1. Notes from TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #5: Learning from climate action

    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.

    Problems

    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

    Societal issues

    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.

    Logistics

    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.

    Possible solutions

    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.

    Systemic change

    We need an effective, overarching law – like GDPR- designed to stamp out mis- and dis-information on the social media platforms.

    Working together

    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.

    Action lab

    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.

    To keep an eye on this progress, and to know more about the next Surgery, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  2. Call for proposals: resources to help train organisations/ the public in accessing good quality data

    In one sentence

    TICTeC Action Lab #3 is looking for an individual, organisation or joint team to produce resources to help train organisations/ the public in how to access and use good quality data.

    About TICTeC Action Lab #3

    As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, mySociety convened the TICTeC Action Lab #3 working group in order to take ideas raised at Civic Tech Surgery #3 forward, and decide together what piece of work would be useful to commission to help the global civic tech community to overcome common barriers to accessing quality information.

    TICTeC Action Lab #3 is comprised of 7 individuals from across the world, who between them have many years of experience working on civic tech. You can read more about Action Lab #3 members here.

    About this project

    We are looking for resources that can be used to train civic tech practitioners or the public to help them engage with data and with the authorities supplying that data. We recognise that there is value to the civic tech community in training organisational staff and also in better informing the public about accessing data. The proposal could include some initial training sessions, if these can be delivered within the timescale and budget, but the priority is to produce resources which can continue to be used by organisations to increase their knowledge/deliver training.

    This could include:

    • resources that explain the value of open data standards rather than just advocating for open data standards in of themselves
    • training for organisations on engaging with authorities
    • resources for NGOs and organisations on how to engage with authorities
    • signposting to resources for educating the public
    • collating or signposting to existing resources with guidance on how to use these

    These are suggestions and we do not expect any one proposal to cover all of these areas. We are open to different formats for the resource and we welcome innovative ideas about how to deliver the content.

    They are open to different formats for the resource – it doesn’t necessarily need to be a website or guide, and we welcome innovative ideas about how to deliver the content. Above all, we want the work to be as accessible as possible to ensure it can be easily used in practice. We ask applicants to let us know what approach they will take in their application.

    There is up to $3760 USD (inclusive of taxes) available for this work.

    Your application

    If you’re interested in producing this piece of work, then please fill in this application form – the deadline for applications is the end of Thursday 28th July 2022. Applications will be reviewed by the TICTeC Labs team at mySociety, the TICTeC Labs Steering Group and the Action Lab #3 group. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application no later than 24th August 2022. The work will then need to be completed within 8 weeks of the successful applicant being appointed.

    What happens after the project

    We intend to publish the work you produce, credited to you, on the TICTeC and mySociety website, licensed under a Creative Commons licence. We may make some light edits (beyond proofreading) before we publish. You will be free to make publicly available your own version should you wish to, and any other material based on the research you conducted. The project will then be disseminated by TICTeC Action Lab members, the TICTeC Labs Steering group, and the TICTeC community to ensure it’s used as much as possible.

    mySociety will convene a ‘report back’ event at the end of the TICTeC Labs programme to discuss how the programme went and the work commissioned by the programme and its participants. Authors of commissioned work will be invited to attend to present their work.

    Any questions?

    Please send any queries or questions to tictec@mysociety.org.

  3. Notes from TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #4: Storytelling and reach

    Last week saw us come together for the fourth 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 the issues around getting our work out to the wider world: with resources always stretched and often complex stories to tell, how can small civic tech groups reach a more mainstream audience?

    Discussants were Daniel Carranza of DATA Uruguay, Attila Juhász from K-Monitor in Hungary, Amy Leach of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and me, Myf Nixon on behalf of mySociety.

    Notes from the meeting can be seen here, as well as the full recording of the session here and a transcript here, but if you’d prefer a higher-level view, read on.

    Problems

    A summary of the issues identified during the chat and by the audience.

    Resource and capacity Civic tech organisations tend to be quite small and focused on the creation of their services. Communications can be seen as a luxury, or something that is spread between the team as a bit of an afterthought. Even if there’s a dedicated comms person, they often can’t focus deeply on all the tasks that need doing, and bringing in a freelancer doesn’t always work if they don’t have a full understanding of your work.

    Complexity of our offerings Talking to the public about our work often means that we’re also having to explain things that are taken as a given within the civic tech world: for example, Freedom of Information; how governments work, what open source is, etc.

    Temptation to speak at a technical level It’s important to use simple language, but because we’re ‘experts’ in our field we have to make an effort to not use jargon – especially if you’ve also been involved with the development side personally. Users probably don’t care about things like how it was coded or whether it’s open source: it’s more important to talk about what it can do for them.

