The first TICTeC Labs subgrant project provides practical examples
How has civic tech helped protect the health of a small rural community in Chile, engaged citizens in decisions about their local areas in China, improved the electricity supply to a village in Kyrgyzstan and assisted people with visual impairments to take part in participatory budgeting in Argentina?
This month sees the first output from our TICTeC Labs subgrants.
TICTeC Labs is our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion – Civic Tech Surgery – on a topic affecting the civic tech community, followed by an Action Lab, a working group who meet to discuss the challenges and commission some work to help provide solutions.
Tackling the challenges
At the first Civic Tech Surgery, in October 2021, the challenges of public-private civic tech projects, as well as possible solutions to tackle them, were discussed by Aline Muylaert of CitizenLab, Amanda Clarke of Carleton University, Gabriella Razzano of OpenUp in South Africa and Ebtihaj Khan from Code for Pakistan, with valuable input from our Surgery attendees.
Action Lab #1 then convened to decide what would help the global civic tech community to work more effectively with public and private institutions. They 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, aiming to promote the benefits of civic tech and inspire and motivate government actors to start similar civic tech projects in their contexts.
Showcasing successful projects
The Action Lab #1 subgrant was awarded to People Powered, who approached the organisations who were highly rated on their digital participation platform to provide examples where their work has resulted in clear improvements and benefits for governments, institutions, and communities.
The case studies all include key lessons learned and recommendations on how to use digital platforms effectively:
- Digital platform and training boost participation in rural Kyrgyzstan – this World Bank project demonstrates how the government can empower local communities to make decisions, facilitated by a digital platform.
- In China, a popular social media platform is harnessed to increase participation – China’s Participation Center developed a “mini app” for the popular WeChat platform, and engaged 3000 of the 3,044 neighbourhoods in Chengdu city in participatory budgeting.
- Participation must be designed to ‘leave no one behind’: Argentina case study – Argentina’s municipality of Rosario is so committed to digital transformation that it has integrated it into every aspect of its operations, from education to participatory budgeting, including a commitment to make the process totally accessible to individuals with visual disabilities.
- Chilean institute harnesses digital platform to engage young people as change agents – Youth are the leaders of tomorrow (and today!), and progress toward a sustainable environment can only be made with their full engagement. Chile’s National Youth Institute understands this, and knew that to involve as many young people as possible, a digital platform was needed. It chose CitizenLab, and this post explains how the institute uses it to find and develop new leaders.
In it she makes a case for supporting democratic innovations that put the citizen at the centre of decision-making, whilst at the same time strengthening and improving the democratic institutions we’ve got.
Deliberative democracy is based on the idea that an entire population has a stake in political decisions, especially when they can help to break political deadlocks. This is especially true when members of parliament feel unable to develop new laws or policies due to fear of voter retribution. It offers a way to breathe new life into governance because political work is seen as a shared enterprise, not just among professional politicians but also with citizens who are offered an opportunity to participate.
This does not mean that deliberative democracy processes should replace members of parliament’s responsibility to represent and oversee. Deliberative democracy complements representative democracy to enhance certain policy outcomes but should not be seen as competing against existing political authorities. If deliberation and representation clash, they can create a self-defeating environment where citizens feel their process has been sabotaged and members of parliament feel their authority is being handed away. This was seen to some extent during the French Citizens’ Convention for Climate: many members of parliament were not in favour of the assembly and argued that deliberative democracy would never be able to replace proper parliamentary debates by elected representatives.
Deliberative processes can also be a powerful tool in pushing back against executive obstinance. Many countries are experiencing increasing centralisation and executive dominance, with legislatures often marginalised and their recommendations ignored. A legislature’s intervention, backed by the direct feedback and support of citizens, can be much more powerful than one from a parliamentary committee or individual member of parliament alone.
As more parliaments are initiating deliberative democracy processes around the world, there are several considerations to bear in mind. Among them are the need to build coalitions of like-minded members of parliament; the need to involve the media and civil society; the need to pay attention to key design decisions and trade-offs; and the extent to which parliament should be involved in the deliberative process – many of these have been discussed in our blog series so far.
But one of the major considerations is to identify from the outset how the parliament will be involved in implementing the recommendations that come out of the process. Members of parliament have a wide range of constitutional tools at their disposal to support the implementation of outcomes from these deliberative processes. It is useful for the participants in deliberative processes to understand from the outset what role parliament can play in following up their recommendations. It is also important for participants to get an understanding of the framework in which members of parliament operate. For example, whilst a deliberative process can be conducted in a few weeks, it takes parliament months to pass a new law. This rigorous process is important as it allows the parliament to balance the actions of the executive, and members of citizens’ assemblies need to understand this.
As more and more members of parliament are convinced of the benefits of deliberative democracy, some parliaments are starting to embed these processes into their decision-making structures. This ensures that deliberative processes become fully complementary. But institutionalisation can also help to consolidate trust in decision makers and members of parliament and lead to increased efficiency and cost saving.
Consider the Belgian example: two of the most prominent examples of institutionalisation of deliberative processes are found in Belgium.
Firstly, in February 2019, the parliament of the German-speaking community passed a law to establish a permanent citizen council to set the agenda and a citizen assembly. The main objective of the assembly is to issue recommendations to the parliament. Although the recommendations are not legally binding, the parliament is compelled to engage in debate with them.
Secondly, in December 2019, the parliament of the Region of Brussels in Belgium amended its rules of procedure to establish deliberative committees composed of a mixture of members of the regional parliament and randomly selected citizens. Members of parliament and citizens suggest agenda items for up to three deliberative committees each year, and a committee can arise from citizens who can gather 1,000 signatures on a proposed issue. The deliberative parliamentary committee is composed of 15 members of parliaments and 45 citizens to draft recommendations on a given issue. These recommendations must be considered by the standing committee within 6 months and presented at a public sitting of the standing committee in which the randomly selected citizens are invited.
Speaking about the process, Magali Plovie, President of the Francophone Brussels Parliament has said “there are also huge challenges headed our way — from climate change to lasting social injustices that increase every year — and we need to adapt our decision-making processes to this reality. Citizens need to contribute to these decisions, as they will be impacted first and foremost. Institutionalising citizen deliberation will contribute to building lasting trust between citizens and the parliament.”
Whether institutionalizing such processes will lead to stronger take up of recommendations remains to be seen. As the Belgian constitution grants legislative power to the parliament, the power that deliberative democracy holds within parliament remains dependent on the representative institution and its members – in complement, not competition.
Originally published by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Image: Social Cut
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.
- The 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.
- Questions from the audience were answered after the event, and you can see the responses on this document, or on the individual presentation pages linked to from this page.
- There’s also a collaborative notes document here.
Six 7-minute presentations on using tech for online deliberation
Our COVID consultation journey: from a small initiative to the desk of the president
Understanding the small hurdles that block community engagement, with behavioural design
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago we hosted the fifth edition of our research conference The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) in Paris, in association with the OECD at their beautiful conference centre.
It was the biggest TICTeC event yet – we were thrilled to bring together 200 leaders in the field from 29 countries to take stock of the civic technology research landscape and to discuss what works and what doesn’t when it comes to using technology for social good.
76 speakers from 14 countries covered topics such as: fighting ‘platform populists’; investing in the future of civic tech; learning from setbacks; the impacts of civic tech in Latin America; civic tech’s role as a response to the ‘gilets jaunes’; the opportunities and limitations of participatory budgeting; empowering women through civic tech; working with governments on civic tech; and the state of open data across the world. And many, many more.
Thank you to everyone involved for sharing your experiences and research.
If you weren’t able to attend (or indeed if you’d like to experience it all again), do check out the TICTeC 2019 web page to see videos of key conference sessions, photos, and slides where available.
As a taster, here’s an overview of the whole event… in just two minutes:
Thank you again to Google, Luminate, OECD and the MacArthur Foundation for supporting TICTeC. We’ll keep you all posted on next year’s event over on the research mailing list and on the TICTeC Google Group.
