City Hall in London is a spiral-shaped building that some say resembles a snail.
The same could not be said for the speakers at TICTeC Local, the conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology for communities and local government, which took place on the building’s top floor last Friday. These proactive people move fast and get things done!
Surrounded by a wraparound view of the Thames and Tower Bridge, we heard from a selection of folk with hands-on experience of using technology at the local or community level. See the full agenda here, where you’ll also find links to the collaborative notes that were taken during each session.
Here’s a brief run-down of the presentations and discussions.
mySociety research: evidence and impact
Our own Head of Research, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, kicked things off with a call for research-based decisions when it comes to attractive new forms of engagement such as the current trend towards Citizens’ Assemblies. As always, it’s important to assess what ensures good results and what can go wrong, so that we can ensure the outcomes are desirable.
What role can digital technologies play in citizen participation?
This panel comprised four people who are very well-equipped to speak on the subject in hand: Miriam Levin from DCMS, Eva O’Brien of FutureGov, Graham Smith, Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, and Tim Hughes of Involve.
Beginning with a look at the role of digital technologies and a nod to those which are working well in citizen participation, conversation soon turned to the ways in which Citizens’ Assemblies can deliver less than desirable results — and, just as importantly, how to avoid that.
Data changes everything: informed public services
In this session, two speakers brought two very different stories to the table. First, James Maddison of the Open Data Institute presented the toolkit which the ODI has produced to help public services through the process of generating, sharing and using more open data. The rainbow-hued toolkit itself can be found here.
Secondly, Georges Clement of JustFix in New York told the inspiring tale of how data empowered millions of tenants who were living in conditions considered deficient even by the city’s own definition. Simply by sharing data on who owned buildings (something often deliberately obscured by landlords) the organisation enabled joint campaigns, group litigation and the ranking of the ‘worst evictor’ landlords. This work led to New York’s City Mayor introducing a law that guarantees legal representation to low-income residents facing eviction.
Click to engage: creating active citizens through digital technologies
In this session we heard experiences from two sides of the pond: Tammy Esteves of Troy University Alabama ran through examples of local digital projects across the US, especially relating to disaster/emergency management; while Joe Mitchell from the UK’s Democracy Club explained the difficulties in measuring the impact of the work they do: making sure people are informed prior to elections.
Earlier actions & better connections: technology combatting social problems
Giselle Cory and Lucy Rimmington of DataKind explained how the organisation, which benefits greatly from data scientist volunteers, had used machine learning to help a Huddersfield foodbank identify which of its clients were likely to benefit most from early intervention by other services.
In the second half of the session, Chris Hildrey outlined the work of Proxy Address, a system for giving a stable address to people facing or experiencing homelessness, and thus removing barriers in processes such as applying for jobs, opening a bank account or claiming benefits. One interesting piece of information was that, out of superstition, many streets in the UK have no number 13, with Birmingham being the city most likely to omit it.
Showing the way: support with the digital transformation process
Laura Payten from Government Digital Service (GDS) gave an overview of how local government pay can be used locally; while Richard Smith and Sam Whitlock from Hackney Council and Mirabai Galati of Croydon demonstrated the benefits of councils working together, especially in getting user insight and sharing evidence. They introduced a nascent user research repository that has great potential for local government across the country.
Better foresight: Civic Tech for the urban planners
Jonathan Pichot from NYC Planning Labs talked about the app they have produced to help automate environmental impact analyses in New York City. It’s had great impact: agency staff now spend 50% less time checking environmental analyses, saving city agencies $200,000 since 2018.
mySociety’s researcher Alex Parsons explored some of the findings about how different groups use FixMyStreet in different ways, which can be read as a blog series here on our own site.
Bringing the citizens in: Civic Tech for engagement and participation
Jo Corfield and Joe Wills from the Centre for London talked about how the city’s wasted spaces can be used in a ‘meanwhile’ context (often also known as ‘pop-up’ initiatives) for the community. The thinktank’s research looked at 51 such spaces and came up with recommendations for maximising the benefits of this phenomenon.
