City Hall in London is a spiral-shaped building that some say resembles a snail.
The same could not be said for the speakers at TICTeC Local, the conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology for communities and local government, which took place on the building’s top floor last Friday. These proactive people move fast and get things done!
Surrounded by a wraparound view of the Thames and Tower Bridge, we heard from a selection of folk with hands-on experience of using technology at the local or community level. See the full agenda here, where you’ll also find links to the collaborative notes that were taken during each session.
Here’s a brief run-down of the presentations and discussions.
mySociety research: evidence and impact
Our own Head of Research, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, kicked things off with a call for research-based decisions when it comes to attractive new forms of engagement such as the current trend towards Citizens’ Assemblies. As always, it’s important to assess what ensures good results and what can go wrong, so that we can ensure the outcomes are desirable.
What role can digital technologies play in citizen participation?
This panel comprised four people who are very well-equipped to speak on the subject in hand: Miriam Levin from DCMS, Eva O’Brien of FutureGov, Graham Smith, Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, and Tim Hughes of Involve.
Beginning with a look at the role of digital technologies and a nod to those which are working well in citizen participation, conversation soon turned to the ways in which Citizens’ Assemblies can deliver less than desirable results — and, just as importantly, how to avoid that.
Data changes everything: informed public services
In this session, two speakers brought two very different stories to the table. First, James Maddison of the Open Data Institute presented the toolkit which the ODI has produced to help public services through the process of generating, sharing and using more open data. The rainbow-hued toolkit itself can be found here.
Secondly, Georges Clement of JustFix in New York told the inspiring tale of how data empowered millions of tenants who were living in conditions considered deficient even by the city’s own definition. Simply by sharing data on who owned buildings (something often deliberately obscured by landlords) the organisation enabled joint campaigns, group litigation and the ranking of the ‘worst evictor’ landlords. This work led to New York’s City Mayor introducing a law that guarantees legal representation to low-income residents facing eviction.
Click to engage: creating active citizens through digital technologies
In this session we heard experiences from two sides of the pond: Tammy Esteves of Troy University Alabama ran through examples of local digital projects across the US, especially relating to disaster/emergency management; while Joe Mitchell from the UK’s Democracy Club explained the difficulties in measuring the impact of the work they do: making sure people are informed prior to elections.
Earlier actions & better connections: technology combatting social problems
Giselle Cory and Lucy Rimmington of DataKind explained how the organisation, which benefits greatly from data scientist volunteers, had used machine learning to help a Huddersfield foodbank identify which of its clients were likely to benefit most from early intervention by other services.
In the second half of the session, Chris Hildrey outlined the work of Proxy Address, a system for giving a stable address to people facing or experiencing homelessness, and thus removing barriers in processes such as applying for jobs, opening a bank account or claiming benefits. One interesting piece of information was that, out of superstition, many streets in the UK have no number 13, with Birmingham being the city most likely to omit it.
Showing the way: support with the digital transformation process
Laura Payten from Government Digital Service (GDS) gave an overview of how local government pay can be used locally; while Richard Smith and Sam Whitlock from Hackney Council and Mirabai Galati of Croydon demonstrated the benefits of councils working together, especially in getting user insight and sharing evidence. They introduced a nascent user research repository that has great potential for local government across the country.
Better foresight: Civic Tech for the urban planners
Jonathan Pichot from NYC Planning Labs talked about the app they have produced to help automate environmental impact analyses in New York City. It’s had great impact: agency staff now spend 50% less time checking environmental analyses, saving city agencies $200,000 since 2018.
mySociety’s researcher Alex Parsons explored some of the findings about how different groups use FixMyStreet in different ways, which can be read as a blog series here on our own site.
Bringing the citizens in: Civic Tech for engagement and participation
Jo Corfield and Joe Wills from the Centre for London talked about how the city’s wasted spaces can be used in a ‘meanwhile’ context (often also known as ‘pop-up’ initiatives) for the community. The thinktank’s research looked at 51 such spaces and came up with recommendations for maximising the benefits of this phenomenon.
Then Gail Ramster of the Royal College of Art and Mike Saunders from Commonplace gave an overview of the digital tools they’d used in two projects to try and engage citizens. When there are big changes on the horizon, such as the introduction of autonomous vehicles, how can digital technologies help ensure that everyone in the community has a voice for their hopes, fears and interests? And what does being involved in an engagement process actually do to one’s stance on an issue?
