Last week, Louise and I attended the Business Green 2023 Net Zero Festival, in London.
We were there to talk about public mobilisation on climate—in the space between direct action, on one hand, and government ‘business as usual’ on the other—and to share examples of how citizens are already using mySociety’s services like CAPE, the Climate Action Scorecards, and Local Intelligence Hub to track, challenge, coordinate, and collaborate on local climate action. You can read Louise’s slides and notes here.
It was also a great opportunity to connect with both existing contacts and partners (hi Climate Coalition, MCS Foundation, and Anthesis!) and new organisations we could potentially collaborate with in the rapidly approaching fourth year of our climate programme.
But it was also interesting to see how mySociety’s democratic, citizen-led approach to climate action compares with—and fits alongside—the festival’s strong focus on business actors.
Many of my fellow attendees have already shared their highlights from the festival, but here are two challenges that struck me in the days after the festival, and how I think mySociety’s work could contribute to solving them.
The role of local authorities, local businesses, and local residents in taking climate action together
With the festival being hosted in the beautiful Business Design Centre in Angel, it was particularly interesting to hear from a number of local, Islington-based organisations on how they’re addressing the climate emergency. I sat in on a particularly good pair of talks with representatives from organisations like Islington Council, Caxton House Community Centre, a number of London BIDs, and Anthesis, who recently launched a Net Zero Strategy for Angel Islington, and who we already know through their support for our and Climate Emergency UK’s Council Climate Scorecards project.
Islington Sustainability Network in particular was a great example I’d not come across before, of coordination between a huge number of private, public, and third sector organisations in a local area. I think it was Simeran from Anthesis who reiterated her experience that building trust between businesses and residents is crucial, and I expect networks like these, while not a silver bullet for citizen engagement, at least encourage a holistic climate response from all of the local institutions a citizen might engage with. (This is something PCAN has been exploring with their very exciting Climate Commissions in places like Leeds, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Yorkshire.)
I was also reminded of an example given by one participant in our Neighbourhood Warmth prototype testing last year, where the owner of a local corner shop had become a sort of trusted demonstrator/influencer of climate action, because they’d installed solar panels on the shop’s roof. Utilising these trust-based networks to encourage faster, more regret-free home energy action from citizens, is something we’re particularly interested in exploring at mySociety.
In one of these sessions, I asked the panel for any examples of resident power, or residents signalling demand for home energy services like retrofit and energy flexibility. Sue Collins from Caxton House Community Centre, which has run workshops for local residents on topics like energy saving, said they’d seen a lot of residents asking about funding for measures like insulation, heat pumps, and solar panels. Islington councillor Rowena Champion added that, while many people in the area might have the means and the interest to undertake works like this, complication around planning permissions, Victorian housing, and conservation areas is a big blocker. It sounds like Islington Council is looking at producing guidance on net zero actions—how you do retrofit, how you do double glazing in a conservation area—to overcome this, as well as setting up regular panels where residents can raise issues and find out more about actions the council is taking. It’d be interesting to see how a service like Neighbourhood Warmth could tie into hyperlocal advice like this, or even become a source of new knowledge sharing and advice, as groups of neighbours progress through the retrofit journey together and want to share their findings.
There’s still lots of talk about climate, not so much action
The music-themed title of the second day’s opening keynote was, fittingly, “A little less conversation, a little more action”. Speakers in a number of sessions noted that both national and local governments seem to be discovering that it’s easier to talk about climate policies than to implement them. The rallying cry of the festival’s organisers is that business leaders need to lead – to show that there is both commercial and public support for (and demand for) climate action.
I thought it was particularly interesting that both Chris Stark of the CCC, and climate activist Farhana Yamin, forecast that the threat of litigation from citizens/customers will be a growing motivator for businesses (and, I’d add, local and national governments) to address their climate impacts. “There will be a reckoning,” in Farhana’s words. Chilling!
We’re now less than a month away from the start of COP28. This year’s COP is a critical one, because it marks the start of the global stocktake – participating countries will essentially be “handing in their homework” on their climate actions over the last few years, and experts are already bracing themselves for disappointment.
Giving citizens, campaigners, and even local authorities themselves, open, actionable data about the progress local authorities are making, and the barriers to faster action, has obviously been a core strand of mySociety’s climate programme, and will continue to be so. We’ve also been campaigning for not only the quantity but the quality of local climate data to be improved. Without rigorous, open, standardised data, we cannot exert the level of scrutiny on local and national climate action that we need as a country. We hope that through projects like CAPE, the Council Climate Action Scorecards, and the Local Intelligence Hub, we can provide some of that data.