    Narratives aren’t always clear-cut People want stories with a nice narrative, but if you are making systemic change it can be iterative and messy, and take time.

    We are in a polarised world Some areas that civic tech operates within, eg migration or health, are divisive issues that get boiled down to clickbait/soundbites on social media.

    Projects can be longterm but enthusiasm doesn’t last As with funding, it can be easier to get attention at launch, but it’s harder to find stories and get interest once a project has been going for a while.

    We can’t always find the interesting stories We can be sure that our software is being used in some really interesting ways; but we’re not always aware of them. There’s no compulsion for users or site-runners to tell us how they’re using our sites or software.

    The range of potential audiences is really broad We might be trying to talk to ‘everyone’ – or if not, we’re trying to put messaging out to citizens (with varying amounts of knowledge), governments, funders and several other potential user groups.

    We don’t always reach every sector of society It takes focus and effort to reach a more diverse audience in terms of race, education, deprivation etc.

    It is hard to maintain a stable team Small organisations can’t pay market rates, which means that there’s a higher staff turnover, and the narrative thread can be lost as a result.

    The issues we tackle are often quite abstract It’s hard to represent concepts like ‘corruption’ or ‘transparency’ in image form.

    Possible solutions

    Simplify your language Assume basic knowledge in your audience: run it by a relative if you want to check how an ‘outsider’ will receive and understand it. Create a style guide so everyone in the organisation understands how to talk about your services simply.

    Don’t worry about technical details If concepts like ‘open source’ and ‘open data’ are vital to your work, you can always work them in at the end of your communications – but they are very rarely the main story.

    Find the story that resonates with people What will make people connect on a personal level with your software or service? Show how it solves the problems they encounter on a daily basis.

    Create communities mySociety has set up mailing lists, events like TICTeC and when funds allow, runs conferences. These are all ways of discovering the stories around how people are using our software.

    Be systematic about audiences Spend half a day thinking about where your work will have the most impact and who you’ll need it to reach. Once you know who you want to talk to, it is much easier to pinpoint where you will find them and what you will need to say.

    Build comms into your funding applications Comms is an important part of any project launch, so make sure you include a budget line that allows for it.

    Consider volunteers Can you offer jobs that will benefit people who volunteer – eg by giving them specialised experience that they can use elsewhere – and which will also give your comms a boost?

    Make sure your services all promote one another A cheap and relatively quick way to spread the word is to tell users of one service about all the others you offer.

    Pool efforts with your partner organisation/s They are likely to have different networks and audiences that you can really benefit from, especially if they are larger than you.

    Find open source images and other sources for visuals You can often find Creative Commons images. If there is budget, illustrations and animations can be very effective for abstract concepts.

    Time upgrades to coincide with new funding or partners That means that when you have something to talk about, you also have the capacity and resource to put out your comms.

    Forge relationships with journalists When you send them a press release you’re helping them out and writing the story for them. Or go even further and train up journalists in using your tools so they can generate their own stories.

    Look for stories around your tools How are people using them? How does this tie in with whatever is more widely in the news at the moment? Even a surge in users can be a story if it relates to the main news story that day.

    How the grant could help

    Media training for civic tech comms people.

    Set up a journalism prize for the best news story to come from one of our services.

    Or a civic tech fellowship for local journalists.

    Run a conference specifically for journalists to meet civic tech people.

    Or just pay for some civic tech people to attend journalism conferences and speak about the potential stories in our work.

    Set up a portal where all civic tech groups can place their stories, and let journalists know it’s available as a resource for them.

    Pool resources Look into bulk-buying Google ads or Facebook ads etc, across multiple organisations. It will be cheaper and we can also share expertise (or commission a contractor together).

    Create an image library and advice around making good photographs with your phone. This could be used by all civic tech groups everywhere.

    Or commission a generic set of visual explainers that anyone could pick up, alter and reuse.

    Create a sharing community More widely, a space like Slack or Matrix could be used to share tips, advice, images and comms opportunities.

    Make universal logos for some of our common themes There is no logo for ‘open data’ etc – we could commission one.

    Action lab

    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.

    To keep an eye on this progress, and to know more about the next Surgery, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  4. TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #4: Storytelling and reach

    Civic Tech Surgery 4 header

    Take part

    Join us this Thursday, 12th May for our next Civic Tech Surgery to discuss the challenges of amplifying civic tech projects and their successes beyond the civic tech community, as well as solutions. Making sure more people know about civic tech projects and their successes remains one of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

    We’re delighted that we’ll be hearing from:

    Our speakers will discuss their experiences of telling the stories of Civic Tech projects and there will also be ample opportunity for attendees to provide their feedback on issues they have faced, and their solutions and ideas. You can share your thoughts on the topic over on this Padlet board, whether you can attend the Surgery or not. These will then be discussed at the Surgery, and then by the subsequent TICTeC Action Lab (aka working group) that will ultimately commission a project to help tackle one or more of the identified common challenges around accessing quality information for civic tech projects.

    About TICTeC Labs

    TICTeC Civic Tech Surgeries are part of mySociety’s TICTeC Labs programme, which aims to address the biggest issues facing the civic tech/digital democracy sector, and enhance the effectiveness and potential impact of civic tech projects. This programme is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for Democracy.

    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 events will be of particular interest to civic tech practitioners and researchers, elected government representatives, civil servants, technology companies, funders and software developers, but anyone interested is welcome to attend.

    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.

    To hear of future TICTeC events and initiatives first, sign up to our mailing list.

  5. TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #3: Accessing quality information

    You’re invited

    Join us next Thursday 24th March for our next Civic Tech Surgery, as part of our TICTeC Labs programme.

    The ability to access good quality data and information is pivotal to the success of many civic tech projects, but still remains one of the biggest challenges facing the global civic tech sector.

    Therefore, we’re hosting a Surgery on the topic, to bring together civic tech practitioners and researchers from around the world to discuss these challenges, as well as solutions and ideas to tackle them.

    We’ll hear perspectives from:

    There will also be ample opportunity for attendees to provide their feedback on issues they have faced, and their solutions and ideas – so come along ready to contribute!

    Your insights

    Ahead of the event, please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic over on this Padlet board, whether you can attend the Surgery or not.

    These will then be discussed at the Surgery, and then by the subsequent TICTeC Action Lab (aka working group) that will ultimately commission a project to help tackle one or more of the identified common challenges around accessing quality information for civic tech projects.

    About TICTeC Labs

    TICTeC Civic Tech Surgeries are part of mySociety’s TICTeC Labs programme, which aims to address the biggest issues facing the civic tech/digital democracy sector, and enhance the effectiveness and potential impact of civic tech projects. This programme is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for Democracy.

    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, but anyone interested is welcome to attend.

    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.

    To hear of future TICTeC events and initiatives first, do sign up to our mailing list.

  6. Call for proposals: Showcasing public-private civic tech success stories

    In one sentence

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 is looking for an individual, organisation or joint team to produce a piece of work to showcase examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens.

    About TICTeC Action Lab #1

    As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, mySociety convened the TICTeC Action Lab #1 working group in order to take ideas raised at Civic Tech Surgery #1 forward, and decide together what piece of work would be useful to commission to help civic tech organisations around the world to work more effectively with governments/public institutions.

    The TICTeC Labs programme is looking at six key dilemmas facing civic tech. The first of those challenges was how civic tech organisations can work effectively with public and private institutions. Our Civic Tech Surgery #1 discussed some of the challenges and suggested some ways forward. Our Action Lab #1 considered those ideas and decided on a piece of work that could be commissioned to help solve some of the problems raised.

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 is comprised of 6 individuals from across the world, who between them have many years of experience working on civic tech and/or the issues that surround the effectiveness of civic tech. You can read more about Action Lab #1 members here.

    About this project

    TICTeC Action Lab #1 members agreed to commission a piece of work that showcases examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens.

    The Action Lab believes highlighting successful examples will help civic tech organisations across the world to work more effectively with governments, as it will help them to promote the benefits of civic tech and inspire and motivate government actors, as well as themselves, to start similar civic tech projects in their contexts.

    Therefore, the primary target audience for this work are public institutions across the world, as well as civic tech organisations themselves who want to be inspired. The work should include:

    • Examples of civic tech organisations working with public institutions (e.g. local governments/councils; national governments; government departments/agencies etc) on civic tech/digital democracy projects that have resulted in tangible improvements for the public institutions and their citizens. By ‘civic tech organisations’, we mean organisations that focus on informing citizens, connecting them with each other and getting them to engage with their governments in order to work together for the public good.
    • Examples from multiple countries, ensuring that examples from both the Global South and the Global North are represented.
    • Specific details on how the civic tech/digital democracy projects were set up and why; what the challenges were; what the tangible improvements were; and any other details that would be helpful for other civic tech organisations and public institutions who may like to replicate the examples in their contexts.