Then Gail Ramster of the Royal College of Art and Mike Saunders from Commonplace gave an overview of the digital tools they’d used in two projects to try and engage citizens. When there are big changes on the horizon, such as the introduction of autonomous vehicles, how can digital technologies help ensure that everyone in the community has a voice for their hopes, fears and interests? And what does being involved in an engagement process actually do to one’s stance on an issue?
Taking back control: why community power matters to our economy and society and what gets in its way
Vidhya Alakeson, CEO of Power To Change, gave an inspirational keynote about the power of community ownership, with examples including a bakery in Anfield, training on home building in Bristol, and an energy company on the Isle of Wight. But she explained that in England the policy around shared ownership is not yet robust enough (in Scotland it is much better) as is demonstrated by the high rate of Assets of Community Value that are registered but which never make it into the community.
So you’ve declared a climate emergency. Now what?
The final panel looked at the very real issues facing those in authorities who have taken up Extinction Rebellion’s challenge and declared a climate emergency. How does that translate into fast real-world action in the sometimes slow-moving world of local government?
Sian Berry from Camden Council, Emily Tulloh from FutureGov, Trewin Restorick of Hubbub and Alasdair Roxburgh from Friends of the Earth were able to share their experiences, and a final question on what gave each speaker hope for the future ensured that we ended the day without feeling too overwhelmed.
Thanks are due
A special thanks to Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London, who welcomed us to his very special workplace; and to his assistant Davina who helped so much in setting things up. Thanks too, to all the staff at City Hall, who were without exception helpful and positive.
Further thanks, of course, to our thoughtful and inspiring speakers, for sharing your experience and knowledge, and to attendees for making TICTeC local a place for debate and collaboration.
Slides, photos and the notes from each session can all now be found on the TICTeC website, so go and have a browse.
We’re pleased to announce the schedule for TICTeC Local 2019, our one-day conference that focuses directly on the use and impacts of Civic Tech in communities and local government. If this sounds good to you, you’d better book now, because spaces are limited.
Join us on 1st November at London’s City Hall to discuss how digital tools can help local government and communities to foster citizen engagement, drive efficiencies, and combat social and environmental problems. TICTeC events are unique in that they emphasise the research behind digital platforms and tools, not just showcasing the tools themselves.
TICTeC Local is more than just a conference once a year: we want it to be a catalyst that helps more local councils and organisations think about and research the impacts of digital tools they are using, and to share this knowledge amongst their peers.
For six years now we have fostered a global network of civic tech researchers and practitioners via our Impacts of Civic Technology Conferences (TICTeC) – TICTeC Local allows us to bring some of that international experience to the local level and emphasise the importance of local digital innovations and researching their impacts.
Free public sector tickets
We have a set number of free tickets available for public sector attendees. These are limited to a maximum of two tickets per public sector organisation. If you work in the public sector and can commit to attending please choose the ‘Public Sector’ ticket option on Eventbrite.
We are delighted to be joined by many excellent speakers — here are just a few you can expect to hear from:
Chief Executive, Power to Change
Vidhya is the founding Chief Executive of Power to Change, the independent trust established in 2015 to support the growth of community businesses across England to create more prosperous and cohesive communities.
Head of Community Action and Giving at Office for Civil Society, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
The focus of Miriam’s 18 year career in central government, public, private and third sectors has been to develop and implement long-lasting, impactful community development strategies, focusing on how people can be involved in shaping the places where they live and take action on the things that matter to them.
Professor Graham Smith
Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), Westminster University
Graham’s research interests are in democratic theory and practice (particularly participatory democratic institutions), climate and environmental politics and the third sector/social economy.
He is currently involved in a number of funded research projects, including Scholio (University of Connecticut), Participedia (SSHRC) and AssoDem (Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness). Recently completed projects include Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit (ESRC) and Cherry-picking.
