Last Saturday (August 19th) at Newspeak House in London, mySociety and Wikimedia UK held the “Wikifying Westminster” workshop, a day-long event to encourage people to get involved with Wikidata, but also to give a taste of what people can build with the data that is already there.
The vision: one day, complex investigations which currently take researchers a lot of time, such as “how many MPs are descended from people who were also MPs” or “how many people named X were MPs in year Y”, will be answerable with data from Wikidata using a single SPARQL query…
…but we’re not quite there yet. Currently, some data is scattered all over separate databases (which sometimes get shut down or disappear); some is just plain missing; and most frustrating of all, some is in place but there’s no apparent way to get it out of the database.
In order to make this vision a reality, we need to experiment with the data, find ways to check how complete it is, and explore what questions we can currently answer with it. Events like Wikifying Westminster are the perfect opportunity to do just that.
After a brief introduction to Wikidata and the EveryPolitician project, we split into two groups: one focused on learning how to use Wikidata, while the other focused on working on mini-projects.
Here’s a taste of what happened…
The learning track began by introducing new users to the basic Wikidata editing principles (or “getting data into Wikidata”). Participants were able to put their new skills into action immediately, by adding missing data on British MPs, who were mostly lacking dates and places of birth.
By the end of the first session, good progress had been made, particularly on obtaining dates of birth for current British parliamentarians. For some reason, though, it proved much harder to find these for women than for men: we can only speculate as to why that might be (do some still adhere to the idea that a woman shouldn’t reveal her age?!).
We were also given an introduction to SPARQL, a language used to query information on databases (or “getting data out of Wikidata”). Lucas Werkmeister introduced the Wikidata query service and explained a few tricks to help with using it. Participants were later able to put this to the test by running progressively difficult test queries such as “All current UK MPs” or “Who is the youngest current MP?”
Also, Navino Evans showed us the potential of reusing data, talking about Histropedia, which he co-created with Sean McBirnie. Histropedia is an awesome tool that lets you visualise thousands of topics on interactive timelines: you can browse through existing ones or create a new one from scratch.
This group both worked on improving data and looked at how well we could answer some simple “stepping stone” queries (i.e. small questions to which we already knew some of the answers) as a heuristic of how good the data in Wikidata already is. You can see and contribute questions to the list of test queries here.
Some more details:
Improving data. The focus here was on the Northern Ireland Assembly, for which Wikidata now has full membership history back to the foundation of the Assembly, and on adding academic degrees of cabinet ministers. Starting from an excellent spreadsheet of the undergraduate universities and subjects of UK politicians and ministers (going back to John Major’s cabinets), we tried to upload that data on the relevant items, adding the qualifier “academic major” (P812) to the property “educated at” (P69). In this case, the key problem we found was that we weren’t sure how to model when people did joint subjects, like “Maths and Politics”, convincing us to concentrate on the more obvious subjects first.
Answering some unusual and/or intriguing questions. Inspired by a prior finding that there are more FTSE 100 CEOs named John than there are female ones, and that John is historically the most common name of UK parliamentarians, we thought we’d find out when exactly the John-to-female balance was toppled amongst the UK’s MPs (hint: not until 1992).
Going back further in history, we queried the first time each given name was recorded in Parliament, this was inspired by a recent news article about an MP who claimed he was the first “Darren” in the Commons.
Some ideas were also born that we weren’t able to see through, for various reasons. For example, could we discover which, if any, MPs are descended from people listed in the UCL’s ‘Legacy of British Slave-owners’ database? An interesting question, but at the moment, the answer is ‘no’, partly because child-parent relationships are currently inconsistently modelled in Wikidata, and partly because of the nature of Wikidata and ancestry: if there is someone who doesn’t exist in Wikidata (e.g. Grandad Bob, the painter) in the family chain, Wikidata can’t bridge the gap between a present day MP and the slave owner who might be their ancestor.
This is just the beginning
Work, of course, is still ongoing: all pre-1997 UK data is still to be inserted or improved on Wikidata, and so much more is missing – family connections, academic degrees, links to other databases, and all sorts of “unusual stuff” that can be used for interesting queries.
This data is crucial if we want to be able to answer the really big questions which Wikidata should one day be capable of helping us explore, about what politicians do.
We can do that together!
We hope that events like this give people an easy way in to Wikidata and also show them what’s already possible to achieve with the data. Over the coming months, we are hoping to support more events of this type around the world. If you are interested in getting involved, here’s how:
- Want to improve your country’s data? Events like this can be a great way to help kickstart activities and find other people who share your goals. We are happy to help out and support people in other countries to do so.