Every year, our Impacts of Civic Technology conference TICTeC increases, in both size and ambition.
The event in Paris last week — the fifth annual TICTeC — was a total sell-out despite having a larger capacity than in previous years. At times the schedule featured an unprecedented four simultaneous tracks, giving delegates more to choose from but also perhaps, making those decisions a little more difficult.
And while we’ve naturally always striven to be as diverse and inclusive as possible, it was also the first TICTeC where female speakers outnumbered male ones. There were 76 speakers from 14 different countries. Of these, 39 were women. Delegates came from 29 nations around the world (frustratingly, as always, some of our speakers had their visas turned down, which is not only disappointing in terms of the event’s overall diversity, but also means we don’t get to hear the view from those particular corners of the world).
Thanks are due
Thanks to our hosts the OECD, we were able to enjoy state of the art conference rooms, and spaces within a château that came complete with their own chandeliers. Within these gilded walls we heard from a diverse range of speakers, engaged in debates and found commonalities across our work in Civic Tech.
It’s always so gratifying to hear directly from the practitioners, academics and funders who can share their real-world experiences: thank you so much to everyone who spoke or ran a session.
Thank you also to the MacArthur Foundation for providing travel grants to some attendees.
Relive the highlights
Doubtless everyone will have come away with their own set of memorable moments, but for now you can watch the three sessions that we live- streamed, which are still available to view on YouTube:
Keynote Alessandra Orofino opened the conference with a truly inspiring presentation about tackling ‘platform politicians’ of the far right, something she’s had plenty of practice with through Nossas, the organisation she founded in Latin America. Sounding a very welcome note of optimism, Alessandra assured us that “the next generation will save democracy if we let them”. You can watch the whole session on YouTube and we highly recommend that you do: we knew it had been a hit when even the cameraman was moved.
Yearly condensed shot of inspiration just started! #TICTeC keynote speech describing positive reinforcement methodologies for activism and participation. Full of hope! Thanks to Alessandra Orofino – @Meu_Rio #Nossas pic.twitter.com/n9PjnOkX1a
— Matthieu Bosquet (@cognithive) March 19, 2019
In the French Context session, we were given a great overview of France’s very timely hopes for Civic Tech, including participatory budgeting and citizen decision-making. Deputy Mayor of Paris Pauline Véron, Paula Forteza MP and Tatiana de Feraudy from Decider ensemble spoke very convincingly about how the time is ripe for more collaborative, open democracy: as Paula noted, when she first invited us to bring TICTeC to Paris, none of us had any idea that it would be such a timely event — but with the rise of the gilets jaunes and the Grand Débat National put in place by Macron as a way for everyone to have their say in decisions around four major areas including Democracy and Citizenship, it could hardly have been more relevant. See the whole conversation here.
Our day two keynote was James Anderson from Bloomberg Philanthropies, who ran through several examples of local governments grasping the reins and making innovative, imaginative decisions against a ‘crisis of legitimacy that is unprecedented within our generation’. He also reminded us of the ‘huge power in calling out a status quo that isn’t giving us the results we want’; there was lots lots more to interest anyone who’s wondering how we can solve the democratic issues of our time; catch it all by watching the livestream of the session here.
The Civic team at Facebook have been guests at every TICTeC since the 2016 event in Barcelona: they’re always keen to report on the ways in which they are using the platform’s enormous reach in order to increase democratic engagement; and because it helps complete a rounded picture of the Civic Tech world, we welcome the opportunity to hear from a tech giant. This year, Director of Product Management Samidh Chakrabarti, Data Scientist Monica Lee and Product Manager Antonia Woodford detailed the tools, systems and increased staffing they put in place to counteract abuse and disinformation during the US midterm elections. At Facebook’s request, this session was not videoed, but it was much tweeted.