Executive Director, DataKind UK
Giselle oversees the running of DataKind UK, empowering the community of volunteers in their use of data for social good. After graduating in Maths and Physics, Giselle worked as a data scientist and public policy analyst in the UK Government, a national charity and think tanks, before returning to study a masters in Computational Journalism. Prior to joining the team at DataKind UK, Giselle was a longtime core volunteer. She believes that smart, responsible data collection and use can help the social sector tackle some of the UK’s biggest challenges – and change the world!
Lead User Researcher at #HackIT, Hackney Council
HackIT brings together the technology, digital and data teams of Hackney Council to support their residents and businesses, colleagues and partners.
Co-Founder, President, JustFix.nyc
Georges is a product manager and experienced nonprofit leader who specializes in partnerships, business operations, fundraising, and gathering research insights to inform digital product features.
JustFix.nyc builds technology for tenants and organisers fighting displacement, by following a community-driven approach to support New York’s housing justice movement.
Dr. Tammy Esteves
Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Troy University
Dr. Esteves is very active in the American Society for Public Administration, where she is on the board of the Section of Democracy and Social Justice, and is a past president of the Evergreen Chapter in Seattle. She primarily teaches Research Methods, Leadership in Public Administration, Ethics in Public Administration, eGovernance, and Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response. Her main research interest is the role of technology for building community, particularly in the areas of social media, crowdsourcing, and GIS.
Developer & Product Manager, NYC Planning Labs
Jonathan is a New York-based software developer and product manager with an enduring fascination of cities. He has worked for software companies and city governments, working to use technology to improve the way cities function and the lives of the people that live in them.
NYC Planning Labs believe better outcomes can be achieved using modern design and development practices along with open technology. They are civic technologists that help support the Department of City Planning’s mission.
Don’t miss TICTeC Local 2019
There’s more information about TICTeC Local on the main TICTeC website.
The Federation, opposite the birthplace of the Co-operative movement in Manchester, was an appropriate venue for TICTeC Local. After all, we were all there to discuss big, transformative ideas that could improve society.
Yesterday’s event — the first of its kind — brought together representatives from the worlds of Civic Tech, local authorities, and social impact organisations to discuss, in myriad ways, how citizens and local government can work better together.
Whether you were there or not, this post will hopefully act as a useful jumping-off point, with links to where you can find out more about each of the speakers and the organisations they represent.
We’ll also share photos and the presentations themselves, soon — watch this space.
Civic Tech and Local Gov: the evidence base
Dr Rebecca Rumbul is mySociety’s own Head of Research; she stressed the need for research into the impacts of technology, citing examples where projects have been used in ways that were totally different from what had been planned. Our research to date can be found here.
Opening keynote: Fixing the plumbing
Paul Maltby, Chief Digital Officer, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), presented the several joined-up initiatives that his department has introduced, with a basic belief that we need to ‘get the plumbing right’ before we can build more complex tech for the future. From training senior managers in tech, to the Local Digital Fund, they’re already seeing tangible results. Paul also encouraged all who work within the sector to sign up to the localgovdigital Slack channel.
Introducing Public Square
Michelle Brook of the Democratic Society announced their collaboration with us, mySociety, in a two-year action research project that will examine how to increase citizen participation at the local government level: Public Square.
If you work within this sphere and are interested in getting involved, you should:
– Sign up for the kick-off event on Nov 19th in Manchester (and share it with others who might like to come);
– Sign up for the mailing list;
– and get in touch for a talk on email@example.com, especially if you are from a local council and would be interested in helping shape the research.
FixMyStreet Pro: Better street reporting for citizens and councils
Andrea Bowes from Lincolnshire County Council told such a positive story of the council’s experience in installing FixMystreet Pro that our ears were burning! It was great to hear how happy they were, though, all summed up by her final statement: “Since it’s been installed, no-one’s asked me a single question, which is the dream”.