- Are you already organising or planning to organise a similar workshop around Wikidata? Make sure it is listed on the Wikidata Event page!
- Do you want to attend future workshops? Follow us on Twitter to stay updated about events that we are running, and ones that other people are too!
We’re also always looking for feedback and suggestions on workshop and event formats that might also work. Have you already run similar workshops? Let us know your impressions and suggestions on email@example.com!
Feature image credits: Mark Longair
As we shared back in April, this September we’ll be hosting an extra edition of our TICTeC research conference, in Taipei.
TICTeC, or The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, is the Civic Tech sector’s only conference that’s dedicated to promoting and sharing research into the impacts of online technologies and digital democracy around the world, to share what works and (crucially) what doesn’t.
TICTeC@Taipei will be the headline event at the Open Culture Foundation’s Civic Tech Fest, a week-long festival featuring a series of conferences, workshops and hackathons related to open data and open government. And Civic Tech Fest itself is an official parallel event of the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT), one of the world’s largest gatherings of the IT industry.
It’s a really unique opportunity to bring together researchers and practitioners from across the globe in Asia’s Civic Tech hub, and to showcase our sector’s initiatives to the wider IT industry.
We’re delighted to announce that the TICTeC@Taipei agenda is now online. The conference will feature speakers from the Omidyar Network, UNICEF, the Web Foundation, government ministries of France and Taiwan, leading universities, and many more.
Early bird tickets are still available until 21st July and registration includes entry to all Civic Tech Fest and WCIT events. We’ll even be having the TICTeC after party in the Taipei 101 building (the tallest building in the photo above), at Google’s Taipei offices. Pretty cool huh?
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity — book now!
Image: sama093 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
How can we counter Fake News — and should we even try? Do big corporations have a moral duty to share their data for the betterment of the world? Why do petitions created by women get more signatures than those created by men?
These are just a few of the questions posed — and answered — at TICTeC 2017.
If you weren’t able to attend (or indeed if you’d like to experience it all again), you’ll be glad to know that you can now access videos of the key presentations, as well as interviews where delegates share their insights and specialist expertise. Where available, we’ve also shared speakers’ slides.
You can see the whole lot on the TICTeC website, and as a taster, here’s an overview of the whole event… in just two minutes:
And don’t forget: you can join us for a special extra TICTeC conference in September this year. We’ll be hosting TICTeC@Taipei as part of Asia’s first Civic Tech Fest, an official side event of the World Congress on Information Technology. More details and how to register can be found at civictechfest.org.
Thanks so much to everyone who joined us in Florence last week for the third Impacts of Civic Technology conference, TICTEC. As always, it was an event shaped by the many thoughtful contributions from both the speakers and the audience.
For those who couldn’t be there, and for those who were but couldn’t see everything, here’s where to find a taste of the two days.
- The official TICTeC website has a full list of speakers and the schedule. To see more about any session, click on it from the speaker’s page or from the schedule. We’ll add any links, transcripts, slides or videos as they become available to these pages, too.
- Want to know more about a specific session? Most speakers have included their Twitter handles on their page, so you can tweet them your question.
- You can also see all the slides in one place (where we’ve received permission from speakers; there may be more to follow) on Slideshare.
- Everyone who attended is automatically a member of the TICTeC Google Group (and you can also join even if you weren’t there, of course). Feel free to continue discussions or start new ones there.
- Thanks so much to the enterprising delegates who contributed to these crowdsourced notes on many of the sessions.
- We’ve gathered together the best tweets and pictures on Storify.
- Key sessions were videoed, and we also interviewed several delegates — but editing takes a little time, so keep an eye on this blog or our Twitter feed to find out when those go live.
- We’ll also put professional photos from the event over on our Flickr account, as soon as we have them. They’ll all be under Creative Commons, so feel free to download and share them if you wish.
Don’t forget that TICTeC is expanding this year: we’ll also be in Taipei as part of the Civic Tech fest in September.
We’re really glad to be taking the event to Asia, and we’re certain that this will bring a completely new perspective to the issues and initiatives discussed — it should also make the event accessible to a wider audience.
If you’d like to present at TICTeC@Taipei, please submit a session proposal by 16th June 2017. Applications for travel grants are now also open, so if you need financial support to attend submit your application here by the same deadline.
We’re currently in Florence, Italy, where TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technology conference, is in full swing. But as if that wasn’t exciting enough, TICTeC will be hitting Taipei for a spin-off event later this year.
TICTeC@Taipei, hosted by the Civic Tech Fest, will run on 11 and 12 September: you can expect the same insightful sessions on Civic Tech and its efficacy.
Registration and the call for session proposals are both currently open, so if you’d like to be part of TICTeC@Taipei, act now.
If you’d like to present at TICTeC@Taipei, please submit a session proposal by 16th June 2017. Applications for travel grants are now also open, so if you need financial support to attend please submit your application before 16th June 2017.
It’s just a few days now until our annual research event, TICTeC.
The Impacts of Civic Technology conference is an opportunity for researchers, activists, funders, and all the other people that make up the ever-growing Civic Tech sector, to come together and learn from one another in two days of inspiring presentations and workshops.
In between sessions, the odds are very much in favour of conversations with people whose area of expertise is precisely relevant to your own — that’s one of the primary reasons, attendees tell us, that they enjoy TICTeC so.
And that’s before you even throw in the fact that we’ll be convening in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Florence, Italy.
The agenda is looking great: you can see it here, and more details about the speakers are here. It’s always a sign of a good event when the team members putting the website together are already talking excitedly about which sessions they hope to attend!
If all of that is making you wish you had booked a place, well, it’s not too late. There are a very few tickets left so if you act now, you could still be joining us in the Villa Vittoria for the highlight of the Civic Tech year. There are even a few free tickets available, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
If you can’t make it, don’t forget to follow proceedings on Twitter via the @mySociety Twitter page and via the #TICTeC hashtag. We’ll also be producing videos of the main plenary sessions which we’ll publish on the TICTeC website after the conference.
Ci vediamo presto!
Image: Villa Vittoria
As Mark mentioned last month I have recently joined mySociety as Product Manager in the Better Cities team. This is something of a departure for me as I have spent most of my career working for large, publicly funded institutions — places like the Office for National Statistics, Medical Research Council and Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to name but three.
That said a large part of all those roles was trying to convince colleagues of the benefits of using the kind of products and services organisations like mySociety provide so maybe it isn’t that big a leap after all.
It has been a long held ambition of mine to work for mySociety — looking back it was almost 10 years ago when I first mentioned them/us on my blog and the organisation has been a consistent influence on me ever since with a number of former staff, trustees and volunteers becoming friends and colleagues over the intervening years.
It was my gateway to the wider world of the ‘civic tech’ community to which I have been a proud contributor for many years now — most recently mainly through running a weekly jobs list for public service minded organisations seeking digital staff.
At the moment I am primarily focused on learning as much as I can about our FixMyStreet platform (including the ‘..for Councils’ product) and investigating the MapIt service as well. As I get up to speed with things I am also taking the opportunity to get about and about — attending events and trying to meet people who make use of our projects.
In the weeks to come I’ll be attending MeasureCamp in Cardiff (4th February), giving a talk at World IA Day in Manchester (18th February), speaking at BathHacked on the 22nd February (Bath), helping out at day one of Open Data Camp in Cardiff (25th February), going to ProductCampon the 4th March (London) and giving a lightning talk at the launch of the new Tech4Good group in Bristol on the 23rd March. All this as well as hosting my regular ‘minimal viable meet-up’ on the 8th February in Bristol.
If you are attending any of these events please and want to chat ‘Better Cities’, civic tech or just want to get hold of one of our lovely stickers please come and say hi — there are rarely any other attendees who sound as Bristolian as I do so I am usually easy to find. Also if there are any events you’d like to suggest I attend — either to give a talk about the mySociety ‘Better Cities’ work or just generally an opportunity for me to learn more about how people are using digital tools to engage with and influence local democracy please do let me know.
I am @jukesie on Twitter (be warned — I am something of a prolific tweeter!) and my email is email@example.com so please get in touch.
Audrey is Taiwan’s Minister for Digital, and is part of a massive shake-up that has seen that country embrace unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and citizen participation. Her keynote will describe some of the ground-breaking methods they’ve introduced.
One of these is Audrey’s famous accessibility. Using a public platform, she is happy to answer questions from anyone, and endeavours to do so within 48 hours. We posed ours there, but we’re replicating them below for our readers to follow.
Such is her schedule that Audrey will be delivering her keynote virtually, but there will be an opportunity for delegates to put questions to her live. Accordingly, we’ve gone a little more in-depth with this conversation.
Why haven’t we in the West heard more about the transformations that have been happening in Taiwan? They really are so ground-breaking — do you have any idea why they might not have received more global coverage?
