I’m on a mission to find Europe’s best civic tech

Hello. You might know me from writing the weekly dispatch from Democracy Club towers.

Months before we managed to Brexit ourselves, I’d decided that the gap between the EU Referendum and the next elections could be usefully spent having a bit of a holiday and learning a bit more about European organisations doing similar stuff to Democracy Club.

I’d lazily presumed I could take the whole of July and August to do this, given that the next elections in the UK wouldn’t be until May 2017…but of course there’s a chance of a General Election rather sooner now.

Nonetheless, until the timing of the next general election is clearer, I’m off on a mini-trip around some European capitals to learn more about the state of civic tech. And to see if there are ideas we can steal, code we can share, or funding we can tap.

So I head to Brussels tomorrow, before Paris, then maybe Amsterdam. I’ll take a bit of holiday in Switzerland between, then on to Hamburg and Berlin.

I’ve got some really interesting meetings lined up with the likes of VOXE.org, Démocratie Ouvert, VoteWatch Europe, and ParliamentWatch in Germany. And I’ve got some leads into Germany’s state-funded voter information body, the BpB — which I think could have some really valuable lessons for the UK.

Do you know of any other folks I should be speaking to on my travels? Anyone doing anything with digital and democracy or civic participation – and that extends to folks in political parties. All contacts welcome! I’ll blog my meetings and spread whatever wisdom I can glean from our colleagues across la Manche.

Til then!

Update: Here’s what I learnt in BrusselsParisBerlin and Amsterdam.

Image credit: Wikipedia

We’re not looking for a new England

Well, we might be. Earlier this month, Toby Perkins MP managed to restart a conversation about a national anthem for England. It’s a fun question – and represents an accessible entry point into thinking about the constitution of the UK and the varying nations, principalities, islands and peoples that make it up. And who decides what, and how.

In a happy coincidence, Compass last week hosted 40 people who run or manage democracy organisations for a day of “Designing a New Democracy.”

My notes are below. I think the crucial question is about authority. It’s only going to be useful and gain momentum if the public considers that the process has power and will actually lead to real, lasting change. That is the challenge that reformers face.
Continue reading We’re not looking for a new England

How to do more good this year

It’s about this time of year that in a moderately hungover fashion, I cast my mind back and ponder what I have achieved in the last 12 months.

In my day job and as a volunteer, I work at trying to increase public participation in governance.

And I do ultimately think that a more democratic system of governance – across political deliberation, decision making and across public services, coupled with citizenship education and better informed citizens – is the kind of systemic change required to solve the big problems.

However…

I’m aware that this systemic shift might take a while.

In the meantime, it makes me happy to think that each of us still has the capacity to be extremely effective in making the world a better place. That is, increasing the net wellbeing of everyone on the planet.

There are now nearly 1,500 members of Giving What We Can, the network of folks who donate a significant proportion of their salary to do as much good as they can. This is typically realised as donations to low-cost high-impact health interventions. So far, the membership has donated $10m, and is projected to give $500m over members’ lifetimes.

For me, in 2015, I earned £35,000 (before tax). I’m donating £3,500 to their trust, which in turn passes the money to four charities:

  • Against Malaria Foundation
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative
  • Deworm the World
  • Project Healthy Children

According to the number-crunchers this should be enough to:

  • distribute 600+ bed nets to prevent malaria; or
  • 3,000+ deworming treatments

…the equivalent to saving at least one life this year.

That’s a Happy New Year.

Learn more (and even try it out) here.

P.S. I’ve also tried to offset my carbon footprint separately with the great Cool Earth and 350.org.

(Photo credit: BY-NC-ND 2.0 Paul Brock Photography)

Three things we’ve learnt – and one thing we haven’t – by trying to create one list of election hustings

I’ve been working with the good folks at Democracy Club, and particularly James Baster of Open Tech Calendar, to crowdsource a list of hustings events for the general election. Here’s what we’ve found so far… Continue reading Three things we’ve learnt – and one thing we haven’t – by trying to create one list of election hustings

Are we reaching peak e-petition?

I’ve now received emails from at least six different organisations about the HSBC tax scandal, with all the related ‘Did you miss this?’ or ‘Thanks for signing, can you forward to everyone you’ve ever met?’ emails.

I think we might be reaching peak e-petition. Or maybe I am. Cos I sign up for too much stuff. Or because these organisations love list-building – several get their funds from donations from a minor percentage of their lists, so they’re incentivised to grow their lists, weakening the case for collaboration. (Collaboration that might, however, more effectively lead to results.)

Anyway, I think digital democracy might not be meant to feel like getting bombarded with emails. Continue reading Are we reaching peak e-petition?

How I (probably) failed to register my neighbours to vote…and how I might succeed next time

A door.

Last weekend I posted some leaflets through the letterboxes of all the flats in my 1930s building near Waterloo. I was supposed to be knocking on doors and asking people whether they’d registered to vote. But I’d run out of time – and, feeling it was too late to disturb people, posted the voter registration pack – a letter and form from Join The Vote (a non-partisan, charity-supported, 38 Degrees-led coalition) through the letterboxes instead.

I went back several days later – this time earlier in the evening – and knocked on the relatively few doors into flats which showed signs of life. No answers. Well, one answer – but he was the local activist type, who is often whipping up support for some petition or other. Not surprisingly, of course he’d registered to vote.

And really, it would be a surprise if many of the building residents had failed to vote – this locale is easy-pickings for local party activists, particularly Labour and Lib Dems who are battling it out to define who is more useless, ‘barmy’ or wasteful in regard to running Lambeth Council. We’ve all had a lot of leaflets. A lot. Flats are great for the letterbox/minute ratio. And canvassing too – at least twice in the last few months – and that’s only counting the times I’ve been in.

So was it likely that many people weren’t registered to vote? Did it matter that I failed miserably to allow enough time to do several rounds of door-knocking?

Who knows, but it’s worth looking a little more deeply at the Join the Vote campaign. Continue reading How I (probably) failed to register my neighbours to vote…and how I might succeed next time