1. Looking forward to Florence

    It’s just a few days now until our annual research event, TICTeC.

    The Impacts of Civic Technology conference is an opportunity for researchers, activists, funders, and all the other people that make up the ever-growing Civic Tech sector, to come together and learn from one another in two days of inspiring presentations and workshops.

    In between sessions, the odds are very much in favour of conversations with people whose area of expertise is precisely relevant to your own — that’s one of the primary reasons, attendees tell us, that they enjoy TICTeC so.

    And that’s before you even throw in the fact that we’ll be convening in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: Florence, Italy.

    The agenda is looking great: you can see it here, and more details about the speakers are here. It’s always a sign of a good event when the team members putting the website together are already talking excitedly about which sessions they hope to attend!

    If all of that is making you wish you had booked a place, well, it’s not too late. There are a very few tickets left so if you act now, you could still be joining us in the Villa Vittoria for the highlight of the Civic Tech year. There are even a few free tickets available, so please email gemma@mysociety.org if you’re interested.

    If you can’t make it, don’t forget to follow proceedings on Twitter via the @mySociety Twitter page and via the #TICTeC hashtag. We’ll also be producing videos of the main plenary sessions which we’ll publish on the TICTeC website after the conference.

    Ci vediamo presto!


    Image: Villa Vittoria

  2. A conversation with Audrey Tang, keynote for TICTeC 2017

    Last week we announced the two keynote speakers for TICTeC 2017, the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference. You’ve met Tiago Carneiro Peixoto; now let’s turn to the equally insightful Audrey Tang.

    By @daisuke1230. Cropped by KOKUYO (hist.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAudrey is Taiwan’s Minister for Digital, and is part of a massive shake-up that has seen that country embrace unprecedented levels of transparency, accountability and citizen participation. Her keynote will describe some of the ground-breaking methods they’ve introduced.

    One of these is Audrey’s famous accessibility. Using a public platform, she is happy to answer questions from anyone, and endeavours to do so within 48 hours. We posed ours there, but we’re replicating them below for our readers to follow.

    Such is her schedule that Audrey will be delivering her keynote virtually, but there will be an opportunity for delegates to put questions to her live. Accordingly, we’ve gone a little more in-depth with this conversation.


    Why haven’t we in the West heard more about the transformations that have been happening in Taiwan? They really are so ground-breaking — do you have any idea why they might not have received more global coverage?

    There is reasonable regional coverage in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. However, global awareness is limited by Taiwan’s restricted participation in multilateral organisations, as well as the relative lack of English material (somewhat ameliorated by recent advances in machine translation).

    How would we go about encouraging our own governments to follow in your footsteps? You visited the UK Parliament recently: what was your perception of how they are doing on the Open Government front?

    While rules, playbooks and tools are reusable, each government’s political context is unique, so I would encourage everyone to pave their own path instead.

    I didn’t stay long enough to learn about UK’s progress — looking forward to learn more from mySociety folks in the future, perhaps when TICTeC comes to Asia. 🙂

    TICTeC is all about measuring the impact of civic technologies. Do you have systems in place that help you assess the effectiveness of the measures you put in place?

    Yes, there are quantitative engagement metrics and surveys, though they are mostly in Chinese — for example for the petition platform [opens as document; in Chinese].

    Clearly, it’s early days yet, but have your implementations been an unqualified success?

    For the past 100 days, our main contributions are proceeding well — providing an internal collaboration platform (sandstorm.io) for participation officers from every ministry; requiring all regulations and trade-related laws to be open for public discussion (join.gov.tw); as well as help codifying an open multi-stakeholder mechanism into the draft of Digital Communications Act.

    What feedback have you had from citizens and the national press?

    In Taiwan’s post-2014 political climate, mainstream press and citizens would never call for “less transparency”, so people mostly respond favourably — of course, there are calls for more accountability and more informed participation, for meaningful conversations to form around divisive issues.

    What proportion of the population has taken part in your crowd-sourcing projects? Do you worry about the elderly or less connected not being sufficiently represented in decision-making?