Family Story: How technology can better support Children’s Services
Elle Tweedy of Futuregov presented the software they’ve developed so that social workers can collaborate with families, giving everyone input into a totally transparent plan. Their hope is to free social workers from the process-led software that sees them stuck in front of a computer for 60% of their time, and to allow families to regain ownership of their own story.
Council as a platform: Supporting the civics
Sarah Drummond of Snook showed how powerful first-person stories can be, when she told of reclaiming a patch of land in front of her own block of flats as a garden. Threatened with litigation by a faceless authority, she set about trying to find out who owned the land… only to discover a seriously unjoined-up system.
Revealing the hidden patterns in local democracy
An infographic which combines data on deprivation with the political party in overall control for each authority was the focus of the presentation by Julian Tait and Jamie Whyte of Open Data Manchester. It shows that more deprived areas are overwhelmingly Labour-controlled, while those under Conservative councils are more affluent.
Cloud – is it just pie in the sky?
Helen Gerling from Shaping Cloud made the case for cloud technologies and how they can benefit local councils (and us all) by preventing the enclosure of data within centralised platforms. The challenge for authorities, she said, is to respond to the changing demands and behaviours of citizens: but it’s an opportunity, too.
Using tech and data to provide better support for new parents
Tayo Medupin of Shift presented Tip, which launched yesterday in closed beta and is a system to help people through the first 1,000 days of parenthood. It’s based around a principle of removing judgement, as that, they say, is one significant factor that prevents parents from accessing services.
The citizen shift
Jon Alexander from New Citizenship Project argued that, through time, we’ve moved from being subjects to consumers. He reckons the time is ripe for moving that on, so that we’re all citizens, and suggests that the language we use will help shape the beliefs and actions of the next generation.
Panel discussion: Reaching the furthest first
This discussion saw Eddie Copeland (Nesta) chairing a panel with Beatrice Karol Burks (Futuregov), Dr Eloise Elliott-Taysom (IF), Nick Stanhope (Shift), and Steve Skelton (Stockport Council) to explore the ethical dimensions of what we do. Perhaps the most incisive comment was that while we talk about the people that are ‘hardest to reach’, those people may well see their governments as the ones that are far away.
The Consul project for citizen participation
Dramatic entrance of the day saw poor Jose Maria Becerra missing a flight but still managing to make it on time! Thus we got to see his explanation of the Consul software for citizen participation, developed by Madrid City Council, which allows residents to come up with ideas for transforming their own communities.
“Have you heard of Boaty McBoatFace?” was one question from the audience. “There’s no moderation of the proposals and we’ve found that citizens always vote for reasonable ones”, replied Jose.
Panel discussion: Citizens or customers
Another insightful group took to the stage, this time to discuss the words we use when talking about the people who use our services. Miranda Marcus (The Open Data Institute) chaired the session, with Jose Maria Becerra (Consul Project), Jon Alexander (New Citizenship Project), Carl Whistlecraft (Kirklees Council) and Sarah Drummond (Snook).
If we refer to people as consumers, they’ll behave as such; if we want genuine dialogue and engagement, we have to invite it. Language can be the first step, but it has, of course, to be backed up with action.
Closing keynote: The Deal
Alison McKenzie-Folan from Wigan Council explained ‘The Deal’, a social contract in which the council has made various promises in return for citizens doing their bit. They’ve already saved millions of pounds. As illustration, we all got to enjoy video clips of Ember encouraging folk to recycle, and Mary & Lily meeting rugby players.
Panel discussion: Making it happen
Before we all headed home, it was time for a hard-hearted look at how to actually implement all the fine ideas we’d heard about during the day. Emer Coleman (the Federation) held to account Paul Maltby (MHCLG), Alison McKenzie-Folan (Wigan Council), Theo Blackwell (Chief Digital Officer for London), and Phil Swan (Greater Manchester Combined Authority).
That the first step is data and data sharing, for the good of all, seemed to be one consensus.
Many thanks to all who spoke, and listened, at TICTeC Local, making the event a truly meaningful one.
