1. TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #1: Public-private collaborations

    As outlined in this blog post, as part of our brand new TICTeC Labs programme, we’ll be hosting a series of Civic Tech Surgeries to diagnose, dissect and address Civic Tech dilemmas to unlock impact.

    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.

  2. Introducing TICTeC Labs

    We’re delighted to share an exciting new chapter for TICTeC.

    TICTeC stands for ‘The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference’. Since 2015 mySociety has convened an international cohort of those who build, use and research technologies that aim to enhance public participation, transparency and accountability, in order to openly and honestly examine how digital civic interventions are shaping society.

    Discussion leading to action

    Now, thanks to financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy, TICTeC is expanding from an annual conference into a continuous programme of activities and events that will run across the next 18 months, primarily remotely.

    The aim is to discuss and tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the global civic tech/digital democracy sector — and once they’ve been identified, we’ll grant participants the funding that will enable them to work on solutions.

    We’re calling this new programme TICTeC Labs and it consists of two streams:

    1. Civic Tech Surgeries

    Regular online convenings bringing together the global civic tech community to discuss challenges facing the sector, to share existing research and experience, and identify evidence gaps and other needs.

    Each Civic Tech Surgery will be around two hours long, and open to participants from around the world; there will be six surgeries across the next 18 months, each focused on a specific theme identified as a key challenge for the global civic tech sector.

    The first Civic Tech Surgery

    Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?

    28 October 14.00 – 16.00 GMT+1

    Read more about it and sign up here.

    2. Action Labs

    A collaborative and action-oriented process to take forward ideas generated in Civic Tech Surgeries and support initiatives that address common challenges.

    Following each surgery session, a working group of expert individuals will be convened to lead the Action Lab for that issue area, feeding back to the wider pool of participants as they go. Action Labs members will work together to decide what would be helpful to produce in order to help the civic tech community with challenges identified in Civic Tech Surgeries.

    Grants will be available to those who apply to actually produce the work identified by the Action Lab.

    We’ll be opening applications to join the first TICTeC Action Lab soon, so do sign up for updates.

    Oversight

    To help guide and promote the TICTeC Labs programme, as well as to make it as relevant and inclusive as possible to local and regional contexts and contributors, we have established a global Steering Group. We are delighted to welcome the following exceptional people to the TICTeC Labs Steering Group, and we thank them for their contributions:

    • Neema Iyer, Founder, Pollicy
    • Oscar Montiel, Independent Consultant (formerly The Engine Room, Codeando México, Open Knowledge etc)
    • Matt Stempeck, Technologist in Residence, Cornell University, and founder and director of the Civic Tech Field Guide
    • Isabel Hou, Open Culture Foundation and g0v
    • Nonso Jideofor, Funding & Partnerships Manager, Code for All

    With the help of the Steering Group we have now identified topics for the Civic Tech Surgeries and Action Labs over the next 18 months:

    • Public-private collaborations: how can civic tech work effectively with public and private institutions?
    • Ensuring civic tech is accessible: how can we lead and popularise best practice?
    • Accessing quality information: how can we overcome barriers to accessing good data and documentation?
    • Scaling and replicating civic tech: how can we overcome the well known challenges to achieving scale and replication?
    • Tackling the climate crisis with civic tech: Where can civic tech be most impactful?
    • Storytelling and reach: how can we amplify our successes beyond the civic tech community to evidence our impact through mainstream channels?

    If you would like to join a Civic Tech Surgery as a discussant to share your experiences of, or reflect on, any of the above topics, then please get in touch. We will of course communicate dates for the Civic Tech Surgeries in due course, and you can hear these first by signing up to our mailing list.

    Future plans

    We do of course still plan to host our usual in-person TICTeC global gatherings again in future, but at this stage we still think it is too early to start organising a conference with attendees from over 35 countries worldwide, whilst international travel is still so uncertain.

    This is why TICTeC Labs is so exciting – we can’t wait to connect more meaningfully with the global civic tech community again and ensure that the peer and cooperation network we worked so hard to build through TICTeC conferences can survive and thrive in this period of uncertainty. We really hope you can join us for this new chapter.

  3. TICTeC Show and Tell: Right to Know across Europe

    It’s always so cheering to hear about campaigns that have had real results, and this week’s TICTeC Show And Tell gave us plenty of inspiration on that front.

    We heard how FOI has been at the heart of investigations in Croatia, France, Scotland and the crossborder Lost In Europe project, along with two deep dives into the state of FOI in the UK — all in the name of International Right To Know Day.

    As ever, you can catch up with the event in multiple ways:

    • All videos are all available over on our YouTube channel. You can watch the entire event, or pick and choose from the individual presentations, as below.
    • Speakers have shared their slides. Access them via the links to each presentation on the TICTeC website.
    • We live tweeted as the event happened, including links to reports that were mentioned and previous case studies going into more detail about some of the campaigns mentioned.

    Full video

    Individual presentations

    The FOI Clearing House: an openDemocracy investigation into freedom of information at the heart of government

    Jenna Corderoy of OpenDemocracyJenna Corderoy (openDemocracy, UK)

    openDemocracy’s Jenna Corderoy discussed her recent investigations into the Clearing House, a unit within the UK Cabinet Office that “advises on” and “coordinates” FOI requests referred by government departments.

    openDemocracy has uncovered alarming evidence that the Clearing House blocks the release of information and causes lengthy delays; their investigations and subsequent FOI tribunal hearing over Clearing House documents have sparked a UK parliamentary inquiry.

    See this presentation


    Lost in Europe: deploying the Alaveteli network on a cross-border investigation

    Liset Hamming of LIELiset Hamming (The Dutch-Flemish Association for Investigative Journalists (VVOJ), Netherlands

    Ten European FOI sites were used in this Netherlands-based investigation into the thousands of children who go missing as they migrate across European borders. The FOI component of this journalistic investigative research project is led by an Alaveteli insider, running the recently launched Dutch Alaveteli site.

    See this presentation


    Watch this space (and pay for it): Alaveteli-driven exposure of the misuse of public resources in an election campaign

    Dražen Hoffmann of GONGDražen Hoffmann (GONG, Croatia)

    In April 2021, GONG used the Alaveteli-powered platform ImamoPravoZnati to unveil the practice of funding a YouTube channel by the mayors and country prefect of a county in Croatia, ahead of the May 2021 local elections.

    The quaint footage of seaside towns and villages, and boasting of successful projects, in fact concealed a misuse of public resources for the purposes of incumbents’ campaigns. This practice of non-transparent media buying is one that GONG addresses continuously.

    See this presentation


    Regulating Access to Information

    Alex Parsons of mySocietyAlex Parsons (mySociety)

    The practical reality of Access to Information laws depends on how effective the system of regulation and appeal is.

    Alex shares mySociety’s recent work in comparing different systems of regulation in the UK, and parts of our upcoming research that will do the same for regulation across Europe.

    See this presentation


    Running an Access to Information platform in France: obstacles and success stories

    Samuel Goeta of MadadaSamuel Goëta (MaDada.fr, France)

    Open data in France, says Samuel,  looks somewhat like the Tower of Pisa: a beautiful building (open data is mandatory by law), but leaning because its foundations (the Freedom of Information Act) are in bad shape.

    Samuel speaks about the weaknesses of FOIA in France, how the French Alaveteli platform madada.fr manages them and the first success stories coming out of the platform. Importantly, MaDada has been responsible for a wider understanding of FOI among French citizens.

    See this presentation


    A change in the law for school starters in Scotland — through FOI

    Give Them Time logoPatricia Anderson (Give Them Time, Scotland)

    Patricia from the Give Them Time campaign speaks about how FOI requests, sent via WhatDoTheyKnow, helped them get the law changed so that more children in Scotland can benefit from more time at nursery school.

    Thanks to the campaign, from 2023 all children in Scotland who legally defer their school start date will be automatically entitled to a further year of nursery funding.

    See this presentation


     

    If you enjoyed that little lot, do sign up to our Research newsletter and we’ll let you know what we’re planning next. It’ll also be the way to ensure you’re one of the first to know about the new TICTeC Labs we’ve got in the pipeline!

  4. TICTeC Show & Tell: lessons learned from online deliberation projects

    This week saw the second in our series of short, fast paced ‘Show and Tell’ TICTeC events, and this time the focus was on all types of online deliberation and participatory democracy.

    We heard of projects in France, South Africa, USA and the UK, where digital technologies have allowed citizens to feed into public decision-making processes.

    In some cases presenters had palpable wins to tell us about; in others, there were notable disappointments. In either case, though, there’s always plenty to learn for anyone with an interest in how online deliberation can be used to widen the possibilities for everyone to get involved.

    Full video

    Six 7-minute presentations on using tech for online deliberation


    Our COVID consultation journey: from a small initiative to the desk of the president

    Chloé Pahud of Civocracy explained how their survey on what people desire for life after COVID found that most of us want almost exactly the same six things.