Taking back control: why community power matters to our economy and society and what gets in its way
Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power To Change, gave an inspirational keynote about the power of community ownership, with examples including a bakery in Anfield, training on home building in Bristol, and an energy company on the Isle of Wight. But she explained that in England the policy around shared ownership is not yet robust enough (in Scotland it is much better) as is demonstrated by the high rate of Assets of Community Value that are registered but which never make it into the community.
So you’ve declared a climate emergency. Now what?
The final panel looked at the very real issues facing those in authorities who have taken up Extinction Rebellion’s challenge and declared a climate emergency. How does that translate into fast real-world action in the sometimes slow-moving world of local government?
Sian Berry from Camden Council, Emily Tulloh from FutureGov, Trewin Restorick of Hubbub and Alasdair Roxburgh from Friends of the Earth were able to share their experiences, and a final question on what gave each speaker hope for the future ensured that we ended the day without feeling too overwhelmed.
Thanks are due
A special thanks to Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London, who welcomed us to his very special workplace; and to his assistant Davina who helped so much in setting things up. Thanks too, to all the staff at City Hall, who were without exception helpful and positive.
Further thanks, of course, to our thoughtful and inspiring speakers, for sharing your experience and knowledge, and to attendees for making TICTeC local a place for debate and collaboration.
Slides, photos and the notes from each session can all now be found on the TICTeC website, so go and have a browse.
We’re back at the big highways maintenance expo of the year, Highways UK on 6-7 November, in Birmingham’s NEC.
If you’re attending and you’d like to know more about FixMyStreet Pro, come and seek us out at stand I23, where we’ll have brochures for you to take away.
Stay for a chat with David and the rest of the team, who will be delighted to discuss everything from CMS integration to the display of assets, to how we’ve made life easier for your staff behind the scenes. Best of all, ask them about the savings you can make when you install FixMyStreet Pro as your main reports interface.
But don’t just take it from us. Anna Fitzgerald from Oxfordshire County Council will be joining us all day on the 6th, while Rob Gillespie from Ringway, who are responsible for the Isle of Wight’s Island Roads and Hounslow’s highways, will be available for a chat from 2-3pm on the 7th.
Here’s where to find the FixMyStreet stand: we’re looking forward to seeing you there.
Click on the image below to see it at a larger size.
Top image: Aleksejs Bergmanis
We’re pleased to announce the schedule for TICTeC Local 2019, our one-day conference that focuses directly on the use and impacts of Civic Tech in communities and local government. If this sounds good to you, you’d better book now, because spaces are limited.
Join us on 1st November at London’s City Hall to discuss how digital tools can help local government and communities to foster citizen engagement, drive efficiencies, and combat social and environmental problems. TICTeC events are unique in that they emphasise the research behind digital platforms and tools, not just showcasing the tools themselves.
TICTeC Local is more than just a conference once a year: we want it to be a catalyst that helps more local councils and organisations think about and research the impacts of digital tools they are using, and to share this knowledge amongst their peers.
For six years now we have fostered a global network of civic tech researchers and practitioners via our Impacts of Civic Technology Conferences (TICTeC) – TICTeC Local allows us to bring some of that international experience to the local level and emphasise the importance of local digital innovations and researching their impacts.
Free public sector tickets
We have a set number of free tickets available for public sector attendees. These are limited to a maximum of two tickets per public sector organisation. If you work in the public sector and can commit to attending please choose the ‘Public Sector’ ticket option on Eventbrite.
We are delighted to be joined by many excellent speakers — here are just a few you can expect to hear from:
Chief Executive, Power to Change
Vidhya is the founding Chief Executive of Power to Change, the independent trust established in 2015 to support the growth of community businesses across England to create more prosperous and cohesive communities.
Head of Community Action and Giving at Office for Civil Society, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
The focus of Miriam’s 18 year career in central government, public, private and third sectors has been to develop and implement long-lasting, impactful community development strategies, focusing on how people can be involved in shaping the places where they live and take action on the things that matter to them.
Professor Graham Smith
Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), Westminster University
Graham’s research interests are in democratic theory and practice (particularly participatory democratic institutions), climate and environmental politics and the third sector/social economy.
He is currently involved in a number of funded research projects, including Scholio (University of Connecticut), Participedia (SSHRC) and AssoDem (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness). Recently completed projects include Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit (ESRC) and Cherry-picking.
Executive Director, DataKind UK
Giselle oversees the running of DataKind UK, empowering the community of volunteers in their use of data for social good. After graduating in Maths and Physics, Giselle worked as a data scientist and public policy analyst in the UK Government, a national charity and think tanks, before returning to study a masters in Computational Journalism. Prior to joining the team at DataKind UK, Giselle was a longtime core volunteer. She believes that smart, responsible data collection and use can help the social sector tackle some of the UK’s biggest challenges – and change the world!