    There is $2500 USD (inclusive of taxes) available for this work. We are open to what form this piece of work takes – e.g. it could be a set of case studies; interviews; visualisations/images; a literature review; a graphic novel even! Above all, we want the work to be as accessible as possible to ensure it can be easily used in practice. We ask applicants to let us know what approach they will take in their application.

    It may be helpful for applicants to look back at schedules from previous TICTeC events to find examples of presentations that discuss how civic tech projects have led to tangible improvements.

    How to apply

    If you’re interested in producing this piece of work, then please fill in this application form by 28th March 2022. Applications will be reviewed by the TICTeC Labs team at mySociety and the TICTeC Labs Steering Group. Applicants will be notified of the status of their application no later than 15th April. The work will then need to be completed within 8 weeks of the successful applicant being appointed.

    What happens after the project

    We intend to publish the work you produce, credited to you, on the TICTeC and mySociety website, licensed under a Creative Commons licence. We may make some light edits (beyond proofreading) before we publish. You will be free to make publicly available your own version should you wish to, and any other material based on the research you conducted. The project will then be disseminated by TICTeC Action Lab members, the TICTeC Labs Steering group, and the TICTeC community to ensure it’s used as much as possible.

    mySociety will convene a ‘report back’ event at the end of the TICTeC Labs programme to discuss how the programme went and the work commissioned by the programme and its participants. Authors of commissioned work will be invited to attend to present their work.

    Any questions?

    Please send any queries or questions to tictec@mysociety.org.

  7. How can the global civic tech community fix common accessibility challenges?

    Would you like to join TICTeC Action Lab #2, collaborating with others around the world to discuss this question, and to commission a solution to  benefit everyone who uses civic tech? 

    As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, we recently convened a Civic Tech Surgery that brought together a group of around 100 civic tech practitioners and researchers from across the world to discuss common challenges in ensuring the tech we make is accessible, and the possible solutions.

    You can find resources from this online event here, including minutes, a summary blog post, contributions from attendees, and the full recording.

    Now the second part of the TICTeC Labs process kicks in, as we convene an Action Lab, a working group to decide on what to commission as a solution to the issues raised at the Civic Tech Surgery.

    The aim is to provide a practical solution that will help organisations running civic tech projects to make their projects more accessible for everyone.

    Some of the ideas that arose from the Surgery were: gathering and sharing existing guidance on accessibility best practice and sharing with community; creating policy templates for civic tech organisations; and compiling a database of for-hire or volunteer software developers with experience in making sites and tools accessible. There were many more ideas, and it’s up to Action Lab #2 members to decide which would be most useful —  and practical to commission — using a dedicated $2,500 USD grant.

    Apply now

    Applications to join this Action Lab are now open, and we would like to invite those interested in being part of this project to apply. Your job will be to decide exactly which piece of work to commission with the available funding.

    To be considered as part of the Action Lab, please fill in this form by the end of 4 March 2022. You can find further details here.

  8. Notes from TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #2: Ensuring civic tech is accessible: how can we lead and popularise best practice?

    Last week we convened for the second 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.

    In our second Surgery, the discussants examined how to make civic tech more accessible to all: what are the barriers to accessing the tools and services we make, and despite the best of intentions, have these barriers been somehow baked in to our ‘tech for good’ practice?

    Bringing their experience and a diversity of international perspectives to the conversation were Mark Renja of Code for Africa; Laura Nelson-Hamilton from Public Digital; Oluseun Onigbinde CEO of BudgIT Nigeria, and Bonnita Nyamwire of Pollicy.

    Notes from the meeting can be seen here, as well as the full recording of the session here and a transcript here, but we’ll summarise the main points here.

    Problems

    A summary of the issues identified during the chat and by the audience.

    A lack of user-centred design practices Civic tech is often built before there is a full understanding of users’ needs. Users aren’t involved in the planning or during the build, still less do we engage with people who might have extra accessibility needs.

    Inhouse culture There’s often no structure within civic tech organisations that ensures that accessibility is built in from the beginning of every project – it’s often seen as something to bolt on at the end. And there’s nothing to ensure that the small changes to our working methods that have a large impact on those trying to access our services are adhered to over the years, through staff turnover or organisational growth.

    A lack of expertise Civic tech teams are often small and may not have accessibility knowledge inhouse. It can be tricky, for example, for non-experts to approach a visual interface like maps and make them equally accessible for those with visual impairments.

    A lack of funding Funding sources don’t always recognise the necessity for adding time and resource to ensure that a project is accessible. Funders prefer to fund new projects than to give additional funding to an existing one which might allow more work that would make it accessible. 