    As a proponent of assistive civic tech, it is important that we seek diversity of opinion (not zero-sum voting) and each engagement venue opens up access for previously unavailable folks (not taking existing venues away) — see this write-up by LÜ Chia-Hua.

    Of course, even in a democracy of feelings, there will still be some people who lose out, or see a decision that doesn’t go the way they wanted. Are you sensing more understanding from these people, since they’ve gone through the online debates process?

    Yes. Generally we come up with rough consensus that people can live with — as long as the procedure are transparent and accountable, we are seeing people who did not get what they initially demanded nevertheless help defending the result.

    How stressful is it for a human being to hold themself up to constant public scrutiny? Transparency is of course a laudable aim, but might it sometimes be at the cost of a person’s own downtime or privacy?

    Private meetings and on-the-record transcripts are fully compatible; note that we allow each participant to make corrections for ten days after the meeting: here are our guidelines.

    A large proportion of Taiwanese politicians are Independents. Do you think party politics is now an outdated system?

    In the cabinet there are more independents than members of any party, but in the parliament every party has more MPs than independents.

    How can digital technologies bridge the gap between citizen and state without simply reverting to irrelevant soundbite politics or Twitter trolling?

    We need to partner with (and become) media to make relevant facts as easy — and eventually easier — to spread.

    What is the importance of TICTeC? Why assess the impact of civic technologies?

    Informed discussions need to be rooted in evidence. If we are to build a global democratic network of feelings, we need to make sure that these feelings are reflective — this is only possible when they are built upon facts.

    Finally: what are your next steps? Are there any more big innovations you plan to introduce during your time in cabinet?

    For scalable listening to work, we need to engage people who prefer interactive & tangible understanding, including children. This post outlines the initial steps; and this one outlines the main vision.

    Book your place at TICTeC

    If you enjoyed reading this interview, it’s time to book your ticket for TICTeC, where every conversation will directly examine the impacts of civic technologies.

    And for those who would like to present their own insights, better hurry: the call for papers runs until February 10.


    Image: Medialab Prado (CC by-sa/2.0)

  3. Meet Tiago Carneiro Peixoto, keynote for TICTeC 2017

    Tiago PeixotoLast week, we announced the keynote speakers for TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technology conference 2017.

    Now we’re going to look at each of them in more depth, starting with Tiago Carneiro Peixoto of the World Bank. His keynote is titled (Un)Civic Tech? and will be looking at how sometimes, despite high hopes, civic technologies don’t deliver everything that’s been hoped for.

    Most importantly, Tiago will examine the tangible effects of civic tech on participation, inclusiveness, and governmental action — and then go on to outline which research agendas we should be pursuing now.

    We zipped a few questions across to Tiago and he was happy to give us some answers.


    (Un)Civic Tech? — that’s quite a bold title, given that your listeners will all be people working in the arena of Civic Tech and with a strong belief in its power to do good! Should we be worried?

    Actually my initial title was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Civic Tech”, so it’s not all just bad and ugly. But no, you shouldn’t be worried. Unless you are extremely prone to confirmation bias!

    TICTeC is all about assessing the impacts of Civic Technology, making you a particularly relevant speaker. What measures does the World Bank have in place in order to assess the impact of the work that it does?

    The measures depend on the problem at hand.

    But some of the recurrent measures we look at are related to the effects of technology on uptake, inclusiveness, citizens’ decision-making, and governments’ responsiveness.

    For those who are getting started on the subject, I would suggest taking a look at one of our recent publications, Evaluating Digital Citizen Engagement: A Practical Guide.

    It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.

    Part of our work can also be found at the Open Government Research Exchange, which is a partnership between GovLab, mySociety, and the World Bank’s Digital Engagement Evaluation Team.

    But the best illustration of our measures and findings — which will be presented later this year — are not public yet. So, for those who would like to see it first-hand, I would suggest they come to Florence for TICTeC.

    What do you perceive to be the value of TICTeC?

    One of the key values of TICTeC is that it is convened by mySociety — which, since its creation, has been one of the leading organisations actually doing civic technology work.