    See this presentation


    Understanding the small hurdles that block community engagement, with behavioural design

    Abigail Sellman  of ideas42 and Adrian Kearns from OpenUp gave some concrete examples of how behavioural design can remove barriers to community engagement.

    See this presentation


    Don’t build it: a practical guide for those building Civic Tech

    Luke Jordan of Grassroot provocatively suggested that the best idea for new civic tech is… don’t build it! That is to say, at least consider carefully whether what you’re planning is really the best solution for the issue at hand.

    See this presentation


    It takes two: when citizens and Congress Members deliberate online

    Samantha McDonald presented the findings from a test matching constituents, keen to talk about homelessness, with their Member of Congress and explains how some facets of the US political system prevented optimal engagement.

    See this presentation


    Leave no-one behind: overcoming hurdles to online citizen assemblies

    Next we heard from Craig Morbey of FutureGov and Scott Butterfield from Blackpool Council on how they ensured everyone could be included in the local climate assembly — even those with low ITC skills or practical accessibility issues.

    See this presentation


    Engaging for the Future: what do the public want from engagement, and how can digital deliver?

    Finally, Mike Saunders of Commonplace dug into why, despite a huge appetite for longterm participation in local planning issues, most people only get involved when they have a negative opinion to express.

    See this presentation


    And that’s not all

    The next TICTeC Show and Tell, Empowering communities using geospatial technology, takes place on May 25. See who’s speaking, and sign up for free, here.

  5. TICTeC Show & Tell: Scrutiny, oversight, and the data that makes it possible

    TICTeC – mySociety’s long running research conference – continues to offer a convening place for the global civic tech community. Of course, like every other event we’ve moved to an online environment, and we’re keen to keep things fresh in an era of screen fatigue.

    With that in mind, the TICTeC Show and Tell sessions are just an hour long, feature six different speakers, and move fast. We’re putting them on monthly until May, and the first, ‘Scrutiny, oversight, and the data that makes it possible‘, took place this week.

    Given the speed of the proceedings, you may be glad to know that a variety of outputs are available for you to review via whichever format you prefer:

    Full video

    Six 7-minute presentations  on using tech for transparency and accountability.


    How to monitor emergency procurement with open data: lessons from 12 countries

    Camila Salazar from Open Contracting Partnership kicked things off with a look at OGP’s research into the data around emergency procurement in 12 countries. As you might expect, the availability and quality of data varied widely, but the project was able to provide an outcome of useful recommendations across the board.

    See this presentation


    Civic tech for smartphone beginners: is the future binary?

    Next up, Arran Leonard of Integrity Action took us through a variety of iterations in a promise-tracking app, each of which built on learnings from the last. Monitors on the ground may have a strong motivation to report on progress, but low tech skills – here we see how a simple interface can still provide the data that’s needed to effectively oversee public services and infrastructure projects.

    See this presentation


    Find that Charity: a tool to help find charities and improve charity data

    David Kane, Project Lead at 360Giving introduced the Find that Charity tool, while discussing the importance of standardised data in the grant-making world and beyond. With charities often being known to the public by different names than the ones they’re registered under, a searchable register is invaluable for the sector.

    See this presentation


    Civic tech vs. illicit pharmacies

    We next turned to the issue of unlicensed pharmacies, with Ibraheem Saleem of Code for Pakistan. A project to digitise the previously manual licencing process and cut down on counterfeit medicines has been widely successful, saving government hours and bringing transparency and accountability to the sector.

    See this presentation


    Keeping track of open data in times of political change

    Silvana Fumega of ILDA  and David Zamora from Latin American and the Caribbean Open Data Barometer talked us through how data was gathered in the most recent update that would inform and contribute to the improvement and extension of open data policies and projects in the region. With the inclusion of lessons learned, this was a practical overview of how to manage such a snapshot.

    See this presentation


    How AfricanLII saves its users $100million a year

    Finally, Paul Lenz of Indigo Trust and Amy Sinclair from AfricaLII explained why the latter is such an inviting prospect for funders: just a small investment can provide very substantial returns in the form of access to legal documents, brining significant positive, social, legal, and financial impacts for their users.

    See this presentation


    And that’s not all

    The next TICTeC Show and Tell, Hearing every voice: lessons learned from online deliberation projects focuses on public engagement, and takes place on April 20. See who’s speaking, and sign up for free, here.