This was a brief rundown with just a few of the headline points. If you were there, and we’ve missed any moment or statement that particularly inspired, moved or provoked you, please do feel free to share it in the comments below.
And if you want more, check the #TICTeCLocal hashtag, where delegates and speakers tweeted a wealth of ideas and links.
And remember, we’re hosting our global TICTeC (The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference) event in Paris on 19th and 20th March and are accepting session proposals until 11th January. Attendees from 29 different countries joined us this year, so it’s a truly global affair.
Thanks to the kind support of FutureGov, we have a set number of sponsored places for public sector attendees — at no cost. If you work in the public sector and can commit to attending please choose the ‘Public Sector Sponsored Tickets’ option on Eventbrite.
With a heady blend of innovators from within government, and external practitioners who are driving social change, TICTeC Local is going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before in the sector.
We’ve already announced many of the speakers, including Paul Maltby, Chief Digital Officer at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, and Beatrice Karol Burks, Director at Futuregov.
Now here are a few more of the movers and shakers who’ll be inspiring you:
Chief Digital Officer for London
Theo is London’s first Chief Digital Officer. His job is to transform the capital into the world’s smartest city, and to make public services more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners.
Previously with Camden council, Theo was credited with bringing it the title of ‘leading digital borough’ thanks to its use of public data; he has also worked at GovTech accelerator Public Group.
Head of Local Digital Collaboration Unit, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Leading this relatively new unit, Linda aims to disrupt the local government IT market and stimulate the move towards interoperability standards for local services. She has a background with Government Digital Service and was also the founder of Thinking Development, an NGO created in response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
Deputy CEO and digital transformation lead, Wigan Council
Advocating ‘digital by default’ strategies wherever possible, Alison is widely seen as the reason Wigan council was named as LGC Digital Council of the year; she’s known for embracing cutting-edge technologies in the pursuit of better public services, and happily collaborates with other authorities to help everyone innovate for good.
Director of Government Innovation, Nesta
Eddie works with city data analytics, behavioural insights, digital government, collaborative platforms and digital democracy for Nesta, the global innovation foundation. He is an advocate of government and public sector organisations making smarter use of people, data and technology to deliver more and better with less.
Co-founder & managing director at Snook
Innovating through research, strategy, design and delivery, Snook only works on projects that will have a meaningful impact on society. That’s led them into designing tech for fishermen, domestic abuse survivors, cyclists and plenty more. Sarah was awarded a Google Fellowship for her work in technology and democratic innovation and named as one of Good magazine’s 100 extraordinary individuals tackling global issues in creative ways.
Research, Engagement and Communities Team Lead, The Engine Room
Zara has worked in over twenty countries in the field of information accessibility and data use among civil society. Now, with social change NGO The Engine Room, she works with communities and organisations to help understand how new uses of data can responsibly strengthen their work.
Strategic Head: Policy & Information Services, Stockport Council
Stockport Council is working, under the banner of the Digital Stockport project, to improve the customer experience through the use of online technologies. Steve leads organisational and place-based strategy, and the Digital by Design programme. He sits on the @GMCADigital Steering Group and is prototyping a Greater Manchester Office of Data Analytics.
Lead Consultant, Shaping Cloud
Defining the use of cloud within central and local government to re-imagine the way services are delivered, Shaping Cloud informs and advises on digital transformation. Helen brings prior experience as a CIO and Director in the public sector.
Open Data Manchester
Open Data Manchester is an association for people who are interested in realising the potential of data to benefit citizens, business and public bodies. Previously with FutureEverything, Julian led the Open Data Cities programme, bringing about a change in the way that public bodies within Greater Manchester use data.
IF helps organisations to earn the trust of their users when it comes to data, advising on design and security, and always with a focus on ethical practice.
As IF’s inhouse designer, Maria is well-placed to explain how good design can play a critical part in this mission.
Founder & CEO, Shift
Shift is an award-winning charity, designing products and building social ventures for social change. Nick was named one of Britain’s 50 New Radicals by The Observer and NESTA and is a board member of the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology.
