As the shift to the online realm becomes more and more pressing in all areas of life, digital deliberation is in the lift as well. As strengthening our democracies and stimulating the dialogue between governments and citizens becomes more important than ever, our team of Civic Tech specialists and democracy experts continues to grow as well. After welcoming a new group of talents just a month ago, we now introduce
Julienne, Marcela, Mélissa, Jurriaan, Sebastián, Dragan, Alexandra, Adrien and Arian!

🇺🇸🇹🇼 Julienne Chen, Product Manager

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I started my career as an urban planner in Washington, DC, which included a lot of GIS mapping and community meetings! I then took two years to complete my Master’s degree at the University in Amsterdam, before returning to the US to work in local government. I was a part of the Innovation Teams in the cities of Louisville, Kentucky and Los Angeles, both of which had a focus on bringing people, design, and data together to strengthen the city’s services. Most recently I was at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where I had a chance to dive deeper into research on cities, innovation and participation.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “So many things about our lives have transformed in the past two decades, in many instances powered by internet, modern computing and smart phones. Civic tech appeals to me as a tool to help ensure that our institutions are relevant, accessible and responsive in these times of rapid change — times when we need leadership that can harness the collective insights and contributions of its constituents more than ever.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “One proposal I launched together with friends and neighbours was to design, crowdfund and build a bus stop in my neighbourhood. I also helped organise a competition in the city of Louisville that allowed residents to repurpose city-owned vacant lots into new uses. Other areas I’d love to get more involved in: local purchasing and lending initiatives, advocating for bike- and pedestrian-centred streets, and building the capacity of our next generation of young leaders!”

🇻🇪🇨🇱 Marcela Ayarza, Marketeer at CitizenLab Chile

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I studied in New York City before moving back to Chile in 2016. During the last couple of years, I worked for a consulting agency here in Santiago, with the main purpose to improve the relationships between people and organisations. Through a variety of workshops and programmes, we aimed to help people to communicate with each other, share their struggles, and stimulate collaboration. I was particularly in charge of their marketing, social media communication and branding.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Personally, I think it is essential to offer citizens a voice. It helps to recover the trust we, as citizens, have lost over the years. When I was first introduced to the field, I instantly felt that it offered a lot of space for growth. In these trying times, we are in desperate need of Civic Tech. It allows leaders to be more effective and efficient, being constantly guided by the input of their citizens. For us, as citizens, it’s an opportunity to commit to a cause and speak out, show initiative, create a space to be heard. It’s an environment that fosters new ideas.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I’m still fairly new in this field, but if I’d launch a proposal, it’d be about offering better education to our communities in need and highlighting the importance of family as the nucleus of society. Empowering children with the necessary opportunities is a major challenge, one that can only be overcome by adopting collaboration as a daily resource.”

🇫🇷 Mélissa Martinay, Business Development Manager for France

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “Long story short: after a Bachelor at Sciences Po Paris and a year in Australia, I got a double Master Degree at the LSE, specialising in Regional and Urban Planning. I started working for the Public Agency for Urban Renewal in France, but quickly realised I wanted to remain international and learn about new cultures. That’s when I went to Brazil to support the creation of the subsidiary of a French high-tech company. After two years, I decided to come back to family and friends, and find a job that was more aligned with my goals. La Ruche qui dit Oui, powering the online development of short food supply chains, was the perfect opportunity. But four years and a kid later, I wondered: could I move out of Paris to get a better quality of life, without compromising my career? The answer was to settle as an independent consultant, which brought me to the UK, French Guiana, Thailand, and innovative farms in the south of France. And here I am now, excited to bring participative democracy tools to more local authorities in France!”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Our democracies do not allow politicians to take sufficiently informed decisions. We need to innovate and improve the public good and generate more trust between citizens and elected officials. Digital tools are strong, because they turn complicated offline activities into simple actions that are available everywhere. I also believe that Civic Tech will benefit from the forced digitalisation we currently experience due to the coronavirus: we gain a better understanding of the limits of offline group activities and are collectively willing to adapt.”

What is a Citizen Initiative you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “Right after my studies, I launched a community tourism program in the city of San Juan de Comalapa, Guatemala. The goal was to help female leaders find new economic perspectives after China’s competition had destroyed their weaving activity. La Ruche qui dit Oui is also very much in the hands of citizens: anyone can start a community, run online sales, and organise weekly pop-up markets at no cost.”

🇳🇱 Jurriaan van den Eijkhof, GovSuccess Manager for the Netherlands

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I was a strategic advisor at ORAM, a business network in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. There, I acted as an intermediate between municipalities and businesses, and advised them on how to co-create in urban planning. The years before that I was active in the field of policy-making and local politics, working for the city of Amsterdam.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “Participation is becoming increasingly important. I believe that Civic Tech will empower more social groups, which will create a better support base and eventually lead to better plans. I believe that Civic Tech is a very powerful instrument to improve politicians’ decision-making and make policy-making more adaptive. I think it helps politicians see the creative potential that holes inside their cities, citizens, and businesses.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “Not a citizen proposal as such, but more something in general. In the past few years I’ve been working with civil servants on improving policy planning, by making it more accessible and transparant for participants and trying to involve them in the process early-on. Ultimately, I’d like to see a new type of policy-planning and decision-making. More adaptive, more inclusive, more suited to the complex issues cities face today. I would really like to commit to that goal.”

🇨🇱 Sebastián Brito, GovSuccess Manager at CitizenLab Chile

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I just finished my Psychology and Sociology Studies, so this is my first job. During my studies, I joined projects concerning migration and local educational initiatives, such as tutoring classes in jails. Both of those, for me, are directly connected with my interested in democratic processes.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “The main thing that appeals to me is working for better representation. Society is constantly changing, and the way we participate must change accordingly.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I’d like to work on projects that improve the sustainability of our spaces. My first Citizenlab project was the nation-wide municipal consultation, which stimulated thousands of people to participate. This was a historic process for Chile and a vital step towards a new constitution. This was a very exciting and challenging way to dive into the field.”

🇧🇪 Dragan Marković, UX Engineer

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “So many different things, but now I have the feeling that everything is falling into place. I worked as a photographer and communications officer, and more recently made the switch to a software engineering career. My first position in this field was at Urbantz, another Brussels-based scale-up in the logistics industry.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “I truly believe that local policy-making should and can be more citizen-centric. In order to do so, online platforms have a clear role to play in allowing a larger range of citizens to access the town-hall and to hold asynchronous conversations. In other words, to set up democratic participation free of the constraints of a set time and place.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I’ve recently contacted the mobility department of my municipality. Along with a group of neighbours, I proposed a few easy and inexpensive actions to improve safety and fluidity and tackle pollution. The first steps were easy, but now we haven’t received any feedback for over 3 months. I’m pretty sure we would’ve had more visbility with a tool like the CitizenLab’s platform.”

🇸🇬🇬🇧 Alexandra Chandran, Head of Partner Sales

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I was at the Open Data Institute in London, on a mission to “make data work for everyone,” which was quite a bold and monumental task! My part in this mission was to lead business development and secure opportunities for the ODI across public and private sectors. The aim of our work was to act as a critical friend and to positively influence data policy and decision-making. Prior to the ODI and CitizenLab, I worked in the fields of Financial Tech and Law, and before that, I studied International Relations and Law. I’ve played a bit of millennial hopscotch when it comes to jobs and industries, but I wouldn’t change my path as it has landed me here!”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “CivicTech presents a massive opportunity to engage with young people, to shape their communities and societies, as their lives are so intertwined with digital space and technology. In recent history, we’ve seen some excellent and inspiring examples of digital engagement and the building of campaigns, particularly when it comes to issues on climate change and #blacklivesmatter.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I would launch a campaign or proposal relating to cultural, arts and community spaces. My direct experience in London has shown how these spaces have been eroded over time due to changes in government policy and lack of funding. I’d like to see direct government engagement with citizens who champion access to these spaces and venues, as they are often the lifeblood of a city and provide a refuge, inspiration and community for so many.”

🇧🇪 Adrien Dessy, Back-end Engineer

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “I’ve always worked as a Data Scientist — if that’s still a thing. I started out as a student-researcher in Natural Language Processing and then moved onto Bioinformatics. After a few years, I made the switch to the private sector and worked for almost four years as a Data Scientist at Engie Laborelec, a Research Centre in the energy sector. As a part of the Analytics and Digital Lab team, I contributed to a great variety of projects, such as the prediction of the icing of wind turbines or the smart monitoring of residential PV systems.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “This is going to sound verbatim, but it combines two of my main interests: technology and civic-mindedness. I’ve always been drawn to technology, but at times I feel like technology creates as many problems as it solves. If we can use tech to improve how we live together, I’m in.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “I don’t identify as an activist, but lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of making a proposal to my city. I’d like them to consider to stop issuing a paper copy of the municipal newspaper for everyone, as most of them land in the bin right away. I don’t always have the time to read it myself and would rather subscribe to an online version (which already exists). For those who are not online, a system of stickers on the mailbox to indicate one’s preference could do. I’m still looking for the right place to submit the idea though…”

🇵🇹 Arian Pasquali, Applied NLP Engineer

What did you do before you arrived at CitizenLab? “For a long time, I worked as a Software Engineer, building systems for manufacturing management systems. Then, I made the switch to writing software for news and social media analytics. Somehow, analysing people’s opinions on the internet fascinated me way more than manufacturing plants. But I wanted to gain a better understanding of how to build better systems that are capable of understanding the human language. So I left the industry and went back to the university to finish a Master’s Degree in Data Mining and Natural Language Processing. After that, I spent these last few years doing research and supporting colleagues in journalism and political movements on Facebook.”

What appeals to you in Civic Tech? “We live in the so-called Information Era and have all the knowledge of the human consciousness at our fingertips. Yet, somehow, democracies are suffering from misinformation and incredulity. I want to use my expertise to make sure citizens can voice their opinions and improve their communities. That is a privilege, and I can’t think of anything more interesting to be doing right now.”

What is a citizen proposal you have launched … or would like to launch one day? “As a side-project, I’ve developed a system that allows everyone to follow the proposals and discussions taking place in the Portuguese Parliament. This helped me to see that people want to be more involved in politics, but need easier tools to do so. At a local level, I’ve been brainstorming about ways to improve urban agriculture and farming in urban spaces. One day, I hope to learn how to launch my idea. I think I’ve come to the right place!”

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