I also found it interesting that contracts came up a few times over the festival, as a tool for enforcing climate action – turning a business or local authority’s voluntary commitments into something legally binding. Fans of mySociety’s Climate programme will be aware that, last year, we ran a prototyping week on the potential for greater transparency of local authority contracts with high climate impacts. Our Contract Countdown prototype aimed to give citizens and campaigners advance warning of contracts that are approaching renewal, so that conversations could be had—for example, with local councillors through WriteToThem—on strengthening the climate requirements in those contracts’ upcoming replacements. We were particularly interested in folding in the amazing work that The Chancery Lane Project has been doing on pre-written climate-friendly clauses ready to drop into contracts.
As the Procurement Bill (which introduces some significant changes around the scale and quality of procurement/contracts data available from public bodies) was still working its way through the Houses of Parliament at that time, we put Contract Countdown to one side. The Bill has now passed, as the Procurement Act 2023, and it’ll be particularly interesting to see whether this has an effect on local authority decision-making, and whether a tool like Contract Countdown could once more give citizens greater influence over the decisions made in their name. If you’re interested in exploring the role of contracts and climate action together, please do get in touch!
We’re longstanding supporters of LocalGovCamp, the conference where innovators in Local Government come together to share knowledge on how to improve services.
This year we’re both sponsoring it and running a couple of hands-on, interactive sessions. All online, of course, given the way things are these days.
On Tuesday 6 October, join a mySociety-led discussion with Mark and Zarino, on how consistent data standards across councils could open the doors to much better innovation.
We’ll be looking at our own Keep It In The Community project, nodding to our Council Climate Action Plans database, and inviting attendees to join a wider discussion on how we can encourage better joined-up data across councils.
And on Weds 7 October, our designer Martin will be running a mock ‘consequence scanning’ exercise. He’ll take participants through a new and useful way of assessing and mitigating risks in new government services, as conceived by Dot Everyone, recently taken up by Future Cities Catapult, and now used successfully in service design workshops by SocietyWorks.
We hope you’ll come along and enjoy some good discussion and deep dives into local government service improvement: find out more and book your place here.
We’ve just come back from a heady couple of days in Oslo, where our AlaveteliCon event brought together those with a shared interest in the technology around Freedom of Information — in all, around 50 journalists, researchers, technologists and activists from 18 different countries.
As our Head of Development Louise announced in her opening words, AlaveteliCon has always been a slight misnomer, given that we’re keen to share knowledge not just with those who use Alaveteli, but with all the FOI platforms in our small but growing community — including MuckRock in the US and Frag Den Staat in Germany, both of whom were in attendance.
It was a timely event for us, as we embark on work to introduce our Alaveteli Pro functionality to newsrooms, researchers and campaigners across Europe, with an emphasis on encouraging cross-border collaboration in campaigns, research and journalistic investigations.
As well as picking up practical tips, we heard a variety of inspiring and instructive stories from FOI practitioners around the world; brainstormed ways forward in increasingly difficult political times; and shared knowledge on funding, publicity, site maintenance, and how to keep good relations with FOI officers.
Some of the most inspiring sessions came when delegates shared how they had used FOI in campaigns and investigations, from Vouliwatch’s Stefanos Loukopoulos explaining how they had taken their own government to court, to Beryl Lipton of MuckRock explaining why the government use of algorithms can have effects that are unforeseen, and indeed petrifying.
There was an affecting story from freelance journalist Mago Torres, who told us about a long campaign to map clandestine graves of those caught up in the war against drugs in Mexico; and from Camilla Graham Wood of Privacy International, on that organisation’s work to uncover some of the rather sinister but not widely known technologies being put into use by police services in the UK.
So much knowledge came out of these two days. We don’t want to lose it, so we’ll be making sure to update the conference page with photos, videos and the speakers’ slides as soon as they’re available. Meanwhile, you can follow the links from the agenda on that page to find the collaborative documents where we took notes for each session.
If you’re a councillor who’d like to find out how our services can help you work more efficiently — and bring benefits to your residents — please do swing by for a chat at stand BL3.
We’ve written a lot about our street reporting service for councils — how it can integrate with existing back-end systems; how it can encourage channel shift and thus bring savings; and the many new features we’ve introduced in response to what councils tell us they need. You can read all our past posts on the FixMyStreet Pro blog.
But as a councillor, you may be interested in other aspects of the service. Here are a few highlights:
- FixMyStreet lets you subscribe to the reports being made in your ward — you’ll get an email every time someone makes a new report. This allows you to monitor issues as they occur, and take action if it’s warranted.
- You can also access a map showing every report ever made in your ward. If desired, you can filter reports by category or by status to get a picture of how each type of report, from graffiti to potholes, is impacting your residents.
- If your council is one of the many who use FixMyStreet Pro as their main reporting system, you’ll also have access to more refined analysis via the dashboard, which allows you to compare reports and fulfillment over different periods of time.
