What’s new in the realm of Civic Tech and digital democracy?

Every month, we curate a list of must-read articles and thought-pieces that help us make sense of current times. This month, we’re still talking about and managing the changes of remote working. We’re talking about the climate as well, diving deeper into the environmental footprint of the internet and the recommendations of the UK’s first Citizens’ Climate Assembly. Lastly, we’re taking a look at the gender divide in tech, and explore the importance of shared narratives. Ready? Let’s dive in!

1. “The Case for Making Virtual Public Meetings Permanent” by Governing

During the last few months, we’ve all been having a lot more virtual meetings than before. In social distancing times, video calls and other digital alternatives to the face-to-face meeting have ensured at least a partial continuity of our work processes. And while slow internet connections, software glitches or overly curious cats can sometimes throw a spanner in the works, these virtual huddles also have their benefits. “Overall, the process has been a relatively inexpensive and effective way, particularly for larger municipalities, to continue public business in a challenging time.” So why not make remote meetings permanent?

This article explores a few arguments in favour of the digital route. And while some of these arguments are purely practical—think of the overhead costs you’re saving!—others, such as higher participation levels and preventing emotional outbursts, are a bit more interesting. Still, when it comes to offline or online, the answer is never black and white. A must-read for anyone who has been in a Zoom call this last month.

2. “Why shared narratives matter more than ever“, by Apolitical

This article explores the phenomenon of “narratives”, and the roles those stories play in public discourse. After all, most of our beliefs are built on how we interpret the narratives around the topic at hand. Compelling narratives have the power to divide or unite people. While talking about the COVID-19 pandemic with war terms such as ‘invisible enemy’ and ‘call to duty’ might inspire some of us to wear masks and keep our distance, it might spark a sense of rebellion in others.

Now more than ever, it is essential to create shared narratives that unite, rather than divide. “A shared narrative (…) is a story that opponents create together, from the bottom up, through a deliberative process. (…) The participants start by listening to each other’s stories. (…) Learning about these different experiences uncovers shared understanding and points of overlap between competing narratives. Thus, it builds bridges.” A must-read for everyone interested in public discourse, storytelling, and finding unity in polarised debates.

3. “Gov Tech’s Gender Gap: Getting More Women in Government IT“, by GovTech

Did you know that women make up only about 1/4th of the tech workforce? And the higher we move up in the ranks of leadership, the more gaping that gender gap gets. Many leaders in the tech industry have made it their mission to recruit women and restore the balance in their teams. One of the ways to do that? Dispelling the “geek factor”. 

“If employers want to recruit more women — and a diverse range of job candidates in general — they need to highlight that today’s tech jobs involve collaboration, project management and big-picture thinking”, the article quotes.

But the problem is not that women don’t want a geeky job. Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CIO of St. Paul, Minnesota, “says that one of the biggest challenges to recruiting and retaining women in the tech field is the fact that the workplace isn’t always a welcoming environment for women.” To bridge the gender divide in tech, workplaces need to become more inclusive from the inside out. A must-read for all tech-buffs, and all girls and women with a passion for STEM. 

4. “Building a greener internet“, by Nesta

When it comes to the climate, we think we know what harms the most. We try to avoid long-distance flights, cut meat from our diets or tackle our commutes with public transportation. But did you know that the internet is an underestimated culprit? As this article states, the internet used between 5-9% of the generated global energy in 2018, which was more than global aviation. In ten years, internet use “could account for as much as 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Nesta’s researchers have identified four principles to help us contain the digital economy’s environmental impact, and make Europe the global standard for sustainable and ethical internet use. These include integrating sustainability thinking into all areas of internet-related policy, improving technology design, informing consumers about the impact of their purchases, and incentivising positive change. In this article, they apply these criteria to the entire lifecycle of an internet device, from resource extraction to waste. A must-read for everyone who uses tech devices or the internet, so if you’re reading this …

5. “Citizens’ assembly makes climate recommendations to government“, Financial Times

Taxes on frequent flying, increased investment in wind and solar energy, cheaper and greener buses and trains … these are only a few of the recommendations that the UK’s first Citizen’s Climate Assembly has recently made to the government. The critical question they were asked to consider was ‘How should the UK meet its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?’

This is not the time nor the issue for scoring party political points. Achieving net-zero will require a joined-up approach across society — all of us will have to play our part,” the report stated. The Assembly explored different ways to decarbonise the transport sector, mainly pushing for the development of new technologies, and called, among other things, for the education of the public on lowering meat intake by 20-40%. A must-read for anyone curious about the impact of citizen participation.

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