Yesterday I was fortunate enough to present at The Impacts of Civil Technology Conference 2015, hosted by mySociety. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first conference of its kind, digging deep into how we can really assess the impact of civic tech globally to date.
It was an action packed day and a really engaged audience. I loved how they built in plenty of time for Q and A and discussion. I was also most impressed with participants and presenters willingness to discuss failures.
Here’s some take home messages and thoughts from the day:
1) Measuring impact in this space is really difficult and it’s hard to attribute impact to any one intervention. How can we use proxy indicators to monitor progress? Remember to think beyond data. In this field, qualitative insights can be more powerful.
2) A good democracy requires access to information, connections and new opportunities for engagement. It’s worth considering how civic tech programmes contribute to these processes.
3) Opening up data isn’t enough. We need to think about intermediary apps and people, how to stimulate behaviour change, institutional and policy reform, a receptive political environment, an open media and many other factors if we really expect to see change on the ground.
4) How do we define civic? Amazingly few of us were certain. Some view civic engagement as increasing voter turnout, while others include a broad spectrum of activity including volunteerism and community involvement.
5) People are more likely to engage in civic activities when they can relate them to tangible changes in their lives, when it brings emotional fulfilment and when they believe that they can really make a difference. Barriers to engagement include a lack of time, unsure what they can do to help and a lack of belief in their ability to make a difference.
6) In the USA, while many believed that power comes from having a voice, many citizens surveyed were reluctant to talk about political issues for fear of being insufficiently informed or judgement by others. I wonder if this effect is worse or better elsewhere.
7) Stop building programmes with the tech in mind first. Often low tech solutions and offline interventions can be more effective. Speak to those you’re trying to influence (i.e. end users) and start with identifying a need you want to address not a funky solution.
8) We don’t always need to work against government. Sometimes helping government deliver services better can be more effective. Can we ‘name and fame’ sometimes, rather than focusing on the negative? When we are working as ‘outsiders’, we still need to talk in language which they understand.
10) Think beyond changing laws to changing codes, regulations, markets, institutions and often most importantly, social norms. Can we build decentralised alternatives beyond institutions?
For those of you interested, below is a copy of my presentation: