News 9th November 2018

Reflections from the first TICTeC Local

by Andreas Pavlou

TICTeC has gone local.

This week in Manchester, the most important global conference for the understanding of civic technology brought together representatives from civic tech, local authorities and social impact organisations to discuss big, transformative ideas that focus on where and how civic tech connects with and impacts local government.

The first TICTeC Local showcased examples of digital tools that have aimed to make local government more open – improving citizen engagement, streamlining interaction with council services or processes, enabling monitoring of public institutions, and creating efficiencies in council budgets – all at a local level in the UK.

This was my first TICTeC event, and here are my reflections from the conference:

There is already a lot going on at the local level

I really had no idea quite how much is going on at a local level in the UK seeking to use civic tech to make local government more open.

Some highlights for me were:
FixMyStreet Pro installations,
Family Story’s aim to free the 60% of social workers’ time stuck in front of a computer and to allow families to regain ownership of their own story,
– The impact of Wigan’s social contract ‘The Deal’,
– Powerful first-hand stories that demonstrate the potential for councils as a platform, and
Open Data Manchester’s work to visualise and reveal hidden patterns in local democracy.

I learnt a lot and am inspired by these stories, so I hope there is continued interest in telling them and other stories to inspire others to explore the use of civic tech in opening up local authorities.

We need to learn from the past

The TICTeC Local experience also enables us to learn about what works and maybe what doesn’t.

mySociety’s Head of Research, Dr Rebecca Rumbul, emphasised the need for continued research into the impacts of civic technology – particularly as we see unintended consequences from the technological wave over the last 15 years. Paul Maltby, Chief Digital Officer at Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government talked about how ‘getting the plumbing right’ is essential before building more complex civic tech for the future.

Finally, I look forward to learning from the Public Square project – a collaboration between Democratic Society and mySociety that will examine how to increase citizen participation at the local government level.

Take inspiration from what is going on internationally

In the UK, we sometimes fail to use international examples as lessons to reflect about what we are doing.

Hearing about the impact from Decide.Madrid would make me envious as a local council. Using civic tech they have engaged hundreds of thousands of residents in local decision-making and budgeting. It is no surprise then that participants were keen to learn more about it. Maybe we will see an installation in the UK at some point!

The impact of austerity

It is impossible to ignore the fact that local government budgets have been decimated by the impact of austerity. This has forced councils to think differently about the way they operate.

While some councils reported they had seen cuts to engagement processes, others have made it an opportunity to streamline cumbersome processes. Civic tech has been able to step in and offer potential solutions to these problems.

An appetite for more

And I am not talking about the amazing flapjacks. TICTeC Local (and events like #NotWestminster), build momentum at the local government level to inspire, learn, innovate, and implement new solutions using civic tech.

Learning that over 80 local authorities and organisations have signed up to the Local Digital Declaration (and more joining), you can see that there is interest and appetite for more on all sides.

Of course, digital tools and civic tech are not a panacea to all local government challenges. However, by exploring what is going on around the UK to make councils more transparent, participative and accountable using civic tech, there is hope that many more local governments will become more open in the future, benefiting the citizens they serve.

And big thank you to mySociety, The Federation, funders, speakers and participants for a thoroughly enjoyable conference! Check out mySociety’s wrap up report or twitter hashtag #TicTeCLocal for more!