Our recent TICTeC event in Paris was hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, OECD.
Reflecting on Civic Tech and the role of the OECD, their Director of Public Affairs and Communications Anthony Gooch contributes this post.
Acronyms tend to hold a certain degree of mystery, and yet we use them all the time in policy making. On 19 March, I welcomed a new acronym to the OECD: TICTeC, aka “The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference”. It was my first TICTeC, but the fifth annual edition, bringing together more than 200 participants from civil society, academia, business and government from around the world – all of them working hard to find solutions that marry technological capacity with civic engagement and participatory practices.
Our intention in hosting TICTeC was two-fold: to demystify each other’s acronyms and to draw on both of our convening powers to explore new opportunities for collective action.
As an international organisation, the OECD is a partner for civil society and the people behind movements and organisations. We know that policy is not made in a vacuum and its impacts are not limited to one part of society alone. To ensure that we deliver on our mission of “Better Policies for Better Lives”, we must help governments to respond to the needs of their citizens. This also involves evolving our thinking about the route to collective intelligence and where technology plays a role. Our vocation goes beyond the provision of cold, dry facts – we are in the business of improving people’s lives.
In the past decade, Civic Tech has shifted from a fringe movement of hackers and coders to a more mainstream term – importantly, used by policy makers and shapers. Three years ago, the OECD didn’t really use the term “Civic Tech”. Organisations such as ours are not known for our speed and reactivity, but it is now part of our vocabulary.
In 2016 I read an article by Catherine Vincent in Le Monde: Civic Tech: Is it going to save politics?. It said: “By connecting a wide number of citizens, Civic Tech allows them to access information, creates a space for dialogue and sharing opinions, essentially harnessing collective intelligence ensuring better citizen participation in democracy”. Could these elements help the OECD to maintain its relevance and credibility in a rapidly changing societal context?
We’ve seen the values of Civic Tech – transparency, accountability, participation, citizen engagement – as a compass for helping us navigate and improve our engagement with people. It has also taught us lessons about how to achieve greater impact. Even more importantly, it exposed us to a community of people behind the technological solutions, who are challenging their own assumptions and working on concrete projects.
What have we learned from them?
- The real potential of these technologies has yet to be realised;
- Offline engagement strategies – meeting people where they are – are equally, if not more important for the adoption and the quality of impact of Civic Tech;
- Open source – decentralised, collaborative peer production of software – is vital for shared tools, but the digital divide isn’t simply erased by Civic Tech;
- We need to be constantly evaluating our assumptions.
We’ve continued to witness manifestations of Civic Tech in government practice over the years. Our colleagues at the OECD have examined the role of GovTech, participatory budgeting, open government data and local level efforts in our reports and we’re sharing this experience further and further. The TICTeC community provides a different and complementary vantage point and a host of potential avenues for collaboration.
At TICTeC 2019, we shared a number OECD of initiatives that focused on:
- Quantifying intra-urban inequalities in subjective well-being;
- More inclusive public services design and delivery;
- Citizen engagement around people’s quality of life via the OECD Better Life Index and where to go next.
OECD was not just there to present, but to harness the collective intelligence of the Civic Tech community. What struck me during TICTeC was the focus on seeking to measure the real impact of Civic Tech and understanding its limitations. We tend to attach much hope to technologies that strive to help us navigate misinformation, political processes and systems, and public services. After more than decade, Civic Tech as a field is maturing and facing the challenges of greater public expectations and its own sustainability.
The OECD is committed to serving people from all parts of the globe, and we strive to bring the wealth of experience, views and ideas to bear on policy making. This is something that crystalises at our annual OECD Forum, including more voices to help us address the world’s pressing challenges in an open, dynamic and creative space. Since 2017 and continuing with the 20th edition on 20-21 May “World in EMotion”, it is an opportunity to get Civic Tech organisations and actors into the OECD bloodstream – channeling and transmitting this interest and enthusiasm to our colleagues and stakeholders.
For the third year, we will be hosting the Civic Innovation Hub, showcasing Civic Tech and social innovations that strive for better outcomes. Presenters will discuss how their projects are having an impact on what matters in people’s daily lives – from education to environment, community to jobs – and touching on opportunities and challenges for making positive change. We will also shed light on the tensions happening in on- and off-line spaces in terms of inclusiveness, accountability and efficiency.
Whether we use technology because we want to revitalise the relationship citizens have with their cities, their communities or their representatives and governments, we understand it is the vehicle, but not the destination. We must continue to share our visions, our successes and our failures, and seek opportunities to collaborate. We are excited to continue working together to achieve greater impact.
Anthony Gooch, OECD