— James Cronin (@jamescronin) March 20, 2019
Also unforgettable was the reception we were given at the French National Assembly: thanks very much to Paula Forteza and her team for hosting us there and giving us this special opportunity to see inside France’s ‘lower house’, where Mounir Mahjoubi, Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, gave TICTeC attendees a fulsome welcome and outlined their vision for Civic Tech in the tricky political climate that France is currently facing. He echoed Paula’s words from her earlier presentation at TICTeC, saying that while previously they were delighted if a few thousand citizens took part in their consultations, they are now overwhelmed by the take-up of millions who want to have their voices heard. Digital democracy is certainly having its moment.
After a day discussing how tech can help democracy, Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s Secretary of State for digital affairs, tells a room full of activists and tech people: “We are at a new moment. People expect to be listened to. And maybe there are new ways to listen to them.” #TICTeC pic.twitter.com/7XF6SjsW0I
— Hazel Sheffield (@hazelsheffield) March 19, 2019
We’ll be adding videos of several more sessions as soon as they’ve been edited, as well as photos and slides from as many presentations as possible. There are several ways to make sure you’re informed when they’re ready to view: watch our Twitter stream, sign up to our newsletter, or just check the TICTeC website for the latest updates. If it’s just the videos that you’re interested in, you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.
We’ve just shared the schedule for our Impacts of Civic Technology conference, TICTeC, and in all honesty? We’re excited.
It’s almost complete, but we’ll be adding a few more details of additional sessions once they’re confirmed. We’re also expecting a number of side events to spring up, too. Yes, that’s right, TICTeC has grown a fringe!
TICTeC has been growing in momentum since its beginnings in 2014. This year, once again, thanks to a higher number of submissions than ever — and the increasing quality of those submissions — you’ll experience an unsurpassed line-up of speakers, each with deep insights into the field.
Tickets are going faster than ever before: more than half of them are sold already, and and we expect to sell out well before the event, so don’t delay if you’re hoping to join us in Paris: register now.
Each day will kick off with an inspiring presentation from a standout practitioner that has brought significant change through Civic Tech projects.
On day one Alessandra Orofino, founder of Nossas, will speak about her project to empower citizens throughout Latin America; day two begins with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ James Anderson explaining how a global network of mayors are sharing technologies to improve cities worldwide.
As always, TICTeC examines projects from across the Civic Tech field; but each year, certain themes emerge that reflect the current preoccupations of society more broadly.
The French experience
Thanks to generous support from the OECD, our venue is the beautiful OECD Headquarters & Conference Centre in Paris. It’s fitting that, during the two days, we’ll hear a lot from those making a difference in the French context.
Speakers include Pauline Véron, Deputy Mayor of Paris and member of the Socialiste party; Paula Forteza, MP with En Marche! and Tatiana de Feraudy from Décider ensemble.
They’ll be not only giving us a good overview of Civic Tech in France, but also looking at how digital democracy might be the key to the issues raised by the Gilets Jaunes uprising.
The wisdom of crowds
As concepts such as Participatory Budgeting reach maturity, we can now stand back and assess what works well and what doesn’t, when you turn to the citizenry for decision-making.
Theo Bass from Nesta in the UK will examine online deliberation tools; Benjamin Snow from Germany’s Civocracy will give an honest look at what you can do when citizen consultation tools launch with a sizzle rather than a bang. Thanks to Reboot‘s Panthea Lee and Gil Pradeau from the University of Westminster, we’ll get a look at Participatory Budgeting in both the US and France.
Extremism, and its spread via digital means, are of course of huge concern across many different countries.
We’ll hear from the USA’s National Democratic Institute on how Civic Tech might tackle political polarisation; and from the UK’s Full Fact on how machine learning can simplify the factchecker’s job. Marko Skoric from Hong Kong will examine whether blocking, filtering and unfriending on social media actually adds to division.
This very current concern is sure to be in evidence right across many of the other sessions, too.
The urban experience
Taking a cue from James’ keynote, we’ll see many examinations of Civic Tech in the city, from Jose Alberto Gomez of Mexico on better mobile apps for fault reporting; to analyses of Civic Tech in diverse urban areas from the Centre for Conflict and Participation Studies in Italy. And our hosts OECD will be presenting the concept of an urban barometer.