    The curation of the conference by mySociety’s team, combined with mySociety’s reputation and network, naturally tends to draw the participation of high-level researchers who are more likely to be dealing with concrete problems in the civic tech space.

    What are you looking forward to getting out of the conference yourself?

    Of course, I’m very curious to see the research that will be presented at the conference, and how it has evolved in relationship to previous conferences.

    I am also very interested in meeting new researchers and exploring venues for collaboration with them. But I hope that the conference is also an opportunity to collectively move towards a more coordinated and problem-driven research agenda.

    TICTeC brings together researchers and practitioners in Civic Tech. If you could give a single message to the community, what would it be?

    It’s time to focus on government responsiveness.

    You’ve done some interesting work with FixMyStreet data. What did you discover there?

    We are happy to have conducted what is, to our knowledge, the first empirical work examining the effect of government responsiveness on citizens’ participation.

    The fact that we did this in collaboration with mySociety and using FixMyStreet data is something we are particularly proud of.

    We are now looking into other issues, such as predictors of government responsiveness. In other words, what makes governments “tick”? Does it matter who you are for governments to respond?

    While these may seem like trivial questions, they have important implications for the design and performance of solutions like FixMyStreet. I don’t want to anticipate our preliminary findings now, but I will certainly do so at TICTeC.

     

    So there you have it: several more good reasons to book your ticket for TICTeC now.

    Or, if you have something to say, why not submit an abstract?

    See also our Q and A with TICTeC’s other keynote, Audrey Tang.


    image: Pank Seelen (CC by-nc/2.0)

  4. Introducing the keynote speakers at TICTeC 2017

    You can be sure of seeing thought-provoking speakers at TICTeC, all focusing on the vital area of researching the impacts of Civic Technologies. We put a lot of effort into making sure of that!

    And we especially strive to bring you keynote speakers who are inspiring, insightful, surprising… in some cases even provocative. You may still recall last year’s keynote Helen Milner asking ‘Is Civic Tech just an amusing pastime of the middle-classes?’.

    For TICTeC 2017, we can promise keynotes that are just as compelling. We’re delighted to say that each day’s proceedings will be kicked off by  Tiago Carneiro Peixoto and Audrey Tang.

    Tiago Carneiro Peixoto

    Tiago PeixotoTiago is from the World Bank, which has the ambitious mission of reducing world poverty.

    As a Senior Public Sector Specialist, Tiago works with governments to develop solutions for better public policies and services.  As you might expect, that involves research around technology, citizen engagement and governance, to help understand how those things can intersect for the good of all. One example of that is the research using FixMyStreet reports, which demonstrated how government responsiveness can lead to citizens becoming more engaged.

    If you’d like further reason to pay attention to his keynote, well, Tiago was featured in TechCrunch as one of the twenty most innovative people in democracy. We know he’ll have plenty to say that is of direct interest to TICTeC delegates.

    Audrey Tang

    By @daisuke1230. Cropped by KOKUYO (hist.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIn her inauguration speech, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said, “Before, democracy was a clash between two opposing values, but now democracy must be a conversation, a dialogue, between many different values”. To help bring about this vision, she appointed Audrey Tang as Minister for Digital in her new cabinet.

    If you think parliamentary proceedings can be as dull as ditchwater, you may be in for a surprise. Audrey was not a standard appointment: she comes from a background of activist hacking, for one thing.

    Since her arrival in August 2016, the government has undergone a colossal transformation into one of the most open and participatory administrations operating in the world today, ranking top in the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Open Data Index.

    Audrey will be running through some of those groundbreaking changes in her keynote at TICTeC. Note that she’ll be ‘appearing’ virtually — she’s very much in demand — but there will still be the opportunity to pose questions to her live.

    Get involved

    Stand by, as we’ll shortly profile our two keynotes further. For now, we hope your appetite has been suitably whetted.

    If you’re interested in presenting a session or workshop at TICTeC, see the Call for Papers here — and submit before February 10.

    Registration to attend is available at the earlybird price until March 10 — book here.


