Civic Technologies and Human Reasoning

I had the pleasure of attending the 3rd Impacts of Civic Technology Conference organised by MySociety (http://tictec.mysociety.org/) in Florence, Italy, between the 25th to the 26th of April 2017.

It was a good experience.  As a researcher who has been interested in electronic government and systems thinking, I could now complete the puzzle when it comes to talk about supply and demand of electronic government services.

Civic Technologies emerge from what is normally called the demand side (citizens).  They aim to empower citizens with the tools to make their governments more transparent and accountable.  There are communities of enthusiasts around the world who offer their knowledge and expertise to help other citizen communities learn and use technologies in different realms of life.

Civic technologies look to me an ecosystem where different organisations interact.  Some of them have more experience than others.  Experience also means more established links with other actors in government and the private sector.

An example of an experienced organisation is Mysociety (mysociety.org).  Other participants which I frankly was positively surprised to see were The World Bank, Google and Facebook.  The interest in civic technologies is also taken up by educational institutions like MIT (and of course Royal Holloway!).

The civic technologies ecosystem is now concerned with ensuring better engagement from citizens.  Technologies are deployed but in many cases they do not have the audience or the critical mass in the citizens’ camps or the responsiveness required in governments to take action.

There is also concern with how false information can affect citizens’ knowledge and decisions.  Having good partnerships seems to be a strategy which could help in addressing these concerns.  Perhaps partnerships as well as intermediaries or advocates speak about the social fabrics needed to help citizens make more collectively informed and sound decisions.

In the current political ans socio-economic climate of uncertainty around the world, civit technologies can definitely contribute to make a difference.  But technology or open data does not seem to be enough.  As I raised the issue in a number of presentations, it could be dangerous just to focus on providing information to citizens and assuming that knowledge is to become wisdom automatically.

There needs to be a bit more of enlarged responsibility when engaging citizens in using civic technologies.  This responsibility needs to come hand in hand with a critical awareness of the values that are being promoted when designing or fostering the use of technology solutions.

As much as the ecosystem is learning to deal with the realities of citizens’ engagement and governments responsiveness we also need to deepen our understandings of how us as human beings react in the face of uncertainties and how our ‘reasonings’ (political, technological, humanitarian) could have many manifestations, limitations and possibilities.

Good luck to civic technologies and am sure you will be seeing more of me as well and I look forward to seeing more of you, perhaps closing the gaps between supply and demand of electronic government/governance services.

José-Rodrigo

Royal Holloway, University of London, May 2017.

 

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