up information that could be used by a wide variety of stakeholders
Citizen action can only go so far – governments need to lead the way with legislation.
Dis- and mis-information from climate denialists makes the job harder. The for-profit practices of social media and mass media are amplifying division. For all the energy and money going into advocating issues and their solutions, there seems to be an effective amount of money and energy preventing those solutions.
Access: In countries with poor Internet coverage, there is a very basic problem of poor connectivity. This makes all sorts of things difficult, but the example given was about the difficulties of journalists in central Africa accessing training resources.
Financial stability of newsrooms in Africa – many are relying on grants, which is fine for the short term, but can pose problems for sustainability.
Trying to train up people with differing levels of experience: for example, training journalists who might not have used Excel before, in the same group as people with a bit more expertise.
Making data accessible
Employ data guides – make experts visible and available (perhaps at set times). These people could aid less experienced people in how to use complex data, like a reference librarian.
Distil expert views and make them available so that people can understand them without ploughing through masses of data or content.
Humanise the data – journalists can portray the human stories behind the facts and figures. See Lungs of the Earth and vox.com for some great examples; animations can be appealing and Johnny Harris from Vox does explainer videos that show how these can be made cheaply.
Reaching people with meaningful messages
If only a small proportion of people are likely to act, speak to those people. Find the ‘champions’ and don’t worry about communicating to the others just yet – they may follow on.
Put attention on to those living low-carbon or low-plastic lifestyles, rather than shaming them. For some reason, we as a society seem to have taken this path with plant-based diets (influencers have led the way in normalising veganism) but not with other climate-friendly practices.
Go where the people are – if that means learning how to utilise TikTok, the most-used social channel at the moment, so be it! Learn how to visualise data and include robust and useful climate change information within the TikTok vernacular.
Games that help us envision the future: There is a disconnect between local discussions on local issues and the big changes that are coming, ‘like the end of the private motor car that in 15 years will be no more relevant than the horse and cart’. Could games help people understand?
Roadshows Done well, a travelling event with a single message can be very effective.
Hyperlocal webinars Match local interest community groups with experts in their area, like an e-bike expert talking to cycling groups; a food and growing expert to local gardening groups.
We need an effective, overarching law – like GDPR- designed to stamp out mis- and dis-information on the social media platforms.
Open and scaleable solutions When groups create something, they should do so with reuse in mind – create the documentation and support that will make it easy for other groups to pick up and adapt internationally.
Identify & connect with climate officials working on a topic internationally
Collaborate internationally or cross-country with other initiatives to collect data.
Winning elections: Encourage more people to stand for election on a climate platform.
How the grant could help
Some ideas for spending the grant.
Develop the results.org model for mobilising people, with an emphasis on climate.
Create a model example for how to respond to your council’s Climate Action Plan that people could use as a template.
Financial support for a data librarian who is available at set times of the week.
Recruit, train and support ‘community climate champions‘ based in research teams, policy units, universities etc. We couldn’t fund this long term but could dedicate seed funding for an agency to pilot the idea.
Infographics based on Climate Outreach’s work on persuasive language around climate.
Give grants to college students who will be able to use them efficiently – with a little going a long way.
Set up a table at climate protests to seed action in people who are already feeling passionate, eg ask people to write a letter to their MP that you can gather up and send en masse the next day.
Run a hackathon or challenge for students to come up with new solutions.
Research into how communications can be used to overcome climate denialism.
Make climate change data journalism micro-grants in under-reported regions.
Communications between climate champions and citizens: Help, for example, the local authorities that have declared climate emergencies to engage citizens with their actions so there is mutual understanding, with a combination of engagement software used in public consultation with local data and the psychology used by Climate Outreach to reach different audiences.
Some of this discussion also took place on Padlet and you can see more ideas there.
We are now inviting people to join the working group (aka Action Lab), which will comprise up to six people who are keen to use this discussion to inform the group as they pin down how the grant will be spent.
It’s the end of June already and we’re now over half way through the year, the solstice has passed and the days are starting to get shorter! Since the start of April the Climate team have been in a whirl of prototyping weeks which has made time feel like it’s speeding past at a high rate.
So what have we done this month?
Trialing Github projects
Being an open source technical organisation, mySociety does a lot of its development work in GitHub, but on the Climate team we were using a mixture of Trello, spreadsheets and documents to track our priorities and progress. Having everything spread across so many places was causing the team confusion when it came to updating on progress and figuring out which tasks were the next most important.