Impactful Civic Tech projects
Luminate are one of several participants in a panel which examines Civic Tech in Latin America for a wider understanding of applicable insights. Jasmina Haynes from Integrity Action in the UK will present the Nepalse experience on how to check whether grants are doing everything the funders hoped they would. And several more sessions will have an emphasis on ensuring initiatives are impactful.
With three to four tracks running each day, there’s plenty to choose from — including a look at the issues that arise in long-running Civic Tech projects, by mySociety’s own developer Matthew Somerville — so make sure to have a browse through the schedule for a full picture of what to expect.
And then, we can’t stress this enough: book your ticket, or you might be too late.
Every now and then, we in the mySociety research team are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to explore specific themes in civic participation, in partnership with some of the leading philanthropic bodies in our field. Last year, we worked with the Hewlett Foundation and the Omidyar Network to examine Participatory Budgeting. These organisations were keen to explore where there might be opportunities for the Participatory Budgeting field to be supported or developed, and alongside academic experts Brian Wampler, Stephanie McNulty and Michael Touchton, the mySociety research team conducted a wide-ranging review of some of the key questions surrounding Participatory Budgeting, and interviewed a number of practitioners and global experts.
You can read the full report here.
One of the truly fascinating things about the spread of Participatory Budgeting over the last 30 years is how it has evolved, mutated and emerged in almost all corners of the world. The model conceived in Porto Alegre 30 years ago is very different from the implementations of Participatory Budgeting operational today in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and North and South America. That is not necessarily a bad thing of course. Projects and frameworks for participation must evolve with changing attitudes, must be culturally appropriate, and must work within the resources available. However, the very reasons that implementing bodies have for doing Participatory Budgeting have also changed.
While many practitioners view Participatory Budgeting as a very process based activity, there are many differing opinions on what it is actually structured to achieve. In Brazil, this model was developed as a new political offering to build a fundamentally redistributive programme, allowing citizens with the greatest need to input into real-world budgeting solutions to leverage funding into the poorest neighbourhoods. This concept of redistribution has, based on our research, appeared to have waned in the majority of places, with the focus of Participatory Budgeting now firmly upon the commonly accepted ideal of broad citizen participation, with the merit assigned to the act and volume of participation by the general populace in local budgeting.
There is nothing inherently wrong about this shift in focus, but it does raise questions around scale, legitimacy and programme outcomes. What are institutions really trying to achieve when implementing Participatory Budgeting? Is it redistribution, is it genuine participation, or is it the appearance of genuine participation? And is there any desired outcome beyond having citizens participate? Is the high cost of engaging the most disadvantaged citizens offset by the educational benefits of small-scale Participatory Budgeting exercises? Do implementers want these programmes to be large scale but relatively ‘light touch’? And if so, does that devalue the process of participation or exclude disadvantaged citizens or minorities? Is it right that those citizens able to mobilise support and votes for specific projects are most likely to be from comparatively wealthy and educated sections of society? Does the scaling potential of digital Participatory Budgeting platforms gentrify the process? And what is the point of investing in exercises such as Participatory Budgeting when the political and bureaucratic institutions overseeing them are evidently corrupting or subverting the process?
This research project was incredibly compelling, and while we reluctantly concluded the project with more questions than answers, we hope that these points will focus the international Participatory Budgeting community towards genuine development that will benefit all of the many hard-working and dedicated practitioners around the world.
Image: Chris Slupski
Describe your idea:
e-Participation – empower and involve citizens in transparent decision making in the EU20Funding Instrument: Pilot Type B – It is intended to support several pilot actions for up to 7 M€ of EU contribution. The overall aim is to address with ICT based solutions today’s challenges in policy making. These include : fighting the perceived democratic deficit
What problem does it solve?:
EU grant option to finance participatory projects using ICT – deadline : september 2009
Type of idea: New feature for an existing project