- You can make reports on the go, so if you spot something that needs fixing while you’re out and about, it’s quick and easy to get a report filed.
Keep It In The Community
Also come and discover Keep It In The Community, an England-wide online mapping of the spaces and places that are valuable to local communities, created in partnership with Power To Change.
Under the Localism Act of 2011, every council is obliged to retain a list of Assets of Community Value (ACVs): Keep it In The Community turns this obligation into a benefit for all, allowing you to store and share your data while contributing to a national picture.
Thanks to a recent update, Keep It In The Community also displays buildings and spaces currently under community ownership. As a councillor, we think you’ll like this service because:
- It’s completely free.
- It provides an attractive way for councils to display ACVs and community-run spaces, and invites residents to add richer detail such as memories and photographs.
- It’s a great way to demonstrate the community activity that’s taking place within your ward.
- It helps popularise the concept of community ownership, encouraging more residents to take action and preserve the spaces that matter to them.
If this has whetted your interest, don’t forget to come and meet the friendly mySociety and Power to Change folk on stand BL3.
On 26 – 27 of June, scholars and practitioners from all over the world will be meeting in Rio de Janeiro for the 6th Global Conference on Transparency Research. The conference focuses on measuring transparency, exploring how this can be achieved, what the barriers are, whether metrics are useful, and how current interventions are shaping transparency around the world.
mySociety’s Head of Research Rebecca Rumbul will be attending, and will be presenting some of mySociety’s recent research into the transparency of parliamentary information in sub-Saharan Africa. Examining transparency through a digital lens, this research broke new ground in understanding how digital tools are shaping parliamentary transparency in sub-Saharan Africa, and how barriers to transparency are affecting how citizens engage with public institutions. You can read the full report here.
Rebecca will be speaking at 4pm on Thursday 27 June, so please do come along and say hello. She says, “Transparency, digital and citizen engagement are core themes of our research at mySociety, and we love to talk to other people working in these areas. Meeting new people and sharing ideas are the best parts of any conference, so do grab me for a chat if you are attending.”
If you are unable to join Rebecca in Rio, but you are interested in talking research, we’re always happy to receive email. And keep your eyes peeled for our TICTeC conference announcement for April 2020. We will be opening our Call for Papers in early September.
Image: Jaime Spaniol
The chairs have been stacked, the banners rolled away, and 142 delegates have returned to their 29 home countries. TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference, is over for another year.
The 1.5 day event saw a concentration of wisdom and expertise from across the civic tech sector, and we’re keen to ensure that we share as many insights as possible.
To that end, we’ll be publishing materials such as photos, videos and slides, as soon as we can. We hope that, if you weren’t able to attend, they’ll give you a taste of the TICTeC experience — and, if you were there, they’ll serve to keep it fresh.
Some materials will take a little time: videos, for example, are currently in post-production, and should be ready within a few weeks. We’ll be announcing on the mySociety Twitter feed, Facebook page and this blog when they’re online, or check the TICTeC resources page.
Meanwhile, here’s what’s available right now:
- Slides from all the speakers Click on each speaker’s name to access them.
- Photos: all under Creative Commons, so feel free to download and share them if you wish.
- A Storify to help you relive the experience through hashtagged tweets and photos.
- The TICTeC Google Group: everyone who attended the conference is a member, so this is the place to continue discussions or begin new ones.
Thanks so much to everyone who participated, making TICTeC a real success. We hope to see you all again.
TICTeC is our annual conference on the impacts of civic technologies. It’s a great chance to hear from researchers and practitioners right across the sector, from many different countries and with many different approaches.
Not least among these will be our keynote speakers. Today, we’re delighted to announce the first of these: Helen Milner OBE, CEO of Tinder Foundation.
Helen has had a long history in delivering training around the internet and particularly, as a means of addressing social exclusion.
Hi Helen. Give us the elevator pitch: what will you be talking about at TICTeC, in a nutshell?
Is civic tech an amusing pastime of the middle-classes?
I’ll be putting a series of questions: is digital trying to fix outdated modes of democracy?
Are people getting increasingly detached from politics and do they feel that democratic structures are impenetrable no matter how much politicians tweet?
Is civic tech an amusing pastime of the middle-classes? Or can communities co-design a better future for everyone using tech?
There are lots of clever people developing democratic and civic tools and apps to help people have a voice—but unless people have the skills to get online, and to use these apps, they will remain the preserve of the digitally confident.
I will be trying to answer some of these questions and discuss how our efforts can make maximum impact for most people most of the time – and leaving no-one behind.
And why should people be excited by this?
As the world becomes increasingly digitised, we cannot allow the chasm between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to get any wider.
As the world becomes increasingly digitised, we cannot allow the chasm between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ to get any wider.