There is reasonable regional coverage in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. However, global awareness is limited by Taiwan’s restricted participation in multilateral organisations, as well as the relative lack of English material (somewhat ameliorated by recent advances in machine translation).
How would we go about encouraging our own governments to follow in your footsteps? You visited the UK Parliament recently: what was your perception of how they are doing on the Open Government front?
While rules, playbooks and tools are reusable, each government’s political context is unique, so I would encourage everyone to pave their own path instead.
I didn’t stay long enough to learn about UK’s progress — looking forward to learn more from mySociety folks in the future, perhaps when TICTeC comes to Asia. 🙂
TICTeC is all about measuring the impact of civic technologies. Do you have systems in place that help you assess the effectiveness of the measures you put in place?
Yes, there are quantitative engagement metrics and surveys, though they are mostly in Chinese — for example for the petition platform [opens as document; in Chinese].
Clearly, it’s early days yet, but have your implementations been an unqualified success?
For the past 100 days, our main contributions are proceeding well — providing an internal collaboration platform (sandstorm.io) for participation officers from every ministry; requiring all regulations and trade-related laws to be open for public discussion (join.gov.tw); as well as help codifying an open multi-stakeholder mechanism into the draft of Digital Communications Act.
What feedback have you had from citizens and the national press?
In Taiwan’s post-2014 political climate, mainstream press and citizens would never call for “less transparency”, so people mostly respond favourably — of course, there are calls for more accountability and more informed participation, for meaningful conversations to form around divisive issues.
What proportion of the population has taken part in your crowd-sourcing projects? Do you worry about the elderly or less connected not being sufficiently represented in decision-making?
As a proponent of assistive civic tech, it is important that we seek diversity of opinion (not zero-sum voting) and each engagement venue opens up access for previously unavailable folks (not taking existing venues away) — see this write-up by LÜ Chia-Hua.
Of course, even in a democracy of feelings, there will still be some people who lose out, or see a decision that doesn’t go the way they wanted. Are you sensing more understanding from these people, since they’ve gone through the online debates process?
Yes. Generally we come up with rough consensus that people can live with — as long as the procedure are transparent and accountable, we are seeing people who did not get what they initially demanded nevertheless help defending the result.
How stressful is it for a human being to hold themself up to constant public scrutiny? Transparency is of course a laudable aim, but might it sometimes be at the cost of a person’s own downtime or privacy?
Private meetings and on-the-record transcripts are fully compatible; note that we allow each participant to make corrections for ten days after the meeting: here are our guidelines.
A large proportion of Taiwanese politicians are Independents. Do you think party politics is now an outdated system?
In the cabinet there are more independents than members of any party, but in the parliament every party has more MPs than independents.
How can digital technologies bridge the gap between citizen and state without simply reverting to irrelevant soundbite politics or Twitter trolling?
We need to partner with (and become) media to make relevant facts as easy — and eventually easier — to spread.
What is the importance of TICTeC? Why assess the impact of civic technologies?
Informed discussions need to be rooted in evidence. If we are to build a global democratic network of feelings, we need to make sure that these feelings are reflective — this is only possible when they are built upon facts.
Finally: what are your next steps? Are there any more big innovations you plan to introduce during your time in cabinet?
For scalable listening to work, we need to engage people who prefer interactive & tangible understanding, including children. This post outlines the initial steps; and this one outlines the main vision.
Book your place at TICTeC
If you enjoyed reading this interview, it’s time to book your ticket for TICTeC, where every conversation will directly examine the impacts of civic technologies.
And for those who would like to present their own insights, better hurry: the call for papers runs until February 10.
Last week, we announced the keynote speakers for TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technology conference 2017.
Now we’re going to look at each of them in more depth, starting with Tiago Carneiro Peixoto of the World Bank. His keynote is titled (Un)Civic Tech? and will be looking at how sometimes, despite high hopes, civic technologies don’t deliver everything that’s been hoped for.
Most importantly, Tiago will examine the tangible effects of civic tech on participation, inclusiveness, and governmental action — and then go on to outline which research agendas we should be pursuing now.
We zipped a few questions across to Tiago and he was happy to give us some answers.
(Un)Civic Tech? — that’s quite a bold title, given that your listeners will all be people working in the arena of Civic Tech and with a strong belief in its power to do good! Should we be worried?
Actually my initial title was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Civic Tech”, so it’s not all just bad and ugly. But no, you shouldn’t be worried. Unless you are extremely prone to confirmation bias!
