I am currently at the TicTEC conference in Florence (yes I know, the sacrifices I make for my work!).
It is interesting and there are some very good presentations, speakers and discussions, but one thing keeps coming up in almost every session – “yes but are we having an impact”, “we are reaching people but what is it achieving” and variations on this theme.
What is conspicously absent from the discussions – an understanding of impact?
It got me thinking – civic tech is a very broad field, there are differing (and sometimes competing) goals for what ‘success’ would look like, there are different factors at play in different countries – its messy, but there seems to be one particular subset of the field that is, in my opinion, the most important, and perhaps easier to distill some measurement of impact or success for…
And I think maybe if a few of us got together, with some relatively modest funding, we could make some proper inroads so this time next year (ok maybe the year after) the questions are different – how much impact did you have, why didn’t you achieve the changes you were seeking – more informed, less specualtive and hopefully more cognratulatory!
The subset of civic tech I am interested in are based on three assumptions:
- The work is based in a “poor” country (I leave the academics to decide whether this means it is developing, emerging, low income, middle income or in the global South)
I am not talking about civic tech in the US or Europe…
- The institutions (state and otherwise) in this area are generally unresponsive and do not seem to WANT to respond to citizen needs
This is not about good governments who just need better information, this is about fundamental change.
- In these areas the poor are generally less engaged or less listened to than the middle-classes.
This is about equity, equality and poverty reduction – not an abstract exercise in increasing representativeness.
To my mind, the above described the overlap between civic-tech and international-development pretty well and is the area I am interested in exploring.
What could be done?
Well I am looking for people to help me work this out, but from my extensive 10 minutes of thinking during and after the last #TicTEC session, evaluating the impact of this types of would could do well to concentrate on factors like…
- Has it reached the poor and marginalised in a significant way?
- Has it pressured/enabled government and other institutions to be more responsive than they would have otherwise?
- Has it caused policy, spending or other tangible action to shift in favour of the poor or towards more equitable outcomes?
- Has it created methods or institutions by which this change or process of change will last in a long-term and sustainable way?
This is nothing more than a call for interested people for now – but I think there is a lot of expertise out there and together we could make some sertous headway. I have some experience in evaluating this area but I think a group of us from across the field could do so much more… things like…
Find some funding
Evaluate some existing projects in areas that meet the criteria above
Set up something new to do some action research
Identify some common success/failure factors that are simplified enough to be useful to others working in the field
Maybe even set up some kind of hands-on guide for practitioners in the field setting up this kind of work (if the success factors lend themselves to something so linear that is!)…
If this strikes a chord and you’d like to discuss further, let me know by completing the poll below (please put your name and email in the “other” field along with any comment – sorry a bit clunky but am doing this in a rush!).
And if you think I am barking up the wrong tree and this is already out there – help me (and everyrone else) find it!!!