So, at the start of June we switched to trialling GitHub’s Projects feature. This seems to answer a lot of our needs right now – everything is in one place, we can use status labels to track the progress on the project and add custom ones which relate to project milestones. It has the bonus effect that we’re not doubling up work by having the same tickets in GitHub and Trello. We’re only two sprints in so far, so still early days but we’re hopeful this might be a simpler way of working.
There’s only been one prototyping week in June: A fair transition. This was a tough week as it was such a broad subject and it was difficult to work out what exactly would be most useful for us to work on. This is what we came up with.
We’ve also been planning for Week 5 – Energy efficiency for rental homes which takes place from 5 -11 July. There’s still time to apply if you’re interested in joining us on this one!
It’s been a busy month for Communications – we’ve put together a pitch for MG OMD, the global marketing agency that will be volunteering their time for us through the Weston Communicating Climate training programme that Myf, our Communications Manager, has been following. It gives us the opportunity to have a big agency input into our plans and maybe give us ideas for new ways of reaching people.
Myf has also been working on some case studies – one from Sustain and one from Green Finance Institute. They’ll really help to highlight why the climate action plan data we have is so important to making positive change on reducing local climate emissions.
Alex has been working hard on our data ecosystem and we now have the local authority data up in a better format. You can find it here: https://mysociety.github.io/uk_local_authority_names_and_codes/
Finally we’ve been working on events. We have our first Prototyping Show and Tell on Friday 1 July from 2pm – 3:30pm BST: do drop us a line to be added to the event if you want to come along and hear all about how prototyping works and what we’ve found.
We’ve also started looking at our September event, Innovations in Climate Change, which will be held on September 21 2022 on Zoom. We’re super excited about this and our aim is to bring together local councils, international actors and technology people to share their tech based climate change projects and hopefully inspire some new work to reduce local climate emissions. If any of that sounds like you, sign up to present or keep your eyes peeled for an Eventbrite page to register your attendance.
Image: Natosha Benning
How can we overcome barriers to accessing good data and documentation?
Last week, a global audience came together online for the third TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery, our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech.
Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion of one topic area affecting the civic tech community. Interested parties can then apply to take suggested ideas forward in a smaller working group, building solutions with the aid of a grant.
In our third Surgery, the discussants explained the barriers they’ve experienced in accessing good-quality data and information, and then some of the ways they’ve found to meet these challenges, and ideas for what might be missing.
It was fascinating to learn how similar the issues are, as well as where they diverge, in the several countries represented by our speakers and by the audience.
This time around, our expert panel comprised Nehemiah Attigah of Odekro in Ghana; Laura Zommer from Chequeado in Argentina; Khairil Yusof representing the Sinar project in Malaysia; Sym Roe of Democracy Club, in the UK; and Nati Carfi of Open Data Charter, in Argentina.
Data is often not in the right format to use digitally or is not machine-readable – documents have to be scanned and then digitised through OCR.
Officialdom/authorities can be problematic in a number of ways:
- They might demand unwarranted fees for information;
- They might be ignorant of legislation such as FOI that requires them to provide information on demand;
- Laws might be contradictory, for example one law might penalise officials who give out information, while another gives citizens the right to request it;
- There might a low level of understanding as to how the data could be used;
- There can be concerns that the data would uncover the authorities’ own corruption;
- They might stop publishing data or change the format it is in, due to political circumstances;
- They might work to different deadlines or timescales than is useful for organisations’ needs.
Even if the data is available, it can be too complex for a non-expert to understand.
Good open source code that exists might not be suitable for every country’s circumstances.
- When authorities can see the data in use, it’s much easier for them to understand why it’s needed – so resources showing examples of where civic tech is working elsewhere (for example in other countries) or making prototype tools that show what could be done might be a solution.
- Groups could publish stories in the media about what happens when data stops being published or changes in a way that damages the tools people rely on.
- Could data sources be archived to provide a permanent home in case the official sources stop publishing them?
- Educating the public to make them understand data better – through blog posts, podcasts, ‘data translators’ or whatever means.
- Publishing case studies that explain solutions that haven’t worked, as well as those that have.
- Training for NGOs and organisations on how to engage with authorities.
- Training for the public on how to use data.
- Translating existing guidance on open data standards into languages other than English.
- Producing resources that explain the value of open data standards rather than just advocating for open data standards in of themselves.
- Research how access to information laws apply to datasets and how those laws work in practice.
Some of this discussion also took place on Padlet and you can see more ideas there.
We are now inviting people to join the working group (aka Action Lab), which will comprise up to six people who are keen to further develop solutions together, for the benefit of the wider civic tech community.
Suffering from Zoom fatigue? Understandable! We’re all tired of staring into a computer screen, we all miss seeing what people look like from the shoulders down, and we can quite see why some organisations are delighted to be running in-person events again.