At Tinder Foundation, we’re committed to helping the 12.6 million people in the UK—and the next 3 billion around the world—who don’t have basic digital skills, and so who aren’t realising all of the benefits of the digital world.
My work as a Commissioner for the UK Parliament’s Digital Democracy Commission brought me up close to the barriers of history and culture looking from the inside out.
What are you hoping to get out of TICTeC?
Tinder Foundation’s ethos is very much about taking collaborative approach to extend our reach and ensure that our models of delivery are co-designed for social challenges, rather than assuming a one-size fits all approach.
I’m excited about being part of the conversation so that together we can ensure that democratic and civic technology is accessible to everybody in society.
Where does your passion for digital and social inclusion come from?
In the UK there are still a shocking 12 million people—and 3 billion worldwide—who lack the basic skills to use the internet and benefit.
I went to school in south London where I was educated alongside people from all different backgrounds and have always believed in equality of opportunity. In the UK however, there are still a shocking 12 million people – and 3 billion worldwide – who lack the basic skills to use the internet and benefit.
By not helping these millions and billions of people gain we are further marginalising the most disadvantaged people in society as well as making it less easy for them to have a voice.
My role on the Digital Democracy Commission presented recommendations about how everybody in society could engage with the democratic process via digital channels, for example the potential for online voting and a website to help make politics more accessible to those who aren’t currently engaging with politics (such as young people).
The commission also made a strong case for investing in digital skills training in order to ensure that people can participate with a more digitised political system in future, and the same goes for civic tech.
If you could make one recommendation to those developing new civic tech, and wanting to see real impact from it, what would it be?
Civic tech is about more than just technology—its evolution should be driven by a desire to include everyone and empowering everyone to participate in decision-making about matters that impact on them: community, housing, education, transport, the environment, budgets, et al.
Unless there is a shared commitment towards ensuring everyone can engage with democratic and civic tech, the power to influence change in society will continue to be held in the hands of a committed few.
You won’t want to miss what Helen has to say at TICTeC, so make sure you book your tickets now. Earlybird pricing runs until February 19.
Last year’s TICTeC saw a huge range of subject matter, including:
- Keynotes from leaders in the field, Shelley Boulianne and Ethan Zuckerman
- Experimenting with Facebook ads in Kenya, to see whether users could be encouraged to take a political action
- A look at the demographics of who uses online democracy tools across different countries
- A donor’s perspective on what makes for successful civic technology
- And even crowdsourcing a map of public toilets in the UK
Session leaders included representatives from MIT, the Oxford Internet Institute, the World Bank and even the Royal College of Art.
If your research is just as interesting, and touches on the impacts of civic technology anywhere in the world, we’d love to hear from you.
Oh, and did we tell you it’s in Barcelona? In spring time?
Speakers will have free entry to the conference, and there’s also the chance for all attendees to be considered for travel grants.
Still not sure? Check out videos, photos and slide decks from last year’s TICTeC.
We’ll be at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit on October 27-29.
It’s one of the biggest events of the year within our sector, focusing on transparency, accountability, citizen participation and innovation, so we know it’ll be a great chance to spread the word about our work, and catch up with friends from all over the world.
We’re there with two main purposes.
Launching our latest research
On Wednesday 28th October at 4pm, Rebecca will be hosting a session titled Researching the Real-World Impact of Digital Democracy. The Open Knowledge Foundation will be joining us, to present recent research they’ve conducted into open data and data literacy.
We’ll also be launching our own report on the demographics of civic tech users, highlighting how the kind of tools we make are used by different groups around the world, and the opportunities and challenges that this presents to civic technologists and open government advocates.
Can’t make it to Mexico City? No problem: we’ll simultaneously be publishing the research here on the mySociety website. Yes, that’s right, we’re staging an international live link-up… in our own small way.
Showcasing our software
With so many people in one place, all with a very specific interest in our kind of work, we jumped at the chance to exhibit at the Open Fair. Paul and Gemma will be there, showcasing some of our projects and tools that promote transparency and help with parliamentary monitoring.
We’re really looking forward to the event. If you’re going too, we hope you’ll come and say hello.
Want to know who else is going?
It’s always useful to know who’ll be around, so you can see who you want to catch up with. We’ve started this crowd-sourced spreadsheet: do feel free to add yourself.
Earlier this year, the AlaveteliCon conference brought together people with an interest in online Freedom of Information technologies.
It was an event quite unlike any other, and left a lasting impression of many dedicated people making good things happen for their communities, in places across the world.
That impression is reflected in these short videos, which came about when we yanked attendees away from their lunches and asked them questions in a darkened room.
Thanks very much to everyone who responded so amiably, as well as giving us such useful insights into what it’s like to run an FOI site in all sorts of circumstances. We’ve named them at the foot of this post, along with links to their sites.