1. Meet TICTeC2018 keynote: Professor Jonathan Fox

    TICTeC2018 in Lisbon is going to be amazing, and we can say that with confidence.

    Not just because we know that it’ll feature the usual blend of insights from all sorts of people at the cutting edge of Civic Technology; and not just because it will afford the usual opportunities for swapping stories with others in your field, all against the backdrop of Portugal’s lovely capital.

    Giving us even more assurance that TICTeC2018 will be one of the most memorable yet, are our two must-hear keynote speakers. As Gemma has already announced, Professor Jonathan Fox and Martha Lane Fox will be kicking off the proceedings each day — and they have more than their vulpine names in common: you can be sure that they’ll each be delivering some truly thought-provoking insights for those in the field of Civic Tech.

    To give you a small taste of that, we had a chat with Jonathan about his keynote, which will be on the topic of the political construction of accountability keywords.

    Not to ‘spoiler’ your keynote, but could you give an example of the kind of keywords you’ll be focusing on?

    Our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.

    Key terms in the field of accountability practice are both politically constructed — and contested.

    For example, sometimes pro-public accountability forces lose the battle for what keywords mean. Consider the term “fake news” — during the 2016 US presidential campaign, this term was used to push back against the political use of disinformation.

    Not only was this effort unsuccessful, the term itself was then appropriated and twisted by its original targets. Now the dominant use of the term “fake news” (not only in the US) is to undermine the credibility of independent investigative reporting.

    The idea of analysing keywords to shed light on contested meanings draws on a long tradition in cultural studies, most notably a 1976 book by Raymond Williams. In this approach, a keyword is “a socially prominent word (e.g. art, industry, media or society) that is capable of bearing interlocking, yet sometimes contradictory and commonly contested contemporary meaning.” You can see more about this on the University of Pittsburgh’s Keywords Project.

    Why do words matter so much, when some people might feel that action is a priority?

    The real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.

    Accountability keywords have different meanings, to different actors, in different contexts — and in different languages.

    The resulting ambiguity can either constrain or enable diverse strategies for promoting public accountability. This is relevant for action because our words inform messaging, which is key to building broad constituencies for change.

    What led you to this precise area of research?

    I have long been curious about the most appropriate way to communicate ideas about accountability across languages and cultures.

    It is easy to become frustrated when literal translations sound awkward or fail to communicate. This led me to explore alternative communication strategies, looking to learn from examples of invented terms that manage to take off and enter everyday discourse (like “whistleblower”), or terms that come from popular cultures than can be relevant.

    We’re delighted that you’ll be one of our two keynotes at TICTeC. What are you most looking forward to about the event?

    I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants.

    I very much look forward to catching up on cutting edge research, learning from TICTeC participants — and finding out whether and how the ideas that I am working with might resonate.

    For example, I am trying out an invented term that is intended to question the researcher-practitioner dichotomy in which researchers are assumed to be the knowledge producers and practitioners are cast as the knowledge consumers… In an effort to recognise more explicitly how practitioners can also be knowledge producers, I am proposing the term “action strategist.”

    TICTeC is attended by activists, funders, academics, government organisations and representatives from the private sector — all working within the field that we label as Civic Tech. First: since you’ve given so much thought to terminology: would you say ‘Civic Tech’ is a satisfactory term for what we do? And second, what one piece of advice would you give us all when it comes to naming and talking about our work?

    Yes, I think the term does work. My first reaction was to think that it has the advantage of being fairly self-explanatory — though a quick search finds some important differences in interpretation.

    But the real question about the viability of any term is whether it effectively communicates its meaning to its intended audience.

    Thanks to Jonathan for this preview of his keynote presentation. If you’d like to hear more on this topic, make sure to book your tickets soon, while the early bird price still applies.

    Or perhaps you’d like to present your own research into the impacts of a Civic Technology that you’ve been studying? Our Call For Papers is still open, but hurry: there’s just over a week to get your proposal in.

