mySociety’s vision is for citizens around the world to feel empowered to interact efficiently, effectively and meaningfully with their governments and decision-makers using low cost and user-friendly civic technology. We want to enable citizens to communicate through accessible means, to solve their problems and to get what they are entitled to from institutions.
We believe that strong democratic accountability and a thriving civil society are vital to our common welfare, and that these cannot survive where people do not engage with government and communities. We work online because we believe that the internet can meaningfully lower the barriers to taking the first civic or democratic steps in a citizen’s life, and that it can do so at scale.
These selected readings on civic technology reflect this vision and greatly improve our understanding of how and why civic tech is having an impact.
EVALUATING DIGITAL CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT : A PRACTICAL GUIDE
World Bank Group (2015)
Whenever I speak to someone that’s just getting started in the civic tech world, this is the first report I suggest they read. It’s primarily aimed at practitioners rather than researchers, but it’s a wonderful introduction to the key concepts, the challenges, the language and the global landscape of civic tech. This report was informed by a lot of the main stakeholders in civic tech, and includes great examples of the work that’s happening, and the tasks associated with increasing and measuring digital civic engagement. Civic tech is maturing as a field, and this report provides much encouraging inspiration in analysing the real-world impacts of civic technologies, going beyond primitive measurements to discuss meaningful methods.
THE PROBLEM OF CITIZENS: E-DEMOCRACY FOR ACTUALLY EXISTING DEMOCRACY
This is an incredibly thoughtful article that considers e-democracy initiatives to be fundamentally flawed in their designs, and based on flawed assumptions about users being impartial and non-partisan. It argues against generalising users of civic tech into a homogenous group, and proposes that citizens be encouraged to deliberate and collaborate both within and between partisan groupings in order to enhance understanding. Whilst I find many of the suggestions in this paper impractical or unrealistic, and I do not necessarily agree with the author on several points, the reason I enjoy it so much is because it challenges assumptions that tend to be embedded into the civic tech sphere, and prompts me to think about civic tech solutions in a different way. In any field, there can be a tendency towards institutionalisation, and this paper pushes against those boundaries with some very interesting arguments.
“I WLD LIKE U WMP TO EXTEND ELECTRICITY 2 OUR VILLAGE”: ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND INTEREST ARTICULATION
Grossman, Humphreys & Saramone-Lutz (2014)
In a world where aid and development agencies, as well as philanthropists and civil society, are promoting the transformative potential of the internet in increasing civic engagement, this piece of research provides an incredibly valuable insight into how individuals in developing countries are actually using civic tech. A key risk in the research of civic tech is in drawing conclusions based upon distinct or unrepresentative constituencies, and this research team went to great lengths to conduct a high quality and well targeted analysis of the low-income and marginalised individuals that are of significant interest to the development community. This is an important piece of literature that I take inspiration from when designing my own research projects.
WHO BENEFITS FROM CIVIC TECH?
It seems a little narcissistic to cite a report produced by my own organisation, but it’s a report that provides some useful insights into the users of civic tech, and how they feel about the tools that they are using. It is again, something of a starting point for people who are just entering the world of civic tech, and provides an overview not just of demographics, but of public attitudes. The great thing about this report is its comparative aspect, looking at both developed countries and developing countries, and whilst it makes for uncomfortable reading in places (identifying the gender, age and educational imbalances in the user bases), it also provides encouraging data concerning users self-reported empowerment.
WHEN DOES ICT-ENABLED CITIZEN VOICE LEAD TO GOVERNMENT RESPONSIVENESS?
Peixoto & Fox (2016)
This is a really important piece of research examining one of the most critical aspects of e-democracy technologies; the responsiveness of governments. Civic technologists can build the most beautifully crafted and user friendly platforms in the world, but if politicians or bureaucrats are unwilling or unable to be responsive to the issues raised by the platforms, then failure is inevitable, and the consequence is a disillusioned public. This research unfortunately does not provide a very encouraging picture of current institutional behaviours, however is inspirational and thought-provoking for civic technologists in identifying a key issue that requires an innovative solution.