A guest post from Madeleine McGreevy, reflecting on the Civic Tech panel at IODC15.
“Civic tech” refers to apps, platforms and other software that spur civic engagement to build better communities. Key civic tech goals include open and improved government, policy implementation or community services and stronger accountability and transparency mechanisms. A panel held recently at the 3rd International Open Data Conference 2015 in Ottawa convened civic tech innovators from across the globe to answer questions around impact, community building and international collaboration.
What is the value proposition of civic tech communities?
Justin Arenstein (Code for Africa) sees value in providing people with granular, local and personal information that enables action. Many feel distanced from the mechanisms that control their lives. Civic tech is a means to create a seamless interaction between citizens and decision making that affects their lives. An important civic tech strategy is to involve the right people in deciding what problems need solving. Citizens should be asked: What keeps you up at night?
Sheba Najmi (Code for Pakistan) points out the many ways to measure success. User adoption, community engagement, dialogue and collaboration are all accomplishments. Getting techies to see the value in civic start-ups and public service innovation is key. In Pakistan, a low tech peer-to-peer ride sharing app has seen the greatest user adoption.
Lucía Abelenda (Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund) sees value when civil society is engaged and change is articulated both online and offline. An important question arises from this proposition: What is the theory of change for online/offline articulation?
How do you define or address real-world problems?
TH Schee (Open Knowledge Taiwan) consults with stakeholders and partners first, not afraid to invite public companies or the government to the conversation.
Others collaborate with institutions, non-governmental organizations or local media to help identify problems. A long-term strategy is to help those already working with their communities, rather than to build for the “man on the street”. The press is especially useful in helping to identify stories in data sets that people will care about and in delivering stories to audiences.
How can civic tech communities collaborate internationally?
Panelists suggest that international civic tech communities work on projects and apply for grants together. Other strategies include having exchanges that allow for the reuse and recycling of projects. One crucial aspect of this is storytelling on what worked and what didn’t work. On the technical side, it is important that apps are re-deployable and open source to allow for reuse.
Thanks to the panel!
Panelists included Daniel Dietrich (Open Knowledge Foundation), Lucía Abelenda (Civic Innovation Accellerator Fund), Justin Arenstein (Code for Africa), Jen Bramley (mySociety), Julia Kloiber (Open Knowledge Foundation Germany), Sheba Najmi (Code for Pakistan) and TH Schee (Open Knowledge Taiwan).