1. Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement

    mySociety’s Head of Research, Rebecca Rumbul, gives an overview of our research work in the latest publication from the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository. Also featured is an experiment in citizen engagement from Mzalendo in Kenya, that was first shared at TICTeC.

    Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement: A Practical Guide is a handy collection of examples and lessons from practitioners in Brazil, Uganda, Cameroon and Kenya, on how to measure the impact of civic technologies.

    Rebecca explains the methods we’re currently using to answer questions like, “are institutions equally responsive to citizens?” and, crucially, “are our tools genuinely making a difference?”.

    Meanwhile, Lily L. Tsai and Leah Rosenzweig, who contributed last year to our Impacts of Civic Technologies conference TICTeC, give an overview of how they used Facebook ads to draw conclusions about what makes people take concrete political actions online.

    You can download the guide for free here — and don’t forget, if you’d like to hear more about the ways in which civic tech’s impact is being tested by projects around the world, there are still a few tickets available for TICTeC 2016.

     

    Image: Alistair Nicol (CC)

  2. Meet Dr. Shelley Boulianne, a TICTeC keynote speaker

    Dr Shelley BoulianneDr. Shelley Boulianne, of MacEwan University in Alberta Canada, studies civic engagement and political participation. That makes her a perfect fit for our conference on the Impact of Civic Technology, TICTeC, where she’ll be one of two keynote speakers.

    Her current research examines how social media is used to recruit youth for volunteer work in the community. This research employs interview data from youth and non-profit organisations, as well as a content analysis of Facebook and Twitter data. If that sounds right up your street, be sure to grab your TICTec tickets soon.

    Meanwhile, we put a few questions to Shelley.

    What will you be talking about at TICTeC?

    I will present a bird’s eye view of the effects of civic technology on civic and political life. This perspective allows us to ask tough questions about technology: Does civic technology have a positive effect on civic and political life? Does it have a negative effect? Does it have any effect at all? I will present the results of a meta-analysis of more than 80 studies documenting the effects of the internet on civic and political life.

    What’s your involvement in civic tech?

    Most of my experience is studying the role of news websites and social networking sites on civic and political life. These tools are most interesting to me, because they engage the masses. However, I am also studying the use of online versus face to face methods for facilitating citizens’ involvement in deliberative exercises designed to inform public policy.

    What are you most looking forward to about TICTeC?

    I consider myself to be first and foremost a research methodologist, so I look forward to exciting discussions about how to study the effects of civic technology.

    We’re looking forward to it too! If you’d like to be at TICTeC, info and a link to ticket-booking is here. But hurry: early bird registration closes on 20 February.

    Meet our other keynote, Ethan Zuckerman, here.

  3. Meet Ethan Zuckerman, a TICTeC keynote speaker

    Ethan ZuckermanWe’re more than delighted that Ethan Zuckerman will be one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology.

    Ethan is Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT Media Lab, and a longtime digital activist and thinker. He’s on the directorial board of Ushahidi and Global Voices, as well as being a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board.

    As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Ethan is also the originator of the Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism– a theory which, one might say, is highly relevant to at least two of the interests of many mySociety folk.

    We asked Ethan a few questions in advance of his keynote presentation.

    What will you be talking about at TICTeC?

    I’m going to talk about civics through the lens of efficacy. What can individuals do to influence their communities, their societies and their nations? Are they more effective working through existing institutions, through building new ones or through influencing opinion via making media? And how can we know what forms of civics are most effective?

    What’s your involvement in civic tech?

    I’ve been building media systems for twenty years, and have focused for the last ten years on civic media, tools that help citizens make change in their communities through media. High points have included working on Global Voices, Ushahidi and now Promise Tracker.

    There’s […] lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.

    What are your best concrete examples of the impact of civic tech?

    I think there’s good evidence that projects like SeeClickFix and mySociety’s various projects can help citizens feel their government is more responsive. There’s some evidence that tools like Ushahidi have allowed relief organizations to respond better to emergencies. But there’s also lots of evidence that this work is really, really hard and that we need to think more carefully about what we’re actually seeking to accomplish.

    How can research help those of us in the field?

    My research focuses on the question of how making media might be a path towards making change. We’re building tools that help individuals and advocacy organisations track the spread of ideas in social and journalistic media, offering nuanced pictures of the structure of a particular story or controversy.

    What are you most looking forward to about TICTeC?

    I’m hoping to leave with a better map of what research questions are most pressing in this space.

    What (excepting mySociety, for modesty) are your favourite examples of good civic tech?

    As I mentioned above, I’m an admirer of SeeClickFix and (immodestly) Ushahidi. I think Code for America is doing a good job of building a pipeline of civicly motivated techies. I think Kickstarter, while not explicitly civic tech, has been masterful in helping communities figure out how to fundraise together.

    Thanks Ethan!

    If you’d like to join us at TICTeC, tickets are still available. But hurry: early bird registration closes on 20 February.

    Meet our other keynote, Dr Shelley Boulianne, here.

  4. Research on the impact of mySociety’s digital tools

    Nick SouthallIn a recent blog post, we summarised the research we commissioned from the University of Manchester’s Rachel Gibson, Marta Cantijoch and Silvia Galandini, on whether or not our core UK websites have an impact.

    The full research paper is now available, and you can download it here pdf.

    Professor Rachel Gibson says: “This research presents a unique and valuable insight into the users of online resources such as FixMyStreet and WhatDoTheyKnow.

    “Through applying a highly original methodology that combines quantitative and in-depth qualitative data about people’s experience of mySociety sites over time, we provide a picture of how eDemocracy tools are contributing to activism at the local level.

    “We thank all those that contributed to this important study and mySociety for their co-operation in developing this highly rewarding and academically rigorous project.”

    Our thanks to Rachel, Marta and Silvia for conducting this research, which utilised methods not previously used in the civic tech field. We hope that it will prove a useful foundation to our own further research, and that of others.

    Image: Nick Southall (CC)