    Images: Florence, Italy by Lex Kravetski; Audrey Tang by @daisuke1230 via Wikimedia Commons – both CC/by/2.0,

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  5. OGRX: sharing the best in Civic Tech research

    At the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference TICTeC last year, we were treated to a presentation on a resource for the Civic Tech research world. OGRX, the Open Government Research Exchange is a repository of digital, eGov and Civic Tech peer-reviewed and stand-out articles, out of GovLab NYU — you can see the in-depth presentation here.

    As one of the featured Editors of OGRX, mySociety’s Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul was recently invited to make her top five picks from the collection. As she explains, her selection runs from the “paper that should be read by all newcomers to the Civic Tech world” to the “important piece of literature that I take inspiration from when designing my own research projects”.

    Rebecca has this to say about the value of sharing other people’s research in the sector, and the benefits of OGRX:

    Rebecca Rumbul“The mySociety research team spends lots of time asking interesting questions about Civic Tech, and dreaming up ways to answer those questions, but one of the main things we do that is not so obvious is read about other people’s research. A LOT!

    “Before we start any new research project, we carefully review what others have done before us, thinking about what worked for them, what kind of experimental design they used, what other writers inspired their research, and what insights they were able to draw from their work. Learning about others’ research is one of the main parts of the job of researching the impacts of Civic Tech.

    “This is one of the reasons that we began the annual TICTeC conference: to give practitioners and researchers interested in the impacts of Civic Technology a genuine opportunity to learn, share and challenge each other in a safe space.

    “Alas, TICTeC only happens once a year, and outside of that, it can be tough to know where to go to find interesting, current and relevant research, especially if you don’t have university access to online journal articles.

    “That’s where OGRX really fills the gap. If you are thinking of submitting something for TICTeC and want some inspiration, or if you are just interested in accessing good quality and relevant content, why don’t you have a look around? You can also submit your own research!”

  6. Don’t miss your chance to attend TICTeC 2017! All the important dates

    Now the new year’s begun, we’re allowing ourselves to get excited about The Impacts of Civic Technology conference in April. This will be the 3rd annual TICTeC, bringing researchers, practitioners and activists together in Florence, Italy.

    TICTeC was a sell-out last year, so if you’re hoping to participate, make sure you don’t miss the boat! Here are the important dates for your diary:

    10 February

    For those who would like to run a workshop or give a presentation: please ensure you have submitted your abstract by this date.

    10 March

    Earlybird registration ends, so if you want to take advantage of the better price for snappy booking, better get to it!

    As soon as possible

    Once you’re certain that you’ll be joining us, please do book your travel and accommodation as soon as possible. Florence is a popular destination at this time of year — so the longer you leave it, the harder it will be to find well-priced flights and rooms.

    25 – 26 April

    The conference itself. Keep an eye on the TICTeC website for full details of proceedings as they are announced.

    Looking forward to seeing you there!

    Image:  Marco (CC by-nc/2.0)

  7. TICTeC 2017 – save the date

    It’s official: TICTeC 2017, our third conference on the Impacts of Civic Technology, will be in Florence, Italy, at the beautiful Firenze Fiera.

    Please block out the dates in your calendars now: 25th and 26th April 2017. And watch this space, as we’ll be putting out the call for papers soon, with plenty more details to follow.

    We’re looking forward to seeing you in April! Meanwhile, if you’d like to see what TICTeC is all about, you can browse last year’s highlights here.

    Image: Ben McIver (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)

  8. Videos from TICTeC 2016

    Videos from TICTeC — our Impacts of Civic Technologies Conference — are now available for viewing.

    So, whether you were there and you want to experience it all over again, or you just want to see what you missed out on, settle down and enjoy accounts from some of the most interesting civic tech projects around the world right now.

    What is TICTeC?

    Here’s mySociety CEO Mark Cridge explaining what TICTeC is, and why we run it:

    And if that’s left you hungry for more, make sure you visit our YouTube channel to watch the other TICTeC videos.

    You might also enjoy the slides, photos and other media that have all been collected together on the TICTeC 2016 page.