  6. TICTeC Show & Tells: Call for Proposals now open

    We would dearly love to be issuing a Call for Proposals for our normal two day Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC), in person, in some beautiful city somewhere, in anticipation of having some great discourse and drinks. Alas, the pandemic means we are not yet in a place to do that.

    We also recognise that attempting to hold a two day event online is just too much – we are all suffering a bit of screen fatigue at this point, and we understand how difficult it is to concentrate and engage with lengthy online sessions.

    Therefore, we will instead be hosting a series of online TICTeC ‘Show and Tells’ from March until May 2021, which will be short, energetic and to-the-point.

    These will be hour-long virtual events that will bring together the global community who use, build, research or fund digital technology that empowers citizens. Speakers will share their real and in-depth research and lessons learnt about the impacts of these digital technologies, and whether their intended outcomes were indeed realised. TICTeC, as it always has been, continues to be a safe place to honestly examine what works, what doesn’t, what can be improved etc, so, ultimately, better digital tools are developed.

    TICTeC’s ethos is that every organisation developing and running technology that serves citizens should do so with evidence-based research at the forefront of their decisions, and should examine their impacts. This is to ensure validity and legitimacy, but also to curb and mitigate possible detrimental and unintended consequences.

    Apply to present

    Each TICTeC Show and Tell will feature five 7-minute presentations, followed by a Q&A session after all speakers have made their presentations. If you have relevant research/experiences/lessons learnt to share, please submit a talk by 14 February 2021.

    We’re looking for proposals relevant to the below topic areas in particular, however, if your proposal doesn’t quite fit into these themes but is still relevant to civic technology we’d nevertheless love to hear from you. We’re also particularly keen this time to hear from users of civic technology about their experiences, as well as researchers, funders and practitioners.

    For more advice on submitting a proposal please see our guide.

    Sponsorship opportunities

    TICTeC really does bring together a truly global group of people, all passionate about examining digital technology’s impact on society. TICTeC events usually bring together participants from at least 30 countries worldwide.  But, as a charity, we need support to make TICTeC convenings happen. We’re currently looking for sponsors to help us continue. If you’re interesting in helping us to continue TICTeC’s valuable work, please see our guide to sponsorship and sponsorship packages, or feel free to contact Gemma Moulder to speak about more bespoke alternatives.

    We look forward to reading your proposals, and to seeing you at our Show and Tells!

  7. Digitising parliaments: it took a pandemic

    Thanks to all who attended the second in our series of TICTeC Seminars this week: and if you weren’t able to attend, catch up with the video or read the collaborative notes taken during the session.

    Many thanks, too, to our panelists, who spoke so knowledgeably and engagingly about the experiences of parliaments around the world that have been forced to make a quick switch to digital technologies during the COVID months.

    Julia Keutgen of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Avinash Bikha of the Centre for Innovation in Parliament and Lord Purvis of Tweed from the UK’s House of Lords were led in conversation by mySociety’s Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul.

    We heard about parliaments in Morocco, Brazil, Chile, the Maldives, and of course the UK, with a rounded view of the benefits of quick digitisation against the challenges and inconveniences. Naturally, parliaments and their members come in all shapes and sizes around the world, and their readiness or suitability for transferring to online methods vary accordingly.

    On the negative side, some representatives have struggled to adapt, especially if older; and all may be missing the nuances of face to face conversations with their colleagues.

    But there are positives too, with MPs able to spend more time in their constituencies helping constituents, and (close to mySociety’s heart, this one) a quicker turnaround of digital data on voting results.

    Watch the video to hear plenty more detail on this engrossing topic.

    The third and final TICTeC Seminar in our autumn 2020 series will focus on civic tech’s role in the climate crisis and will take place next month — date TBC. Sign up for TICTeC updates and we’ll send you an alert once timings are confirmed.

    Finally, if you work on, use, fund or research civic technology, we would be really grateful if you could spare some time to help us shape the future of TICTeC by filling in this survey.

    Image: Joakim Honkasalo.

  8. Catch up with the first TICTeC Seminar

    Open Data: an essential, not just ‘nice to have’

    Would societies around the world be better able to respond to the pandemic, if more or better open data were freely available?

    That was the question put to our expert panel on Tuesday, in the first in our series of online TICTeC Seminars.

    Karabo Rajuili of Open Ownership, Olivier Thereaux from Open Data Institute and Fabrizio Scrollini of the Open Data Latin American Initiative (ILDA) were led in a discussion by our own Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul.