Lead User Researcher at #HackIT, Hackney Council
HackIT brings together the technology, digital and data teams of Hackney Council to support their residents and businesses, colleagues and partners.
Co-Founder, President, JustFix.nyc
Georges is a product manager and experienced nonprofit leader who specializes in partnerships, business operations, fundraising, and gathering research insights to inform digital product features.
JustFix.nyc builds technology for tenants and organisers fighting displacement, by following a community-driven approach to support New York’s housing justice movement.
Dr. Tammy Esteves
Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Troy University
Dr. Esteves is very active in the American Society for Public Administration, where she is on the board of the Section of Democracy and Social Justice, and is a past president of the Evergreen Chapter in Seattle. She primarily teaches Research Methods, Leadership in Public Administration, Ethics in Public Administration, eGovernance, and Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response. Her main research interest is the role of technology for building community, particularly in the areas of social media, crowdsourcing, and GIS.
Developer & Product Manager, NYC Planning Labs
Jonathan is a New York-based software developer and product manager with an enduring fascination of cities. He has worked for software companies and city governments, working to use technology to improve the way cities function and the lives of the people that live in them.
NYC Planning Labs believe better outcomes can be achieved using modern design and development practices along with open technology. They are civic technologists that help support the Department of City Planning’s mission.
Don’t miss TICTeC Local 2019
There’s more information about TICTeC Local on the main TICTeC website.
We’ve just come back from a heady couple of days in Oslo, where our AlaveteliCon event brought together those with a shared interest in the technology around Freedom of Information — in all, around 50 journalists, researchers, technologists and activists from 18 different countries.
As our Head of Development Louise announced in her opening words, AlaveteliCon has always been a slight misnomer, given that we’re keen to share knowledge not just with those who use Alaveteli, but with all the FOI platforms in our small but growing community — including MuckRock in the US and Frag Den Staat in Germany, both of whom were in attendance.
It was a timely event for us, as we embark on work to introduce our Alaveteli Pro functionality to newsrooms, researchers and campaigners across Europe, with an emphasis on encouraging cross-border collaboration in campaigns, research and journalistic investigations.
As well as picking up practical tips, we heard a variety of inspiring and instructive stories from FOI practitioners around the world; brainstormed ways forward in increasingly difficult political times; and shared knowledge on funding, publicity, site maintenance, and how to keep good relations with FOI officers.
Some of the most inspiring sessions came when delegates shared how they had used FOI in campaigns and investigations, from Vouliwatch’s Stefanos Loukopoulos explaining how they had taken their own government to court, to Beryl Lipton of MuckRock explaining why the government use of algorithms can have effects that are unforeseen, and indeed petrifying.
There was an affecting story from freelance journalist Mago Torres, who told us about a long campaign to map clandestine graves of those caught up in the war against drugs in Mexico; and from Camilla Graham Wood of Privacy International, on that organisation’s work to uncover some of the rather sinister but not widely known technologies being put into use by police services in the UK.
So much knowledge came out of these two days. We don’t want to lose it, so we’ll be making sure to update the conference page with photos, videos and the speakers’ slides as soon as they’re available. Meanwhile, you can follow the links from the agenda on that page to find the collaborative documents where we took notes for each session.
We’re excited to announce that TICTeC 2020, our sixth global conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Reykjavik, Iceland on 24 and 25 March 2020.
Put that in your diaries now, we’d love for you to join us.
What is TICTeC and why do we host it?
There are several existing annual conferences in which civic technology is showcased, and in which the potential for such tools to change and drive participation can be discussed, however, very few of these events include real and in-depth research into whether the potential outcomes of civic technology were realised.
This is where TICTeC differs: the majority of speakers will be presenting evidence-based research to demonstrate the various impacts of civic technology from across the world.
We created TICTeC to bridge the gap between civic tech and research – to bring two different communities together, to emphasise the importance of being able to demonstrate impact, and to share what those impacts are.
We’re really excited to be hosting TICTeC in Reykjavik, as the City Council are pioneers in using digital tools to elicit feedback and engagement from its citizens on council policies, expenditure and projects. As one civil servant told us: “If a political party does not believe in or promise citizen engagement they just won’t be elected here”.
TICTeC 2020 will therefore be a unique occasion for the global community to learn from Iceland’s extensive civic tech and civic engagement experience, and vice versa.
We’re delighted that civic tech veterans Citizens Foundation will speak at TICTeC 2020 about their latest attempt to crowdsource the Icelandic constitution using digital tools, a project they are currently working on with Iceland’s National Parliament and the University of Iceland. Lessons from this will be extremely valuable to TICTeC’s global audience, so we are excited to have them join us.
