Learning from climate action – how can civic tech drive impactful societal change?
mySociety convened this TICTeC Action Lab (aka working group) of seven people who worked together to answer the above question and then commission a paid piece of work based on their conclusions.
As part of the TICTeC Labs programme, on July 14, 2022 we convened a Civic Tech Surgery that brought together a group of civic tech practitioners and communications professionals from across the world. During the Surgery, attendees discussed common challenges in in using civic tech to encourage people to change and coordinate their behaviour in ways that can cause significant changes in society, specifically through the lens of climate action.
The purpose of this Action Lab was to use the information gathered at the above Surgery to discuss and decide on a piece of work that would be most useful to produce in order to help the global civic tech community do work which drives impactful societal change and enables people to coordinate action so that it’s greater than the sum of its parts, with a focus on climate change.
Common challenges identified at the Civic Tech Surgery were:
Data and understanding – people aren’t experts; experts in climate data aren’t experts in communications; there are issues around access to data.
Apathy and mistrust – there’s general apathy from the public over a problem that seems too big or difficult to solve; the public has a short attention span and climate is a longterm, slow burn issue; it’s hard to persuade people to make difficult changes; governments shift responsibility between levels and governments are complex to navigate; mistrust of government.
Ways of working – startups tend to work to short timescales and need to see quick results; NGOs don’t work together; too many projects have no Theory of Change; it is difficult to measure impacts when asking people to take action in the real world.
Societal issues – citizen action can only go so far – governments need to lead the way with legislation; dis- and mis-information from climate denialists makes the job harder.
Logistics – access: In countries with poor Internet coverage, there is a very basic problem of poor connectivity; financial stability of newsrooms in Africa; trying to train up people with differing levels of experience.
The below possible solutions to the above challenges were identified at the Surgery. These, and others, were discussed by Action Lab members to decide which should be taken forward:
Develop the results.org model for mobilising people, with an emphasis on climate.
Create a model example for how to respond to your council’s Climate Action Plan that people could use as a template.
Financial support for a data librarian who is available at set times of the week.
Recruit, train and support ‘community climate champions‘ based in research teams, policy units, universities etc. We couldn’t fund this long term but could dedicate seed funding for an agency to pilot the idea.
Infographics based on Climate Outreach’s work on persuasive language around climate.
Give grants to college students who will be able to use them efficiently – with a little going a long way.
Set up a table at climate protests to seed action in people who are already feeling passionate, eg ask people to write a letter to their MP that you can gather up and send en masse the next day.
Run a hackathon or challenge for students to come up with new solutions.
Research into how communications can be used to overcome climate denialism.
Make climate change data journalism micro-grants in under-reported regions.
Communications between climate champions and citizens: Help, for example, the local authorities that have declared climate emergencies to engage citizens with their actions so there is mutual understanding, with a combination of engagement software used in public consultation with local data and the psychology used by Climate Outreach to reach different audiences.
Action Lab #5 agreed to commission a piece of work to help the global civic tech community do work which drives impactful societal change and enables people to coordinate action so that it’s greater than the sum of its parts, in the area of climate action. The subgrant was awarded to the Demography Project, Kenya, for Maai Mawka, an open-source, open-data and public domain water quality and quantity monitoring project integrated with practical civic education.