  2. Introducing the TICTeC 2018 keynote speakers

    We’re really looking forward to heading out to Lisbon in April, for our fourth Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC) — and you will be too, once you hear who our keynote speakers are!

    Drumroll please… as we introduce:

    Martha Lane Fox

    Martha is the founder and executive chair of Doteveryone, a think tank fighting for a fairer internet. She co-founded Europe’s largest travel and leisure website, lastminute.com, with Brent Hoberman in 1998; they took it public in 2000 and sold it in 2005. In 2007 she founded her own charitable foundation Antigens and also serves as a Patron of AbilityNet, Reprieve, Camfed and Just for Kids Law.

    Martha was appointed as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords in March 2013, and was appointed Chancellor of the Open University in March 2014. In 2015 she joined the board of the Creative Industries Federation, the Scale up institute and the Open Data Institute, and became a member of the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy in 2017.

    She is a non-executive director at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and in April 2016 was appointed as a non executive director of Twitter. She also co-founded and chairs LuckyVoice, the chain that’s revolutionising the karaoke industry in the UK.

    Professor Jonathan Fox

    Jonathan is a Professor at the American University’s School of International Service, focusing on the relationship between citizen participation, transparency and accountability, from both scholarly and practitioner perspectives.

    He has carried out extensive research in rural Mexico, and with Latino immigrant organisations in the US, conducting dialogue with a wide range of public interest groups, grassroots organisations, development agencies, private foundations and government policymakers. Jonathan’s current project? He’s launching a new “action-research incubator” at SIS: the Accountability Research Center.

    Here at mySociety, Johnathan’s research work has always been an inspiration. If you’re not familiar with his work we can recommend a short reading list:

    And if you’d like to read more about Jonathan and his work, you can visit his blog.

    Fancy speaking at TICTeC? There’s still time to apply

    Our Call for Papers is open until 2nd February, so do submit a proposal if you’d like to join Martha and Jonathan on the bill.

    We’re looking for session proposals that focus on the specific impacts of Civic Technologies, rather than showcase new tools that are as yet untested.

    We will prioritise proposals that can demonstrate data or evidence of how Civic Technology has been impactful in some way. We encourage presentations that examine negative results as well as research evidencing positive outcomes!

    So if you have research to share, then do submit your proposal here.

    Join us

    If your work touches on Civic Technology and open government, and you need a fast-track to understanding what works and what doesn’t, you’ll want to join us in Lisbon. Previous attendees attest that time spent with others in the sector has been every bit as useful as the conference itself — we make sure there’s plenty of time in the evenings for socialising. Roll that in with the lovely location, and you have a package that’s both professionally rewarding, and a lot of fun too. Register to attend here.

    Early bird tickets are available until 9th March, which provide a 50% discount on regularly priced tickets.

    Past TICTeCs have sold out, so do make sure you book in early!

  3. Highlights from TICTeC@Taipei

    Well, what an amazing few days in Taipei!

    On 11-13 September we co-hosted TICTeC@Taipei, our Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, with our wonderful Taiwanese partners Open Culture Foundation (OCF).

     

     

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  4. TICTeC 2017 in Florence: videos and slides

    How can we counter Fake News — and should we even try? Do big corporations have a moral duty to share their data for the betterment of the world? Why do petitions created by women get more signatures than those created by men?

    These are just a few of the questions posed — and answered — at TICTeC 2017.

    If you weren’t able to attend (or indeed if you’d like to experience it all again), you’ll be glad to know that you can now access videos of the key presentations, as well as interviews where delegates share their insights and specialist expertise. Where available, we’ve also shared speakers’ slides.

    You can see the whole lot on the TICTeC website, and as a taster, here’s an overview of the whole event… in just two minutes:

    And don’t forget: you can join us for a special extra TICTeC conference in September this year. We’ll be hosting TICTeC@Taipei as part of Asia’s first Civic Tech Fest, an official side event of the World Congress on Information Technology. More details and how to register can be found at civictechfest.org.

  5. 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

  6. 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)

  7. 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)

  8. 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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  9. 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!”

  10. 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)