TICTeC 2020 will also include keynote speeches, simultaneous research tracks, hands-on workshops, and special networking sessions. We also expect there to be additional fringe events as other organisations arrange companion events before and after the main conference.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts to further explain our reasons behind choosing Iceland for TICTeC 2020; how we’ll be trying to reduce TICTeC 2020’s carbon footprint; and our experiences trying to increase diversity at our conferences.
Apply to present or run a workshop
This two day conference provides the opportunity for researchers to present theoretical or empirical work related to the conference theme. We also welcome proposals for individuals to lead workshops or give presentations relating to the conference theme. We encourage submissions to focus on the specific impacts of technologies, rather than showcase new tools that are as yet untested.
If you’d like to give a presentation or run a workshop at TICTeC 2020, please submit your proposals now. You have until Friday 17th January 2020.
For the last three years TICTeC has sold out – so make sure you get tickets early. Early bird tickets provide a significant discount, so it’s well worth registering before early bird ticket sales end on Friday 14th February 2020.
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 email@example.com 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 March in beautiful Reykjavik!
And here is an overview of this year’s conference, expect more of the same plus improvements in Reykjavik:
mySociety’s Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul will be speaking at the first ever Welsh Citizens’ Assembly next week. She’ll be exploring how citizens might more easily feed into the questions posed to ministers and the First Minister in the National Assembly for Wales.
Questions are a fundamental part of all of the UK’s parliaments, most famously in the form of PMQs, the half hour every Wednesday when MPs can raise any issue they deem important with the Prime Minister.
In the devolved parliaments there are also various formats for Q&As, both written and oral. But, Rebecca will argue, there are fundamental problems inherent in all of them, from a lack of representation of the views of the general public, to the political motivations that lead to many questions lacking meaningful substance.
Of course, a Citizens’ Assembly is most concerned with hearing from the general populace, and Rebecca will go on to present our recent research into the digital tools that can help with that process, while examining the pros and cons of each.
Rebecca is one of several speakers who will also include Dr Diana Stirbu and Professor Graham Smith. The event is being co-facilitated by Involve and you can keep up to date with the Citizens’ Assembly’s activities on their dedicated website.
If you’re a councillor who’d like to find out how our services can help you work more efficiently — and bring benefits to your residents — please do swing by for a chat at stand BL3.
We’ve written a lot about our street reporting service for councils — how it can integrate with existing back-end systems; how it can encourage channel shift and thus bring savings; and the many new features we’ve introduced in response to what councils tell us they need. You can read all our past posts on the FixMyStreet Pro blog.
But as a councillor, you may be interested in other aspects of the service. Here are a few highlights:
- FixMyStreet lets you subscribe to the reports being made in your ward — you’ll get an email every time someone makes a new report. This allows you to monitor issues as they occur, and take action if it’s warranted.
- You can also access a map showing every report ever made in your ward. If desired, you can filter reports by category or by status to get a picture of how each type of report, from graffiti to potholes, is impacting your residents.
- If your council is one of the many who use FixMyStreet Pro as their main reporting system, you’ll also have access to more refined analysis via the dashboard, which allows you to compare reports and fulfillment over different periods of time.
- You can make reports on the go, so if you spot something that needs fixing while you’re out and about, it’s quick and easy to get a report filed.
Keep It In The Community
Also come and discover Keep It In The Community, an England-wide online mapping of the spaces and places that are valuable to local communities, created in partnership with Power To Change.
Under the Localism Act of 2011, every council is obliged to retain a list of Assets of Community Value (ACVs): Keep it In The Community turns this obligation into a benefit for all, allowing you to store and share your data while contributing to a national picture.
Thanks to a recent update, Keep It In The Community also displays buildings and spaces currently under community ownership. As a councillor, we think you’ll like this service because:
- It’s completely free.
- It provides an attractive way for councils to display ACVs and community-run spaces, and invites residents to add richer detail such as memories and photographs.
- It’s a great way to demonstrate the community activity that’s taking place within your ward.
- It helps popularise the concept of community ownership, encouraging more residents to take action and preserve the spaces that matter to them.
If this has whetted your interest, don’t forget to come and meet the friendly mySociety and Power to Change folk on stand BL3.
