Last week, we had an incredible opportunity to meet our fellow civic-tech community members during the annual TICTeC, the Impacts of Civic Technologies conference, organised by MySociety in Barcelona.
TICTeC 2016 gathered over 150 people from around the globe, all of them practitioners and researchers in the area of civic tech innovation. We – Krzysztof Madejski and Anna Kuliberda – had a chance to represent the TransparenCEE project and share our approach to the watchdogs capacity building in the area of working with data. Our presentation was chosen from more than 140 proposals sent in the open call.
The Data Standards for Watchdogs presentation is available on slideshare:
Our presentation formed a part of a three presentations’ stream about using technology for better transparency, and we had a chance to participate in an exchange of ideas between Andre Jvirblis from Transparency International Russia who presented their approach to analysing data on politicians and public officials income and assets on the Declarator.org, and Benjamin Ooghe-Tabanou from médialab SciencesPo / Regards Citoyens (the French pioneer in civic-tech) who described TheLawFactory, a tool supporting civic participation in law-making. Both presentations are now online. After we gave the presentation we were asked to explain our theory of change and if we collaborate with other civic tech organisations. We loved these questions especially because both of these matters form a very important part of how we think about our work.
The event showcased interesting initiatives as well as started a critical conversation about who really benefits from civic tech. The issue of inclusion was touched upon already in the opening speech by Mark Cridge, MySociety’s CEO who talked about how to go beyond the ‘pale-male-stale’ users.
— mysociety (@mysociety) April 27, 2016
The topic of inclusion continued to be the most important horizontal issue discussed during the event. No matter whether presentations referred to using Minecraft for planning public spaces with communities (by Pontus Westerberg from UN-Habitat, Kenya) or analysing civic engagement patterns (Samidh Chakrabati and Winter Mason, Facebook, USA) — we always talked about the ultimate need to start every innovation with precise description of who “the people” or “the users” are and how can we be more inclusive and reach out to minority groups. However, as in case of any important but buzzworded term, “inclusion” was referred to very optimistically. We shared stories of overcoming systemic barriers and other cases of success. Admitting mistakes and learning from them is still ahead. It does remind me of the “open-data” hype a few years ago. Now, having much better access to data open we already know that there is much more to be done in order for people to actually benefit from it.
The second day key-note presenter: Helen Milner, the Tinder Foundation CEO (UK), summarised the above described challenge very well in her talk “The digital divide: why civic tech leaves 3 billion people behind”. By presenting the real-life struggles of “users” the civic-tech movement is trying to reach, she made us (me) realise how much empathy is needed when creating technological tools. Hearth-breaking examples of people who didn’t think they are allowed to vote because they are illiterate, should be the benchmark of any inclusion-oriented civic-tech project or, in fact, any civic project.
We couldn’t see all the presentations, but there are some which we did see and really recommend:
- Rosie McGee (Institute of Development Studies, UK) presented the IDS publication on “Opening Governance” — lots and lots of insightful interdisciplinary analysis from the field. Post-event thoughts and extract from her presentation to be found here;
- Stefaan G. Verhulst and the thegovlab.org project (especially their weekly The GovLab Digest);
- Erhardt Graeff (MIT, Boston, USA), who brilliantly spoke about civic education for civic engagement and designing civic apps according to how adults actually learn and the role of reflection; Youtube video available here.
- Maria Zuffova (University of Strathclyde, Scotland), seriously examining the the often pushed (and ridicules from a citizen’s perspective) proposition of limiting freedom of information in exchange for opening government datasets.
The agenda of the event can be found here and the list of presentations is available on the Lanyrd page of the event.
As a summary the organisers prepared a Storify stream, which allows you to feel the spirit of the event as well as take a look at participants, lost in their conversations