    We heard of the need for — and simultaneously the impossibility of — a rapidly-constructed open data standard; the benefits and dangers of releasing data about COVID to a potentially uninformed public; and the need for good ownership data to be freely available in a fast-moving procurement environment in which there may not be the tools to investigate where money is being spent.

    After the speakers had laid out their positions, the floor was opened for questions, each of which ignited still more informed debate. Finally, attendees were invited to a quick (and optional!) networking session in which they could speak to other attendees more directly.

    If that all sounds interesting, you can catch up on the main session for yourself by watching the video or reading the collaborative notes that were taken by attendees.

    There are still two more TICTeC Seminars in this series to go, so do join us to take part in the conversation.

    On 20 October, panelists will discuss why it’s taken a pandemic for more parliaments to digitise; while in November (date TBC) the topic will be the climate crisis. Find full details for both sessions here, and don’t forget you can sign up for TICTeC updates.

    Also: if you work on, use, fund or research civic technology, we would be really grateful if you could spare some time to help us shape the future of TICTeC by filling in this survey.

     

  9. Talking TICTeC 2021

    We need your input on the future of TICTeC – read on to find out more about our plans and have your say.

    We’ve been running our Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) since 2015, and in that time it’s become a key annual milestone for the sector to stop, gather and take stock of how civic technology is shaping societies around the world.

    We believe more than ever in TICTeC’s core ethos: that every organisation developing and running technology that serves citizens — including ourselves — should do so with evidence-based research at the forefront of their decisions, and should examine their impacts. This is to ensure validity and legitimacy, but also to curb and mitigate possible detrimental and unintended consequences.

    Such an approach is especially important for organisations involved in democratic and civic technology, as active, informed and engaged citizens are needed now more than ever to tackle vital issues such as climate change, systemic racism, and health crises. If the tools we build to empower citizens to get things done don’t serve them or function as planned; then it’s time to do things differently.

    TICTeC allows attendees to learn from each other to do this, by sharing best practices, research, methodologies and lessons learnt – so that, ultimately, better civic and democratic tools are developed.

    We will meet again

    TICTeC truly is a global gathering, bringing together around 200 attendees from around 30 countries from across the world.

    Usually, by this time of year, we are well into the organisation of next year’s TICTeC, which we traditionally hold in March or April, in a different global city each year. And by September, we’ve usually decided where we’ll be holding the event and announced all the details including our open Call for Proposals and registration.

    However, this year, as we all know, has been like no other.

    Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the complications it brings for organising global gatherings, we have chosen not to pursue our usual plans. Therefore, for the first time since 2015 we are not planning to run an in-person TICTeC in March/April next year.

    We are instead considering our options for hosting the in-person TICTeC later in 2021, and in addition to our online TICTeC Seminar series this autumn (please do come!), we’d like to organise some further TICTeC initiatives in spring 2021.

    Help us shape TICTeC

    We’d like to make our next TICTeC initiatives as useful as possible to all those working on, using, funding or researching civic technology. What would you find helpful? What would best meet your needs and goals? More seminars? Perhaps workshops, training or networking events? Virtual or in-person? Or perhaps other initiatives that don’t involve actually convening in either of these ways, like podcasts, forums or information sharing?

    We are really keen to hear your feedback on this, as well as on the development and improvement of TICTeC in general. You can let us know your thoughts by filling out this survey or emailing us directly on tictec@mysociety.org. We’d be grateful for any feedback before 31st October 2020.

    Time to reflect

    We’re obviously disappointed to not be organising TICTeC as usual this year, as it is truly a massive highlight for us, and is one of the few gatherings of the global civic tech community left. However, we’re determined that we will meet again and we’re glad to have some time to reflect on how we do things.

    The last few months have been a good time to reflect, speak to other event hosts, attend as many virtual events as possible, review virtual platforms, update our environmental policies, and think about how we can use TICTeC to raise more underrepresented voices.

    So as well as changing the time of year we host TICTeC in 2021, we’ll also be organising things differently. We have a new Environmental Policy that will govern our decisions about future TICTeCs – e.g. hosting in cities that more attendees can reach by train/sea; carbon offsetting; opting for catering with the lowest carbon footprints; and encouraging attendees to play their own part in keeping their carbon footprints down or offsetting etc. And we’re working on plans to make TICTeC as diverse, inclusive and equitable as possible.

    We will continue to reflect and adjust, and your feedback will really help us with this, so we’re really grateful for your thoughts.

    If you’d like to hear about future TICTeC initiatives first, then do consider signing up to our mailing list or joining the TICTeC community on the Google Group.