On 26 – 27 of June, scholars and practitioners from all over the world will be meeting in Rio de Janeiro for the 6th Global Conference on Transparency Research. The conference focuses on measuring transparency, exploring how this can be achieved, what the barriers are, whether metrics are useful, and how current interventions are shaping transparency around the world.
mySociety’s Head of Research Rebecca Rumbul will be attending, and will be presenting some of mySociety’s recent research into the transparency of parliamentary information in sub-Saharan Africa. Examining transparency through a digital lens, this research broke new ground in understanding how digital tools are shaping parliamentary transparency in sub-Saharan Africa, and how barriers to transparency are affecting how citizens engage with public institutions. You can read the full report here.
Rebecca will be speaking at 4pm on Thursday 27 June, so please do come along and say hello. She says, “Transparency, digital and citizen engagement are core themes of our research at mySociety, and we love to talk to other people working in these areas. Meeting new people and sharing ideas are the best parts of any conference, so do grab me for a chat if you are attending.”
If you are unable to join Rebecca in Rio, but you are interested in talking research, we’re always happy to receive email. And keep your eyes peeled for our TICTeC conference announcement for April 2020. We will be opening our Call for Papers in early September.
Image: Jaime Spaniol
Next week Gareth and I will be heading to Tunis to attend the 8th edition of RightsCon. RightsCon is the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age, so we’re thrilled to be hosting a session at the conference about digital Access to Information platforms with our awesome friends at MuckRock.
If you’ll also be there we’d love to talk to you about your campaigns or investigations and how using access to information platforms could help.
As Jen said in her recent blog post, we’ll be spending time this year developing our software platform Alaveteli Pro so more people across the world have access to its digital tools that help with the sending and management of information requests.
We’d love to get feedback on this work and would love to meet organisations who are interested in setting up Alaveteli Pro instances, in order to make access to information easier for citizens in their countries. We’re also very keen to talk to individuals and organisations who are interested in collaborating on cross-border public-interest investigations and campaigns using FOI-generated data.
We’d also love to talk to RightsCon attendees who might be interested in attending our AlaveteliCon event in Oslo on 23 and 24 September, where activists, journalists, technologists and campaigners from across the world will come together to discuss Freedom of Information technologies for creating public-interest investigations and campaigns.
And of course, our Call for Proposals is currently open for our TICTeC Local conference so it’d be great to chat to people interested in presenting their work using digital innovations to help local communities and/or public authorities to foster citizen engagement, drive efficiency, and combat social and environmental problems.
We’re delighted to be hosting the third AlaveteliCon, our Freedom of Information (FOI) technologies conference, on 23 and 24 September 2019 in Oslo, Norway.
A few days ahead of International Right to Know Day (28 September), AlaveteliCon will bring together activists, journalists, technologists and campaigners from across the world who use Freedom of Information laws, data and technologies to create public-interest investigations and campaigns.
This time we’ll be including a focus on catalysing collaborations on cross-border European public interest investigations and campaigns, in order to strengthen the use of FOI across the region. This focus is in part due to our latest Transparency project, funded by Adessium Foundation. This Transparency project seeks to enable journalists, campaigners and citizens in Europe to make greater and more effective use of their right to access information, in particular to generate public interest stories and campaigns that hold power to account.
Here are some of the other things AlaveteliCon attendees will get up to this time:
- Exchanging insights and ideas on how to run and improve open-source Freedom of Information platforms such as WhatDoTheyKnow, MuckRock and FragDenStaat
- Hearing how journalists and campaigners around the world have used FOI to power high-profile investigations and campaigns
- Making connections with journalists and campaigners who would like to collaborate on cross-border investigations that hold governments to account
- Learning about data sources available on FOI platforms around the world, waiting to be analysed and turned into public-interest stories
- Hearing tips from FOI activists on getting governments to release information in their countries including going to court
- Contributing to the further development of mySociety’s open-source FOI toolkit for journalists, Alaveteli Pro, which helps journalists and campaigners to manage their FOI investigations
- Connecting to a global network of FOI experts and advocates
- Working together to plan potential joint activities to celebrate International Right to Know Day on 28th September 2019
Apply to attend
As spaces at AlaveteliCon are limited, we’re asking those wishing to come to fill out this application form to tell us what unique perspective they can bring that’s relevant to the above conference themes/topics.
Are you a journalist or campaigner who uses FOI for investigations/campaigns? Do you want to collaborate on FOI-generated investigations? Or interested in setting up an FOI platform in your country? Or want to learn how to use FOI to its fullest potential? Or interested in any of the above topics? If so, then please submit your application by 2nd September at the very latest.
We’ll let you know if you’ve been allocated a place by Friday 6th September at the latest. However, we will endeavour to reply to you sooner than this.
AlaveteliCon is free to attend, but delegates will be required to arrange their own travel, accommodation and costs in Oslo.