Where does the money go in civic tech projects? Does the service reflect the investment? Those were my initial questions and luckily was not so hard to find data to answer them.
“To get EU funding, one needs to follow certain rules and procedures. This is inevitable – we need to make sure that every euro is spent in a transparent and correct way” This appears in the application process for European funding. Even private funders are clear in the calls for proposals about what they expect and the budget. So someone could follow the money in the audit papers if that one would be willing to go and ask for them.
It’s easy to see the diversity of the projects. They vary in size, location, and goals, but they all get more funding at the beginning and less or nothing for maintenance. For example, the EU funds expect that the applicants will use the money to launch but then live independently. Probably that’s why many projects are closed after a while. For me, this indicates that there is no river of cash flowing. And in terms of transparency, it’s easy to find the goal and the investors. Usually, they appear on the main page.
The other matter, measuring the effectiveness of the projects, it’s a tricky one. First, these initiatives are not made for the donors to increase their wealth, so commercial rules don’t exactly apply. I could talk about social ROI and try to measure it. But knowing the impact is also expensive in terms of resources; it pays in transparency and trust, but is it efficient to use the budget for that purpose? I could take this approach as far as effective altruism does and say: choose the critical, neglected and tractable goal, not the most at heart. Be as effective as possible. Maybe even don’t build it, contribute to what’s already done. If possible, that would be the most efficient approach, and at the same time, how to measure the impact of all the non-born projects that save resources?
That’s it. I’ve decided I can trust that the money is not lost, maybe more than any other field. I don’t audit other business fields this much, to be honest.
Ah, if you are interested in the effective altruism concept, maybe you want to check out this excellent podcast.
I’m trying to understand the civic tech field by reading articles. My problem is I have all these preconceptions, based on nothing, regarding cooperation and tech projects associated that I find myself almost looking for trouble to confirm them. So before continuing my investigation is better to put a name on my prejudices to clear them up.
- The money gets lost in the many passages, and the service doesn’t reflect the investment. It’s similar to all other fields, but it’s harder to swallow in aid projects.
- Most work focuses on marketing and communication instead of solving the actual problem. Cause organizations need to draw attention to and constantly justify who they are and what they do to get funding.
- There isn’t a clear map of what are the global problems and the steps proposed to solve them. Not a tool that shows citizens what the plans are, how they could contribute to the solution, or who is in charge of doing it.
- People, in general, are not interested in civic tech. Attention and money are invested in leisure content and acquiring status objects. The majority will never get involved.
So there, I’m fighting against a massive confirmation bias. Those are my starting beliefs, and now I need data to support or deny them. Luckily, this is the best moment to retrieve facts from data, and I’m willing to change my mind.
Confirmation bias: A cognitive bias that causes people to search for, favor, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs.
Changing beliefs: https://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe (An entertaining article on how difficult it is to change someone’s beliefs.)
The Climate Action Plan Explorer (CAPE) is an open database of council climate action plans. Having the information in one place makes it possible to compare provided plans. Besides surfacing similarities and differences, it also pushes councils to learn from each other.
As a complement, trained volunteers from Climate Emergency UK produced a set of climate plan scorecards that summarize the essential facts. Without this feature, it would be hard for citizens to extract the relevant information from numerous documents. This service makes it easier for people to take action based on contrasted data.
In an online meeting in which we participated, on April 12th, mySociety presented the tool that is closely tied to the UK governmental structure. In the conversation, participants spoke about the difficulties of starting a similar service in their countries. The primary reason is limited resources. The collaborations between multiple parties: institutions, residents, technical advisers, and associations make it also challenging. But seeing CAPE bearing fruit gives us an example to follow, even though starting something similar remains a titanic task for us.
Ayuntamientos #PorElClima, an example taken from Spain, provides guides, articles, and lists of town halls adhering to the initiative. Still, it fails to make accessible raw data and summaries of the action plans. Without this, the citizens cannot have a contextualized overview of the situation. They must make an effort to put the pieces together where instead, their effort would be better used in asking for accountability to move those plans forward.
Boldelse is the outlet of our efforts. We want to put mostly but not only our development skills to good use. We want to contribute mainly to projects related to social and environmental issues.
For now, we are looking for collaborations with established organizations instead of forming our standalone entity, although that is part of our long-term goals (plans?! dreams?!).
We decided to document our way to slowly untangle the world of civic-tech, funding, and related. This is to save others who wish to follow a similar path time and some gray hairs.
Carmen and Rob