    Differing needs Audiences may have access to (or no access to) a diversity of platforms, or speak a variety of languages. We generally assume a level of literacy that a large percentage of the population doesn’t have. And those who need our services most might not even be online.

    A lack of understanding our users Engagement by those who are struggling to use the service can be misinterpreted as misuse or abuse. If users with accessibility needs aren’t already accessing our tools — because they can’t — it can be hard to identify them and therefore understand which needs we need to meet.

    Possible solutions

    Don’t assume, ask Ensure that solutions come directly from the experiences of people who will use your tech. Involve these people in every step of the build. How can we normalise this?

    Online materials Guidance like the Universal Access Guide by Code For All provides a free and open source for developers to learn from. Make your accessibility guidance friendly and approachable, like accessguide.io. Could we find ways to ensure these resources are more widely known about and adopted?

    Get buy-in — and start at the top Get the decision-makers on board with the move to total accessibility. Often this is best achieved by showing them the real-world results of making projects accessible, so this could take the form of meetings with users or really compelling case studies.

    A companywide change in culture Embrace the idea of designing and building for everyone as one of your organisation’s guiding principles. Make a guiding document for the entire organisation that informs how everyone thinks about and approaches accessibility. One way to encourage this might be to provide a template.

    Utilise pictures Like IKEA instruction manuals, don’t use text where you can use visuals. Employ illustrators to make attractive and easy to understand interfaces. Could one solution be to collaborate with an existing database of illustrators?

    Begin with your own colleagues Run an anonymous survey to find out how many staff are disabled and have issues with online tools: this is a powerful way of showing where you already have gaps internally, which can really bring home what a lack of accessibility means. Might we spin this out to a sector-wide survey?

    Share figures Try to educate your peers on disability stats so they can grasp the scale of the problem.

    Coding that instills change So much of accessibility is optional. That shouldn’t be the case. Build it in. For example, if you’re coding up a website, make it so that people can’t add an image without filling the ALT field in. 

    Seek to educate funders about accessibility and when applying for new funding, ensure that accessibility is part of the scope. Encourage funders to insist on accessibility being a consideration in every application. Could we identify which funders already consider this a priority and share that with the community?

    Consider translation and audio Even automated translation can help widen the accessibility of your materials. Can we experiment with audio based access to information?

    Building connections If we can’t do it all, can we provide a means of connecting civic tech companies with organisations that can help?

    An accessibility developer corps: a list of software developers with experience in making sites and tools accessible, available for hire and volunteering.

    See what’s already been done Identify best practice in other civic tech projects which are accessible and broadly used, whether that’s inherent or accidental. 

    Start by making events (online and IRL) accessible Include captioning, sign language, transcripts provided afterwards. Make sure videos (both prerecorded and live) have subtitles. 

    Action lab

    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 6 people who are keen to further develop solutions together, for the benefit of the wider civic tech community.

    To keep an eye on this progress, and to know more about the next Surgery, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  9. TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #2: Accessibility and inclusivity

    You’re invited

    Join us on Thursday 3rd February for our next Civic Tech Surgery, as part of our TICTeC Labs programme.

    We’ll discuss the challenges of ensuring civic tech tools are accessible and inclusive, as well as solutions and ideas to tackle them. The Surgery will also feature reflections from civic tech researchers, to give perspectives on existing research, evidence gaps or research ideas on the topic that might help to tackle common challenges.

    We’ll hear perspectives from:

    There will also be ample opportunity for attendees to provide feedback on issues they’ve faced, along with solutions and ideas. We look forward to connecting civic tech practitioners and researchers from around the world again!

    Your insights

    Ahead of the event, please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic over on this Padlet board, whether you can attend the Surgery or not. These will then be discussed at the Surgery, and then by the subsequent TICTeC Action Lab (aka working group) that will ultimately commission a project to help tackle one or more of the identified challenges around civic tech accessibility.

    About TICTeC Labs

    TICTeC Civic Tech Surgeries are part of mySociety’s TICTeC Labs programme, which aims to address the biggest issues facing the civic tech/digital democracy sector, and enhance the effectiveness and potential impact of civic tech projects. This programme is made possible thanks to support from the National Endowment for Democracy.

    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, but anyone interested is welcome to attend.

    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 sign up to our mailing list.

     

  10. Applications to join our first TICTeC Action Lab are now open

    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.

    You can apply to join the group by filling in this form by the end of 24 November 2021, and you can find further details about the Action Lab here.

    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.