  9. We think we can do better

    We held our second TICTeC conference in Barcelona at the end of May. The feedback has been generally very positive, and there are many aspects that we were very pleased with: the quality and diversity of the speakers, the smooth running of the event, the opening up of debates that will continue to resonate in the civic tech world.

    But, nothing’s ever perfect, and on reflection there are some aspects, some large, most small, which we can improve for our next big event.

    These are conversations that often happen behind the scenes, but we thought it might be useful for anyone else planning a big event or conference, if we share some of the things that didn’t work so well, and our plans for making things better next time.

    Please do feel free to join in the discussion in the comments below, whether you were there or not.

    Timing

    It was obvious from the number of hands up, and disappointed faces, that we hadn’t allowed enough time for questions or discussion about the presentations. We’d allocated twenty minutes’ speaking time to each speaker, intending that slot to include questions and discussion. But most speakers filled, or almost filled, their time with their presentation.

    Next year we propose formally splitting the slot into 10 minutes of presentation time and 10 minutes of discussion time for each speaker. Oh, and although we were sitting in the front row waving ‘five minutes left’ cards in the speakers’ faces, we appreciate that there are improvements to be made here, too. We’ll use countdown clocks to make it very easy for the speakers to see how much time there is left.

    Better balance

    mySociety cares so much about gender balance that we even built an app around it. And yet we could have done better when it came to the gender balance of the panels.

    Speakers were chosen on the quality of their submission, and while we don’t believe we have any internal biases we’d be interested to see what happened if we introduced an entirely name- and gender-blind selection process.

    For 2016, there were no all-male panels, but overall the gender-split of speakers was 60% male to 40% female (incidentally, the same gender split as made up the delegates as a whole).

    Also, there was a strong European and US bias among our speakers, with only 8 out of 62 coming from outside North America or Europe. So we could be criticised for giving a voice to those who already speak quite loudly enough in the civic tech world.

    We’ll definitely aim for more equal balances next year.

    Cloakroom

    No-one likes lugging their heavy bags around, and this especially becomes an issue on the final day of an international conference, when people may have checked out of their hotel and have their luggage with them, too.

    Yet in our chosen venue, there was nowhere for people to put coats and bags. This is a pretty simple fix — we’ll make sure that there’s a secure cloakroom next year.

    Coffffeee

    Coffee was only available during breaks, and wasn’t self-service.

    Conferences run on coffee (and tea) — we know that — but it was whisked away at the end of the breaks and people had to wait to be served when it was there. Next year there will be limitless, self-serve coffee available the whole time. Because it’s important.

    Somewhere to network

    There was no real networking/seating area. Other than in the auditoria, there wasn’t a space where people could sit and catch up between sessions. That’s partly because Barcelona didn’t pony up the stunning sunny weather we thought we could rely on, so no-one felt inclined to linger in the outdoor space, but still. Something to allow for next time.

    Time to mingle

    There wasn’t enough time for networking/breaks. We crammed an awful lot into the one and half days, but it meant for a pretty packed programme. Next year we’ll run the event for two full days and allow more break/networking time.

    Handy maps

    The venue map should have been printed on the main programme, rather than being a separate insert in the bag. That was confusing and yet another piece of paper for people to wrangle.

    All hands on deck

    We needed more mySociety people on hand. We ran the whole event (including note-taking and session chairing) with a team of seven. With more people, we could have ensured that, for example, the reception desk was always manned. Raising the numbers would also make things a little less stressful for our team.

    The usual wifi issue

    The wifi wasn’t great. This is a perennial issue, we know. It’s hard to know how a venue is going to perform when there are 140 people with multiple devices each trying to get online.

    Next year we’ll try and contact those who ran previous events at the shortlisted venues to find out how things were for them.

    Something we all got right

    At the last moment, we decided to introduce a Code of Conduct, setting down in black and white what kind of behaviour was not acceptable at the conference, and providing an anonymous route via which to report any contraventions.

    We’re glad to say that this wasn’t used — we hope we’re right in surmising that this is because it wasn’t needed — but more than one delegate thanked us for putting it in place, and it’s something we’ll be replicating and refining for future events.

  10. Discussing impact in Barcelona: TICTeC 2016

    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.