1. This is not just any Impact Report…

    …this is mySociety’s 20th anniversary Impact Report!

    Cover of mySociety's 20th anniversary impact reportThis has been a very special year – mySociety’s 20th anniversary.

    So we haven’t just put together our usual review of the past twelve months: this Impact Report is a special edition, covering our entire history since 2003.

    We look back at our beginnings as a small group of determined coders, and trace our history through the changes our services have made, here in the UK and across the world.

    Discover daring acts of (data) piracy, and learn which vandalised phone box sparked the idea for FixMyStreet. Find out how our “cheap and cheerful open web technology” has been instrumental in helping citizens tackle vital issues, from the climate emergency to human trafficking.

    It’s quite the read. Sit back, grab a mince pie if you have one to hand…and enjoy! Access the Anniversary Impact report here (web), or enjoy the print-faithful PDF version, or plain text and epub formats.

    And if you’re interested in our activity on the SocietyWorks side, don’t miss their own, just as engrossing, annual report: you can read that here.

  2. Reflections on TICTeC Labs: did we unlock civic tech impact?

    If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you’ll have seen a series of new projects rolling out over the past few couple of months: these are the concrete outcomes of the TICTeC Labs programme. You can access them all here.

    TICTeC Labs was a new and, in retrospect, quite bold project for mySociety, involving many moving parts, the generous participation of people from a huge variety of organisations, and with collaborators in several different countries — and crucially, support from the National Endowment for Democracy.

    Last week, in a final wrap-up event, we looked back on the programme as a whole, with presentations from our subgrantees and reflections from the steering group. If you’d like to watch for yourself, you can do so on YouTube, and there’s a transcript here (automatically generated, so be prepared for some typos etc).

    The process

    Each TICTeC Surgery began with a question and ended up with a finished product or service several months later. At any one time, the six projects would be at various overlapping stages, from the initial discussions, to the Action Lab deciding what and whom to commission, to the work being undertaken and finally launched.

     

    The TICTeC Labs process - each of six topics leading to an output, via a working group

    Click to see at a larger size

     

    Despite this complexity, and thanks to the hard work of so many, each project was completed on time. Each one is a solution to an identified issue within the global civic tech community. And the benefits don’t stop there: everything is open source, and can be accessed, used or replicated by any group that may need them.

    Outputs

    The wrap-up event began with presentations from the groups who had created these final outputs:

    People Powered, on showcasing public-private civic tech success stories. Pam Bailey spoke about the importance of placing a human interest strand at the centre of the stories we tell. The output for this Surgery was a set of case studies highlighting notable examples of such projects.

    Technoloxia, on a toolkit to help the global civic tech community fix common accessibility challenges. Yosr Jouni described the challenge of making a topic like accessibility both fun and indeed accessible in itself. The output here was an online, illustrated guide that’s available to all.

    Open North, on data governance and quality. Christian Medina described how they used the international scope of the Labs to ensure that their offering was relevant to everyone, not just the global north. The resulting online course is in French and English and free for anyone to access.

    Fundación Multitudes, on storytelling and reach. Stephani Paliza also shared thoughts on how they ensured their output would be relevant to communities anywhere in the world. Their offering was in the form of training for civic tech organisations across several continents, equipping them with effective tools to get stories about their projects and successes into mainstream channels.

    The Demography Project, on driving impactful societal change. Richard Muraya described some crucial outputs around water in Kenya: educating, monitoring, and ensuring better water quality during a critical period for the country. The President of Kenya even attended their event for World Wetlands Day. You can see more about their several digital outputs here.

    Policy Lab Africa, on civic tech in hostile environments. Charles Ikem described how, in just two months, they were able to map a huge amount of data showing where polling stations — often just unremarkable addresses in rural areas — were located, and launch an app for reporting electoral violence in time for Nigeria’s presidential elections.

    Reflections

    mySociety’s Chief Executive Louise Crow and Steering Group members Isabel Hou and Matt Stempeck discussed to what extent the programme had met its aims to ‘strengthen civic tech networks and the exchange of ideas’, and ‘develop new initiatives and collaborations that expand the civic tech evidence base, address issues and challenges facing the sector, and enhance the effectiveness and potential impact of civic tech projects.

    Matt encapsulated our thoughts neatly when he said: “The value of the unexpected community that was built in this process was important — so the direct, formal partnerships; but also, seeing who’s doing what, the diverse approaches to similar challenges, while at the same time finding that community.

    “People really liked the ability to have repeat engagement on the theme and the ability to keep working on things over time rather than one off events.”

    Finally, a Q&A allowed audience members to add their thoughts. This is a programme that’s been all about knowledge-sharing, and it’s notable that this spirit also persisted in our conversation: already, participants were talking about more translations of some of the assets, and invitations to speak at planned global conferences.

    Everything we learned during the TICTeC Labs process will be very useful as we consider the next phase of TICTeC and what form its offerings will take as we go forward. This event allowed us to take a step back and understand our progress, learnings, and lessons for future programmes.

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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)