As usual, there is no clear definition of what CivicTech is and there is a lot of debate which actually gets very political. We can start thinking of CivicTech as any technology that upgrades governments and community governance. So, you are allowed to think of it also as including technologies that reshape democracy. People even include any technology use case that is for common good.
I am only here to share a primer on CivicTech. It became very clear to me (through this first dive into CivitTech) that Social media, Smart Cities in platform economies with ever increasing Digital participation is the era that we live in.
In such a world, CivicTech will increasingly become important. Like it or not, Social media, Smart Cities in platform economies are shaping our identities and values whether we realize it or not. We – the end customers sort of speak – the individuals are demanding more and more rights and the lines of who does what and who is responsible for what, are blurring.
Excerpt from the presentation of Prof. Sofia H. Ranchordás, Chair of European and Comparative Public Law & Rosalind Franklin Fellow, University of Groning
“This is Water” is a metaphor for the conscious awareness of others by David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College.
`This is Digital` and we better become conscious of the ocean that we are swimming in:
Social media, Smart Cities in platform economies with ever increasing Digital participation.
CivicTech ties into all of these and much more. Chris Skinner presents to us the `Digital Human` in his recent book with the homonymous title. His subtitle `The fourth revolution of humanity includes everyone` ties into CivicTech that has clearly a role to bringing us all together.
Just a few specifics on how CivicTech is being piloted and used globally right now. Digital humans in participatory budgeting are being included in 3,000 municipalities around the world, according to Dr. Tiago Carneiro Peixoto, Senior Public Sector Specialist, World Bank’s Governance Global Practice.
Examples are live all around the globe. The father of Civictech is the UK project FixMyStreet and in the US, Change.org. These are using crowdsourcing community feedback, ideas and project requests to improve budgeting decisions.
Various technologies are being used in CivicTech, from text messages, to app like dashboards and online voting systems of all sorts. These are powered by chatbots, AI and even blockchain technology.
In Brazil in Porto Alegre, one of the most populated cities in South Brazil, the World Bank introduced participatory budgeting as early as 1989. Citizens present their demands and priorities for civic improvement. This use case is one of the longest standing CivicTech implementations. Because of the increased investment in sanitation and health, the processes have reduced infant mortality. In addition, the tax collection rate has improved by more than 30%. One of the learnings of CivicTech implementation in underdeveloped areas (where it is most needed) is that quantifiable results become evident typically after a 5yr period. So, these are not quick wins.
In Argentina the city of Rosario, has been the test ground for a gender-mixed participatory budgeting approach, aiming to involve more women in the participatory budgeting process, and to raise awareness around gender issues and the positive impact of female participation.
New York City has an interactive map – the Idea Collection Map – that any community member can submit an idea. Community volunteers, called Budget Delegates review the ideas and turn them into real proposals for a ballot, with input from city agencies. These proposals will be up for a community-wide vote. This Participatory Budgeting process is being used to directly decide how to spend at least $1,000,000 of the public budget in participating Council Districts.
In Belgium mini-publics are already being used to improve democratic processes and make them more transparent. Mini-publics are an assembly of citizens who are demographically representative of the community. The topics handled by mini-publics range from controversial science and technology issues to social issues like health and justice. Mini publics are now institutionalized in Madrid and in the German-speaking part of Belgium.
Paris has decided to allocate 5% of its investment budget to be handled through participatory budgeting. This started in 2014 and is planned for a 6yr period (until 2020) and encompasses a total of 0.5billion euros. The issues that have brought up by the community are urban agriculture, greening the city, and caring for refugees and homeless people.
In China, a unique participatory budgeting project started in Chengdu in 2011. This is a city of close to 15million people. Since the start of this process, there have been 50,000 small projects approved. Most them are for basic local services in infrastructure, such as village roads and water supply. The unique design of the implementation is that the citizens have the choice to either spend the participatory budgeting resources on immediate actions, or to use them as a down payment on a collective loan for much larger projects. If the latter is chosen, then the loan is repaid by a part of the participatory budget in the following years.
In the US, Vallejo a city in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, has been using technology for participatory budgeting courtesy of the Stanford Crowdsourced Democracy Team since 2012. There have been 5 voting cycles to allocate over $8million to fund 27 projects. Vallejo reports that 20,000 residents of Vallejo have participated. Unfortunately, during a recent vote (Cycle 6) there was a loss of all votes due to human errors and people are asked to revote.
`This is Digital` and we better become conscious of the ocean that we are swimming in: Social media, Smart Cities in platform economies with ever increasing Digital participation.
This is a #TwitterDemocracy kind of world. Social media alone, are a digital participation form 24/7. We are shifting from one-off events like voting to a very interconnected world. With smart cities, we will provide real-time feedback which swiftly makes the loop into all platforms and into our life. Technology can help us become more efficient and arrive at a consensus at local levels much faster and better than we are able today.
For this however to happen, we need to improve literacy at all levels. Digital literacy is paramount to include everyone in this new future world.
 I am using #TwitterDemocracy as a generic term.
I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.
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