But here’s something worth noting: while the wider world suddenly saw the point of remote events during lockdown, disability activists have been fighting for them for years — long before the pandemic hit. And at mySociety, we’ve come to realise that there are some benefits of virtual events that we shouldn’t be so quick to give up.
Opening doors to wider audiences
Throughout the last couple of years, our events have been freely accessible to those who find travel or in-person meetings difficult. This is no small thing, on all sides. Input from a wide range of viewpoints is valuable, providing lived experience that we might otherwise have missed.
Disability isn’t the only reason that people might not be able to, or want to travel. Some are protecting vulnerable housemates or family, and still need to self isolate even if wider society no longer mandates it.
Many have made commitments to travel less in the face of the climate emergency. Even if that’s not the case, it now feels odd to travel out of town to an event, giving up hours or even a whole day, when we’re used to joining from the comfort of our own homes. Plus, if an event is just the right fit for your work, but happens to be on a different continent, it’s now perfectly possible to be a part of it.
Taking our TICTeC events as an example, in the time we’ve been running them online, we’ve seen participants joining us from around 50 different countries. In person events? It was more like 30.
Video’s just not the same
Recordings and transcripts continue to be useful, but let’s face it: ‘a video will be available after the event’ just isn’t the same thing as proper online options for inclusion. People can’t join in, ask questions or be part of discussions if they’re not engaging in real time.
Providing a wide range of options for people to attend events, whatever the reason they can or can’t attend in person, means creating flexibility in our spaces. Limited time, energy and/or money are barriers that prevent many marginalised groups from becoming activists, and creating hybrid events help address those barriers.
A hybrid approach
Not to say that there aren’t benefits to being in the same room — and providing an option to attend remotely shouldn’t stop organisations from taking the necessary steps to make their venues accessible (we’re looking at you, COP26 conference centre).
We miss those in-person moments as much as anyone, and we do still hope to be running real life events in the future. But we’re committing to a hybrid approach and, from now on, we’ll always ensure that, if you’d rather access the event from home, that opportunity will be available. We’re all ears when it comes to the details that will make this work for everyone, so do get in touch if you have ideas.
In summary, we’ll do our best to ensure that the remote experience is as fulfilling and as close to being in the room as we can make it.
That’s our commitment — are you doing the same?
Image – Sigmund
As part of our new TICTeC Labs programme, last week we convened a Civic Tech Surgery that brought together a group of 100+ civic tech practitioners and researchers from across the world to discuss common challenges of working with governments and public authorities on digital projects to enhance public participation, transparency and accountability, as well as possible solutions to these.
You can find resources from this Civic Tech Surgery here, including minutes, a summary of inputs, a Padlet of contributions, and the full recording.
To carry on the Surgery’s momentum, we are now convening an Action Lab (aka working group) of up to 6 individuals, who will work together to commission a piece of work that will be useful to tackle the issues raised in the above Civic Tech Surgery, to answer this question:
What would help the global civic tech community to work more effectively with public and private institutions?
We’re pleased to say that applications to join this Action Lab are now open, and we would like to invite those interested in working with others to tackle the above to apply.
Funding will be available to those who apply to work on the piece of work identified by the Action Lab.
The TICTeC Labs programme is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for Democracy.
I’m delighted to share details of our first Civic Tech Surgery. It will be held online on 28th October 14.00 – 16.00 GMT+1, and the topic is: Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?
During the Surgery, we will hear about the challenges of working on private-public civic tech projects from practitioners from across the world, as well as their solutions and ideas to tackle these. There will be ample opportunity for attendees to also provide their feedback on issues they have faced, and their solutions and ideas.
The Surgery will also feature reflections from civic tech researchers, to give perspectives on any existing evidence or research ideas on the topic that might be beneficial, that can then be elaborated on in subsequent TICTeC Action Labs.
After not being able to meet as a global community in-person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re really excited to again facilitate the exchange of relevant and timely research, lessons learnt, successes, failures, ideas and code amongst the civic tech sector globally, so ultimately, civic tech tools are more effective.
Who are Civic Tech Surgeries for?
Anyone interested in the use and effectiveness of digital tools to enhance public participation, democracy, transparency and accountability.
We think the event will be of particular interest to civic tech practitioners and researchers, elected government representatives, civil servants, technology companies, funders and software developers.
Register to attend
The Civic Tech Surgery will be held virtually on Zoom. You need to register to attend by signing up on this Eventbrite page.
We look forward to seeing you there! To hear of future TICTeC events and initiatives first, do consider signing up to our mailing list.