Don’t miss TICTeC Local
There’s more information about TICTeC Local on the main TICTeC website.
Tuesday 6 November sees the first ever TICTeC Local, a one day conference examining Civic Tech at the cutting edge of local government.
mySociety’s annual TICTeC conference has already established itself as the must-attend event for the Civic Tech community. Now TICTeC Local promises the same opportunities for learning, networking and take-home lessons — for Local Government. If you have an interest in how technology is changing the ways citizens interact with councils and city governments, this conference is for you.
Where Civic Tech meets Local Government
The schedule is shaping up nicely for a full day of commentary and presentations from inspiring thinkers.
They are a blend of hands-on Civic Tech practitioners, and representatives from the authorities, both in the UK and abroad, who are transforming local services at the grassroots level.
Here’s a run-down of the speakers confirmed so far.
Chief Digital Officer, Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government
As Director of Data at the Government Digital Service (GDS), Paul led a cross-government programme designed to improve the way government approaches, uses and handles data. He’s now brought his insights to Local Government, as CDO at MHCLG. No-one is better placed to give us the ‘state of the nation’ when it comes to how digital technologies can transform citizen-government interactions.
Head of Democracy, Kirklees Council
Carl is known for innovative approaches to service delivery, citizen engagement and governance. His passion for local democracy is demonstrated by his role in establishing Notwestminster, a national network where people can share ideas for improving local democracy.
José María Becerra González
Consul project, Madrid City Council
Consul is a free citizen participation tool which fosters transparency and democracy in local government. It’s being used in 18 countries around the world to give citizens a say in the decisions that shape their communities.
Data and Information Systems Technical Architect, Lincolnshire County Council
Lincolnshire Council are the latest to integrate with fault-reporting service FixMyStreet, as part of a council-wide strategy to shift to digital.
From Civic Tech
Anthony Zacharzewski and Michelle Brook
The Democratic Society
The Democratic Society (Demsoc) works for more and better democracy, helping governments that want to involve citizens in decision-making to be transparent, open and welcoming of participation. Anthony founded DemSoc in 2006 after 14 years in strategic roles in UK central and local government; and as Managing Director, Michelle leads on the organisation’s research projects.
Beatrice Karol Burks
Studio Director, FutureGov
FutureGov seeks to reform public services by supporting organisations through digital transformation and service design. Over the past ten years, they’ve helped more than 100 local and national authorities over four continents think differently about public services.
Co-founder, New Citizenship Project
Jon co-founded this social innovation lab in 2014, to help catalyse the shift to a more participatory society. The New Citizenship Project works with all types of organisations to engage people as citizens, working with tools as varied as documentary films to setting up new social enterprises.
Ex of Government Digital Service and City Hall London where she established The London Data Store, Emer is now helping to build The Federation, an open community of digital businesses & innovators, built on co-operative values, in the heart of Manchester.
Don’t miss TICTeC Local
There’s more information about TICTeC Local on the main TICTeC website.
We’re delighted to be hosting the first TICTeC Local conference in Manchester on 6th November 2018.
TICTeC Local is a spinoff from our global The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, which is now in its fifth successful year.
This event will narrow the lens, focusing on where and how civic tech connects with and impacts Local Government, rather than the international focus we have with our global TICTeC events.
We’ll be examining what works and why, the challenges and ethical decisions involved in using civic tech and how these initiatives can be replicated by local authorities around the UK.
We’ll hear from many local authorities and civic tech practitioners in the UK and further afield who are leading the way on using technology to improve civic participation, streamline citizen interaction with public bodies, and create efficiencies in civic budgets.
If you work in or around the local authority or local public institution space, and have an interest in using digital tools, then do come and join us in Manchester.
You will leave inspired by some of our showcased projects, you’ll have a better understanding of the most effective digital tools, and you’ll have met interesting people who are on a similar journey, or who might be able to help you in developing your digital capacity in the future.
We’ll be announcing speakers and contributors over the next couple of weeks.