TICTeC is all about assessing the impacts of Civic Technology, making you a particularly relevant speaker. What measures does the World Bank have in place in order to assess the impact of the work that it does?
The measures depend on the problem at hand.
But some of the recurrent measures we look at are related to the effects of technology on uptake, inclusiveness, citizens’ decision-making, and governments’ responsiveness.
For those who are getting started on the subject, I would suggest taking a look at one of our recent publications, Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement: A Practical Guide.
It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.
Part of our work can also be found at the Open Government Research Exchange, which is a partnership between GovLab, mySociety, and the World Bank’s Digital Engagement Evaluation Team.
But the best illustration of our measures and findings — which will be presented later this year — are not public yet. So, for those who would like to see it first-hand, I would suggest they come to Florence for TICTeC.
What do you perceive to be the value of TICTeC?
One of the key values of TICTeC is that it is convened by mySociety — which, since its creation, has been one of the leading organisations actually doing civic technology work.
The curation of the conference by mySociety’s team, combined with mySociety’s reputation and network, naturally tends to draw the participation of high-level researchers who are more likely to be dealing with concrete problems in the civic tech space.
What are you looking forward to getting out of the conference yourself?
Of course, I’m very curious to see the research that will be presented at the conference, and how it has evolved in relationship to previous conferences.
I am also very interested in meeting new researchers and exploring venues for collaboration with them. But I hope that the conference is also an opportunity to collectively move towards a more coordinated and problem-driven research agenda.
TICTeC brings together researchers and practitioners in Civic Tech. If you could give a single message to the community, what would it be?
It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.
You’ve done some interesting work with FixMyStreet data. What did you discover there?
We are happy to have conducted what is, to our knowledge, the first empirical work examining the effect of government responsiveness on citizens’ participation.
The fact that we did this in collaboration with mySociety and using FixMyStreet data is something we are particularly proud of.
We are now looking into other issues, such as predictors of government responsiveness. In other words, what makes governments “tick”? Does it matter who you are for governments to respond?
While these may seem like trivial questions, they have important implications for the design and performance of solutions like FixMyStreet. I don’t want to anticipate our preliminary findings now, but I will certainly do so at TICTeC.
So there you have it: several more good reasons to book your ticket for TICTeC now.
Or, if you have something to say, why not submit an abstract?
You can be sure of seeing thought-provoking speakers at TICTeC, all focusing on the vital area of researching the impacts of Civic Technologies. We put a lot of effort into making sure of that!
And we especially strive to bring you keynote speakers who are inspiring, insightful, surprising… in some cases even provocative. You may still recall last year’s keynote Helen Milner asking ‘Is Civic Tech just an amusing pastime of the middle-classes?’.
For TICTeC 2017, we can promise keynotes that are just as compelling. We’re delighted to say that each day’s proceedings will be kicked off by Tiago Carneiro Peixoto and Audrey Tang.
Tiago Carneiro Peixoto
Tiago is from the World Bank, which has the ambitious mission of reducing world poverty.
As a Senior Public Sector Specialist, Tiago works with governments to develop solutions for better public policies and services. As you might expect, that involves research around technology, citizen engagement and governance, to help understand how those things can intersect for the good of all. One example of that is the research using FixMyStreet reports, which demonstrated how government responsiveness can lead to citizens becoming more engaged.
If you’d like further reason to pay attention to his keynote, well, Tiago was featured in TechCrunch as one of the twenty most innovative people in democracy. We know he’ll have plenty to say that is of direct interest to TICTeC delegates.
In her inauguration speech, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said, “Before, democracy was a clash between two opposing values, but now democracy must be a conversation, a dialogue, between many different values”. To help bring about this vision, she appointed Audrey Tang as Minister for Digital in her new cabinet.
If you think parliamentary proceedings can be as dull as ditchwater, you may be in for a surprise. Audrey was not a standard appointment: she comes from a background of activist hacking, for one thing.
Since her arrival in August 2016, the government has undergone a colossal transformation into one of the most open and participatory administrations operating in the world today, ranking top in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Index.
Audrey will be running through some of those groundbreaking changes in her keynote at TICTeC. Note that she’ll be ‘appearing’ virtually — she’s very much in demand — but there will still be the opportunity to pose questions to her live.
Stand by, as we’ll shortly profile our two keynotes further. For now, we hope your appetite has been suitably whetted.
If you’re interested in presenting a session or workshop at TICTeC, see the Call for Papers here — and submit before February 10.
Registration to attend is available at the earlybird price until March 10 — book here.